Despite the fact that at least 140 people (AIB 89) were killed by Neo-Nazis in Germany since re-unification in 1990, officially there was no such thing as Nazi terrorism in the Federal Republic. Indeed, if one looks at the book “Extremismus in Deutschland” (Extremism in Germany), published by the Ministry of the Interior in 2004, one could conclude that there is no such thing as violence from the extreme right, let alone murder and terrorism.
The yearly report of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz) for 2010 categorically states that “in Germany no right wing terrorist structures can be detected” (Verfassungsschutzbericht 2010, p.57). The report describes far right violence as “predominantly spontaneous”, and claims it occurs mainly between right and left wing “extremists”.
This view in mainstream politics and media forcibly changed on November 4, 2011, when the dead bodies of Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos were found in a burning trailer in Eisenach, Thuringia. After a initially successful bank robbery by the suspects, police found their trailer and approached it, and then to avoid arrest, Böhnhardt apparently shot Mundlos, set the trailer on fire and then shot himself in the head. Meanwhile in Zwickau, the third of the terror trio, Beate Zschäpe (who had earlier taken part of the bank heist), was busy burning down their safehouse to destroy evidence. A few days later she gave herself up, and has since refused to make any statements.
The murder weapons used in a series of killings between 2000 and 2007 were found in the burned house along with other weapons.
The three right wing militants formed a cell called National Socialist Underground (NSU), and murdered nine men, who were small business owners (eight of Turkish and one of Greek origin), and one police woman in the course of those years. They were also responsible for a bombing in 2001 that severly wounded one woman, a nailbomb attack that wounded 22 people in Cologne in 2004, and for 14 bank robberies between 1999 and 2011.
The “Döner-killings” as they were called derogatorily in the press were heavily investigated by the police, but they did not follow any leads that suggested that the motives could have been racist and from a far right background. Instead the police assumed that the killers were from the migrant community, which often went along with the racist insinuation that the murdered men were somehow involved with criminal networks. This of course added insult to injury to the families and friends. Similarly in the case of the murdered policewoman, the suspicion was directed onto a “clan” of Roma that had parked near-by. The Bavarian police even opened a döner kebab shop in Nuremberg in the course of their “investigation”, while other police units went to consult two different fortune tellers who “contacted” victims and told the investigators completely bogus stories. So not only were the killings racist, the police operations to solve them were as well!
Along with the murder weapons, the police found a DVD which appears to have been produced by the NSU as a propaganda tool. In the four days between the death of Mundlos and Böhnhardt until Beate Zschäpe gave herself up, a number of copies were sent to migrant and left wing organisations and publications. It is likely that they were planning to do a much larger mailout as a list of 10’000 addresses they had drawn up suggests. The DVD contains propaganda, mocks the victims, and even features photographs of crime scenes taken by the perpetrators. The plan must have been to publicize the group and the killings as well as instilling fear.
Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe first met in the early 90’s and became active Neo-Nazis by 1993-94. They became members of the “Thüringer Heimatschutz” (THS), an organization run by a character named Tino Brandt. They became involved with petty crime, and Neo-nazi activities including planting fake bombs “decorated” with yellow stars or swastikas. When Böhnhardt was sentenced to a jail term and summoned to serve his time in January 1998, and when bomb making facilities were discovered by police the same month in a garage rented by Zschäpe, the trio went on the run. Their first known bank robbery was in 1999, and the first murder was committed in 2000.
Over the weeks and months after the terror group was first exposed in late 2011, more and more murky details of the involvement of the Verfassungsschutz (VS) with Neo-Nazi structures have emerged. In Thuringia alone it is thought that 3m DM were funneled to Neo-Nazi structures (konkret 1/2012, p.17). Another significant fact is that Tino Brandt was at the time (1994-2001) an informer of the Thuringian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In this function he received no less than 200’000 DM which he used to finance the activities of the THS, in exchange for largely and purposefully useless information. It even came out that another informer, who had the nickname “Little Adolf” because he was known to be a particularly fanatic Nazi, was present when the NSU killed their second to last victim, an owner of an internet café. (This informant didn’t deem it necessary to report to the police as a witness).
When the three NSU members were on the run from police, they were helped by an active Neo-Nazi support structure. The AIB estimates (issue 93) that at least half a dozen informers for the VS were active in the wider network that existed around the NSU. At least three of them have been outed since and have even given press interviews. The full truth about this will probably never be revealed, as it transpired that VS-agents destroyed files connected to the infiltration of the THS (Operation Rennsteig) in November 2011, and information is still being withheld from the parliamentary fact finding commission on the NSU.
This isn’t the place to unravel all the facts and speculations about how it was possible that the Nazis could go on a killing spree over such a long period of time and not be detected. However, we do need to comprehend the ideological context in which this was possible. An important one is the propagation of a “totalitarianism theory” that claims a political middle ground is challenged from extremists on the right and on the left who both aim to replace the democratic order with either an ethnically defined homogenous nation, or a communist “system” or anarchist society. Officially the two spectrums are portrayed as “equally bad”, although it is striking how in government publications the right wing threat – and especially its violent manifestations – is systematically played down. In everyday police work explicitly racist and politically motivated violence is often treated as if these aspects did not exist.
There has always been right wing militancy since the beginning of the federal republic, from the Reichsfront which was banned in 1951 to explicitly terrorist structures, such as Manfred Roeder’s Deutsche Aktionsgruppen, who were active in 1980, and the Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann, who were founded in 1973 and banned in 1980. The latter had about 400 members who trained for the armed struggle in the forests of Franconia, and were very influential on the later development of the neo-Nazi scene, where Hoffmann was seen as an idol. After the ban, they moved their private army to a PLO/Fatah training camp in Lebanon. Former WSG members blew up the Munich Oktoberfest (13 dead), and shot dead Jewish publisher Shlomo Lewin and his partner Frida Poeschke. Again the police at first didn’t investigate a possible far right background, even though evidence was found at the murder site that could be traced to the Hoffmann house. In the meantime, the killer escaped to Lebanon where he died in the following year.
For the government and the police to pretend that a resurgence of Neo-Nazi terrorism was unthinkable is simply not credible. In fact, by 1999 it should have been clear that there were terrorist structures in the Neo-Nazi scene. In the Nazi-zine “Hamburger Sturm”, for example, there was an interview with “brown cells” who advertized an “underground struggle for the freedom of the white peoples” with Combat18 as their inspiration. They boasted “we are at war with the system, and cops and other enemies” would die. Then in 2004, the NSU’s nailbomb explosed in Cologne and bore all the hallmarks of David Copeland’s attacks in London in 1999.
Besides its denial – whether against better knowledge or not – of far right terrorism and organized violence, the Verfassungsschutz 2010 report claims that there has been a rise of extremist violence on both sides of the spectrum.
On the one hand, the report claims a decline in membership in far right extremist organizations from 26’600 in 2009 to 25’000 in 2010. On the other hand, the report postulates an increase of “violence-prone” right extremists to 9’500. Incredibly, 2010 was the first time the “violence-prone” section of the extreme right was quantified in yearly reports. How these numbers are really determined remains unclear, the rise and fall of certain segments in numbers often seem like random approximations. No doubt they are serving a purpose: as the numbers tend to be on the one hand up and on the other hand down, they “prove” both that the work of the state security is both successful and on the other hand has to continue and intensify.
Nevertheless, serious questions arise from the facts that Neo-Nazi structures were blatantly financed by the state, as the cases of Tino Brandt and others demonstrate. Is the state security apparatus of Germany simply inept or wantonly negligent? Or are there factions that consciously support far right structures as potential stay-back armies in the scenario of a potential resurgence of a revolutionary (Communist) movement?
After all: fascists, despite their often anti-capitalist rhetoric, never actually touched or changed economic relations. Their version of anti-capitalism was always directed against supposedly “Jewish” finance capital. Their aim was always an ethnically homogenous society where bosses and workers would remain in their place, supposedly working for the “common good” of a völkisch defined nation. They never pose(d) a threat to the essence of capitalist society, and their “anti-Capitalism” is almost synonymous with anti-Semitism – especially in the case of National Socialism with its exterminist practice.
By self-definition the Verfassungsschutz exists to protect the constitution. The VS publications describes the threat from the left and the right in the same terms, but its actions speak another language. No left “extremist” structures have been supported and bankrolled to the tune of millions of DM or euros, but such financing continues to be given to Neo-Nazi structures. This is no accident. The VS has a long history of ties with Nazis going back to its origin. Founded in 1950, the VS soon included a large number of former Nazi-, SS- and Gestapo officers. While this personnel has died out by now, the anti-Communist consensus has prevailed. Over the decades the virulence of right wing activities has been played down, while, writing in 1968, the then head of the VS Schrübbers (a former NS state attorney) declared a “political war” on Communism. Today, “extremism experts” Backes and Jesse continue to play down the right wing potential and complain about the influence of the left in academia, politics and media. One of their main thrusts is against anti-fascism, especially what they perceive as “extremist” anti-fascism. Their “expert” wisdom is given a forum in countless government sponsored publications.
Of course the massive scandal surrounding the NSU’s activities and murders demanded some reactions. Indeed, several heads of intelligence services had to retire, and in some Länder the interior ministers publicized activities – such as banning Neo-Nazi groups and searching premises – to counter the public perception that the state was “blind on the right eye”. In some cases, this even went along with the demand for more funds for the secret services, instead of strengthening civil society initiatives to counter the extreme right.
One could assume that at least temporarily state agencies would be more sensitive towards violence from the far right against the left and Jewish people. But this is not the case. An example: The Left Party office of the MP Caren Lay in Hoyerswerda was attacked no less than ten times in the two weeks leading up to September 20. Hoyerswerda of course was the site of one of the most notorious pogroms that took place after German re-unification in 1991. Police curiously – or cynically – refuse to see a right wing political background to the attacks on Lay’s office. On August 30, an event by the youth organization of the Left Party took place there. 20 Neo-nazis then laid siege to the building. Police refused to protect the left wingers and just told them lock the doors and stop their event. Another example: When Stephan Kramer, the secretary general the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland was verbally attacked and threatened on Yom Kippur, the police speaker said an “anti-Semitic background to the argument” could not be confirmed (tagesspiegel.de 27-09-2012). These are only two examples of neo-nazi and anti-Semitic occurances that happen almost everyday, which shows that “business as usual” prevails with law enforcement. Once the dust has settled over the NSU, one can assume that the VS will also return to “business as usual”.
Antifaschistisches Info Blatt 93 : Rechtsterrorismus – Der Nationalsozialistische Untergrund (Winter 2011)
Antifaschistisches Info Blatt 94 : Verfassungsschutz und Rechtsterrorismus – Protokolle des Versagens, Verharmlosens, Verschleierns (Spring 2012)
Lotta – Antifaschistische Zeitung #46 (Winter 2011/2012)
Peer Heinelt: Überzeugungstäter I (article in konkret 1/2012, p.12)
Jörg Kronauer: Überzeugungstäter II (article in konkret 1/2012, p.16)
Bundesministerium des Innerns (Ed.): Extremismus in Deutschland – Erscheinungsformen und aktuelle Bestandsaufnahme (BMI, Berlin 2004)
Bundesministerium des Innerns (Ed.): Verfassungsschutzbericht 2010 (BMI, Berlin 2011)
Bundesministerium des Innerns (Ed.): Verfassungsschutzbericht 2011 – Vorabfassung (preliminary version) (BMI, Berlin 2012).
Unavoidably the 2011 Vorabfassung does have a few pages about the NSU, but needless to say there is not a word of self-criticism.