Czech trial of arson attack reviews neo-Nazi groups
In mid-May the Regional Court in Plzeň continued with the trial of the allegedly organized groups operating from 2011-2012 under the names of Blood & Honour and Combat 18 (the number 18 is a synonym for Adolf Hitler's initials) on the territory of the Czech Republic. The nine-member group, according to the indictment, is said to have promoted neo-Nazism and some of its members are said to have perpetrated arson attacks on occupied and unoccupied buildings, to have supported racial hatred, to have perpetrated various forms of violence with a tendency to terrorism, to have denied the Holocaust, and to have committed violence against a particular group and its individual members.
The group's members are said to have invited and actively sought new members for the organizations and to have maintained a spirited correspondence with them, producing and distributing promotional materials for neo-Nazi organizations and music groups whose lyrics contain neo-Nazi elements, as well as producing clothing with Nazi and neo-Nazi symbols and actively planning so-called "direct actions" against those opposed to them, against representatives of the state, and against the democratic order of the Czech Republic. They informed those interested in the organizations' activities through their websites featuring material about their ideological fight against the "system" and against the democratic order of the state and its representatives, such as members of the Government or the police.
The first person to testify was a lieutenant with the Institute of Criminology in Prague who authored an expert opinion on physical chemistry in connection with the arson attack. She had investigated the chemical traces both at the scene of the crime and on the shards of the Molotov cocktails thrown into the residential hotel inhabited by Romani people in the town of Aš at the end of February 2012.
In her view, the lives of those living in the building had been threatened not just by the fire, but by the toxic fumes from the smoke produced when gasoline burns. The victims' attorney asked her to compare the danger of the arson attack in Aš with that of the attack in Vítkov in April 2009.
The expert responded that she had not investigated the Vítkov case, but said "it is always dangerous to throw a Molotov cocktail into a residential building." The neo-Nazi perpetrators of the Vítkov attack were ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The next several hours were spent replaying video recordings and wiretaps from meetings between the main defendant Jan B. and an undercover police agent as well as recordings of meetings with Petra L., the defendant's girlfriend, who discussed the sale of t-shirts as well as articles for the organization's website. In the recordings Jan B. criticized the attack in Aš for not causing more damage and because those who perpetrated it did not leave the organization's "signature" at the scene - "That means anyone might think someone did it just out of stupidity," he said.
Expert witness: These people could all have been lone wolves
Miroslav Mareš of the Political Science Department at Masaryk University in Brno then testified as an expert witness. He arrived at the court with two police officers as an escort.
In his expert evaluation on the case, Mareš wrote that "the ideology of the organization Blood & Honour is based on hatred of selected population groups (in particular Jews, Muslims, antifascists, Asians, communists, 'niggers', homosexuals) [...]" and on the idea of "racial exclusivity with an emphasis on the supremacy of the white race and an elitist self-conception of white superiority" among its members. In court he added that the organization espouses Nazism and calls for terrorist attacks.
The concept of "Blood & Honor" is linked to the slogan of the German Hitler Youth, "Blut und Ehre". The main backers of its militant wing, the Combat 18 organization, have perpetrated many violent attacks abroad.
Mareš said that arson attacks are typical for extremists in the Central European region. News server iDNES.cz quoted him as follows: "In the Czech Republic, Blood & Honour has yet to precisely profile itself. It does propaganda and under that heading disseminates various materials, in the past it organized concerts, for example" during the second half of the 1990s under the name Blood & Honour and then later under the name "White Power".
The expert also said Combat 18 can be used as a brand by anyone fighting through terrorist deeds for the aims of the group. Such perpetrators do not have to be Combat 18 members, but could be so-called lone wolves.
When asked by the attorney for the victims whether the group is still active, Mareš said that as far as he knows the organization is no longer active in the Czech Republic after it was broken up by police in March 2012. There is one of its websites still up in Czech which is not active.
Court ignores witness's state of health
Two elderly former occupants of the residential hotel that was attacked also testified. Occupant Drahoslava G. said that prior to the fire she had lived there for two years because she had been unable to find any other housing.
After the attack she moved to Cheb. She had already had heart trouble at the time, and walks poorly as a result of it to this day.
She confirmed that her neighbor's unit caught fire, as did the corridor at the entrance to the building, saying she saw it with her own eyes. Even though the court had previously been informed of her serious medical condition, it did not arrange for her to travel by ambulance to give testimony.
Instead, Drahoslava G. and her husband traveled to court by train. His testimony had to be cut short because his wife began to feel unwell and was at risk of collapsing.
Defendant seeks reduced sentencing
At the close of the three-day hearing, Tomáš K. declared that he would like to pay CZK 20 000 to the children of victim Romana M. because of the psychological consequences he caused them. His proposal was made without evidence of those harms being proven during the trial.
A child psychiatrist has not yet been able to examine the children because the director of the children's home where they have been living since the time of the attack has prevented him from doing so. The children's attorney has also been prevented from interviewing them.
The attorney's request for an expert witness to be commissioned on the issue of the children's mental health has been rejected by the court for the time being. Tomáš K. and Michal P. face between 10 and 18 years in prison or even the possibility of extraordinary sentencing on 18 counts of racially motivated attempted murder; none of the defendants has been in custody during the prosecution.
The Czech Interior Ministry says the Czech branch of Blood & Honour was established in 1995. After repressive actions by the Czech Police, its core group changed its name to "National Resistance" (Národní odpor) at the end of the 1990s.
Roughly 10 years ago the group was revived by several individuals through the creation of a new website under the same name. It is not, however, known whether they perpetrated any violent attacks at that time.
At the start of this decade a new group with that same name activated itself and called for violent attacks on government representatives, on the headquarters of the Communist Party and on other buildings - but primarily for attacks on Romani people. After the suspects were arrested in March 2012, the Organized Crime Detection Unit claimed, in an effort to get them remanded into custody, that the group's "Prague section is planning to realize a test of an improvised explosive device at a time yet to be determined".
That same police unit is making the same claim today in connection with the alleged members of the "Network of Revolutionary Cells", who have now been charged. The indictment against the alleged Blood & Honour members does not, however, mention this device.
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