July 2, 2011 -- The latest annual report on extremism in Germany suggests that neo-Nazis have swapped the skinhead look for a boy-next-door image, making it harder to identify right-wing extremists. Although overall extremist crime is down, the tendency towards violence is increasing -- within both the far left and right.
Germany's far-right is undergoing a transformation that is making it less conspicuous but more dangerous, Germany's Interior Ministry and Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), warn in a new annual report being released on Friday.
The report by the Interior Ministry and BfV, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, found that, in 2010, there were 15,905 politically motivated crimes associated with the far right. The figure represents a 15.2 percent drop compared with the 2009 figure of 18,750 crimes. The number of violent crimes in the same period fell from 891 to 762, a 14.5 percent reduction.
However, the report also found that there was an increasing tendency toward the use of violence. "On the whole," the report concluded, "it is possible to see a rise in the potential for violence as well as in the willingness to employ violence to attain one's political goals." This is particularly the case, the report found, among members of the so-called "autonomous nationalists" of the far right, while the more noticeable skinhead subculture is becoming "increasingly less interesting for right-wing extremist youths."
The fact that the autonomous nationalist -- sometimes also known as the "anarchist nationalists" -- do not wear clothes and other articles publicizing their beliefs makes it considerably more difficult to identify them. Indeed, the report finds that the classic skinhead style -- such as having shaved heads and combat boots -- has become outmoded. "Members of the (far-right) scene instead prefer to wear articles of clothing or brands that orient themselves more toward general trends in youth fashion and that use corresponding lettering or symbols to signal their membership in the scene in a less visible way," the report states.
The report also finds that the number of neo-Nazis has "significantly risen," from 5,000 to 5,600. The BfV puts the total number of far-right extremists at 25,000 out of a total population of around 82 million.
The report also concludes that far-right extremist violence continues to be concentrated in the five eastern states that were part of the former East Germany. While there has been a decrease in the number of far-right crimes in Germany as a whole, the number of far-right crimes in these eastern states has risen; of the 762 total crimes, 304 -- or 40 percent -- were in these five states. When measured as a ratio of crimes to inhabitants, the state of Saxony-Anhalt topped the list of most far-right crimes (67, or 2.8 per 100,000 citizens). It was followed by Brandenburg (66/2.6), Saxony (98/2.3), Thuringia (44, 1.9) and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (29/1.7).
Less but More Violent Left-Wing Violence
When it comes to left-wing extremist violence, though, the report does not find a similar east-west divide. It also notes that there was a year-on-year decrease in the total number of left-wing crimes, from 4,734 to 3,747, or 20.8 percent. Although it cites a corresponding reduction in left-wing violent crimes -- from 1,115 to 944, or 15.3 percent -- the report also finds an increased willingness to use violence on this end of the political extreme, as well.
Indeed, the report notes that: "To a certain extent, attacks by left-wing extremist perpetrators display a significantly higher aggressiveness and willingness to assume risks." It finds that bodily attacks "on political opponents -- meaning actual or suspected right-wing extremists or police officers -- are broadly supported" within the scene.
In fact, the country's German Police Federation (GdP) union reports that there has been a continuous increase in the number of violent acts directed against the police from both left-wing and right-wing extremists. GdP head Berhard Witthaut says that police officers are "attacked more and more often in an inhumane manner" and that the police are becoming "the object of outbreaks of uncontrolled violence."
In its rankings of the worst locations for left-wing violence in 2010 in relationship to population size, the report puts the northern city-state of Bremen in first place, with 24 acts of left-wing violence, or 3.6 per 100,000 inhabitants. Bremen was followed by Saxony (128/3.0) and Berlin (81/2.3). Regarding the latter, the report noted a significant decrease in acts of left-wing violence in Berlin -- from 215 to 81 -- and attributed this to a significant drop in the number of vehicles set ablaze.
Warnings of a New Era of Left-Wing Terrorism
Despite this sinking number of crimes and violent acts by left-wing extremists, Uwe Schünemann, the interior minister of the northwestern state of Lower Saxony, fears there might be worse to come. "I can only urgently warn against viewing the decreasing figures included in the Annual Report of the Protection of the Constitution 2010 as an occasion for lowering our guard," Schünemann told the daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. Schünemann also noted that the figures for left-wing extremist violence are extremely alarming and that, in the first three months of 2011, the figures were the highest they had ever been since the government began keeping national statistics on politically motivated crimes in 2001.
In fact, Schünemann believes that perpetrators of left-wing violence are standing "on the cusp of a new left-wing terrorism." He notes that anarchist left-wing extremists have accepted the fact their attacks sometimes result in a loss of life. "They set cars aflame or make targeted attacks on police," he said. Schünemann drew comparisons with the Red Army Faction (RAF), the left-wing terror group that killed 34 people and injured scores more in bomb attacks and assassinations targeting top German civil servants, corporate executives and US military installations in strikes from the 1970s until 1998, when it officially disbanded. He said that the history of the RAF shows that "not much separates the path from arson attacks to targeted killings."
A Growing Terrorist Threat
In addition to developments in left-wing and right-wing extremism, the 335-page report also focused on Islamist terrorism. Indeed, the report warns that Germany "remains in the focus of Islamist terrorist groups" and that the "large quantity of information about possible attacks shows that the threat to German interests at home and abroad remains at a high level."
The BfV has identified 29 Islamist organizations active in Germany. The report finds that there was a slight increase in number of members in or supporters of these organizations between 2009 and 2010, from 36,270 to 37,470. The greatest potential for a growth in membership was found to be with Turkish groups, the report stated.
The report makes particular mention of the "growing importance" of Salafism as an "ideological foundation" both in Germany and abroad. Salafists are pious Muslims who place particular emphasis on emulating as far as possible the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the first generation of his followers. The report finds that the Salafists have primarily gained wide appeal in Germany via the Internet. For example, the report cites the case of the man who attacked a bus carrying US airmen on March 2 at the Frankfurt airport was an Islamist who had been radicalized by Salafist websites and videos. The attack left two of the airmen dead and two with serious injuries.
At a late June meeting in Frankfurt of Germany's Interior Ministers' Conference (IMK), a body made up of officials from the interior ministries at the state and federal level, Salafism was singled out as a "particular challenge" in the fight against Islamic radicalization. During the closing session of the conference, IMK head Boris Rhein, the interior minister of Hesse, labeled Salafism "the breeding ground of Islamist terrorism and the fastest-growing Islamist movement in Germany."
-- with wire reports