Experts say neo-Nazism is not a fringe phenomenon in Germany
Neo-Nazis have not been relegated to the outskirts of society in Germany but are firmly ensconced in the country's public administration and society. Thanks to this position, they have sufficient information and money available to them to undertake their activities. A former member of the German ultra-right and a German expert on extremism also say that Czech neo-Nazis are linked to some of these German groups and are inspired by the processes through which the German radicals operate.
"The ultra-right scene is not a bunch of guys meeting up at a kiosk with cans of beer at 10 AM as some media images suggest. That's not the truth of it at all," says Gabriel Landgraf, who for 15 years was a leading representative of neo-Nazi organizations in Berlin and Brandenburg. In 2006 he left the ultra-right and started assisting others who are "aussteigers", as German defectors from neo-Nazism are called.
Police estimate that about 25 000 people endorse the ultra-right in Germany. They are most active in the east of the country in the states of the former German Democratic Republic, where the economic and social collapse of that region after reunification has provided fertile ground for their influence. The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) is already seated in two state parliaments there.
Bernd Wagner, an expert on the ultra-right scene, says well-organized neo-Nazi groups have been active in East Germany since the 1980s. "Even then they were never some sort of puerile group on the outskirts of society, as they are often described in Germany today, i.e., as people who don't know much, who aren't politically educated, who address everything violently because they weren't adequately raised as children," says Wagner, who was once a detective in East Germany.
"That is a theoretical myth that is deeply rooted in German politics and scholarship and can currently be seen in the media as well, where you will always only ever see the ultra-right depicted as skinhead minors. That is pure nonsense! Naturally, such people do exist, but they have nothing to do with the problem," says Wagner. Since the year 2000, he has been leading the organization Exit Deutschland, which offers assistance to "aussteigers" like Landgraf.
Landgraf says neo-Nazis monitor events in Germany in detail and have designed plans years in advance for exploiting situations to their benefit. "These models and strategies are not created overnight in a pub somewhere. The neo-Nazi scene follows where the ground is fertile for their ideas and where they might be able to break in. They follow precisely how the political scene responds, what the state authorities do, and they adjust their actions accordingly. That is all done by people behind the scenes, and they're not just blundering around," the ex-radical said, adding that in the past he also designed extremist political strategies.
"We ran a campaign in South Brandenburg that eventually spread throughout Germany in which we argued that democrats were killing the nation. It was an effort to introduce something new to Germany. The Czech neo-Nazis were also strongly involved and took up some of our models," Landgraf says of the generally-known contacts between members of the ultra-right in the two neighboring countries. He says it is mainly neo-Nazis in North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony who are markedly oriented toward right-wing groups in the Czech Republic and other eastern states.
Today, Germany officially honored the memory of the victims of a neo-Nazi group from the Saxon town of Zwickau whose members murdered at least 10 people, most of them immigrants. Landgraf claims to have not personally known the members of the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU), but he did know the extremist organization "Thuringian Militia" that they came out of. The existence of the NSU allegedly did not surprise him. "What surprised me was how the security authorities failed to take the NSU seriously. In my opinion, that all could have been prevented," says Landgraf.
Landgraf says he came to neo-Nazism under the influence of his grandfather, who was once a member of the Nazi youth organization Hitlerjugend, fought in the Wehrmacht during WWII, and never repudiated its destructive ideology. "He told me stories of how romantic it was at the Hitlerjugend camps, of a society where values applied and people stuck together, war stories, he showed me his medals. When I was a child, he was naturally a hero to me," Landgraf admits. Through football hooligans and the skinhead music scene he worked his way up to the post of cadre in the neo-Nazi structures.
Landgraf says he decided to get out because he was dissatisfied with the life. "My goals were not being fulfilled, I didn't have a normal life, a normal job, I was at the lowest level of society," he says of why he left the neo-Nazis with the aid of Exit six years ago. Even though he now faces death threats from his former friends, he says he does not regret leaving the scene and is finally satisfied with his new life.
Wagner says that as of today, Exit has helped 443 people like Landgraf get out of the German ultra-right scene. Reportedly only nine of them have returned to the extremists. About 25 % of the "aussteigers" are women. Wagner says their departure from the scene is more difficult, especially if they have children, because the neo-Nazis are loathe to give up any "new blood". Wagner says the German state is not interested in assisting these mothers.
"In Germany, the rule applies that what is good for the child is the same as what is good for the father. A father's rights are superior to the Constitution here, which I consider unbelievable," Wagner says of the practices of the German authorities and the courts. He claims these institutions give preferences to the rights of ultra-right radical men to have contact with their children over the wishes of mothers who want to remove children from their fathers' influence.
Ms Schmidt, who is 28, has had personal experience with this. She is currently fighting for custody of her two-year-old child, whom she had with a neo-Nazi. "The father's neo-Nazi tendencies mean nothing to the youth authority. He got all of the rights to the child, they only believe him, no one is interested in what the mother says. I get threats, they follow me, they are doing their best to push me into a corner and prove that I don't have my head in order," says the young woman.
Wagner does not have much hope that her story will have a happy ending. "Those children don't have a chance," he says in disappointment of the fact that a new generation of right-wing radicals is now being raised, allegedly with the assistance of the German state.
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