The banned website "Altermedia Deutschland" praised Germany's Nazi past and promulgated smear campaigns against refugees, Jews and politicians. Now those who ran it are on trial. What is actually known about the site?
A few of the old tweets published by "Altermedia Deutschland" can still be found online. Some are seditious: "You have the responsibility to overthrow that mentally ill Merkel now;" others refer to "Jewish swill" and the "deadly flood of immigrants," openly question whether 6 million Jews were actually killed during the Holocaust or promote National Socialism with quotes from Adolf Hitler.
The neo-Nazi website was banned on January 27, 2016 – the day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said at the time that Altermedia published "the most disgusting sort of racist articles." Authorities requested the website be removed from its Russian server. Two suspects were also taken into custody. Their trial started on Thursday.
What are Altermedia's operators accused of?
Federal prosecutors have filed charges with the higher regional court in Stuttgart against five German citizens. Jutta V. and Ralf-Thomas K., the operators of "the leading right-wing extremist internet portal Altermedia Deutschland," are accused of working together to distribute inciting content. Uwe P., Irmgard T. and Talmara S. are accused of having worked as moderators and authors for the website. In response to a June request by the Left Party faction in Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, the federal government said that it was also investigating three further suspects.
Moreover, the banned website was engaged in the systematic dissemination of right-wing extremist and National Socialist ideology. Statements published on the site ranged from "calls for violence against foreigners living in Germany, to the slander of people of non-Christian faiths or of non-white skin color, all the way to Holocaust denials." The site's criminal content was distributed globally. According to the German government, the Altermedia's aim was "to encourage other right-wing extremists to commit further crimes."
What is known about Altermedia's origins and connections?
The website was supposedly founded as a counter to left-wing media networks. A 2008 study on right-wing extremist groups commissioned for the GUE/NGL, a left-wing European Parliament group, claimed that the domain was part of the internet portfolio of US white supremacist David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke participated in the far-right white nationalist protests that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
A Belgian confidant of French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the far-right National Front (FN), is often mentioned as the site's European co-founder. The GUE/NGL study listed subpages in some 20 European countries as well as Canada and the United States. It said more than half of those people accessing the site were based in Germany but that Altermedia Deutschland was also popular in Austria, Romania, the US and the Czech Republic.
The website was originally known under the name "Störtebeker-Netz" according to Germany's 2016 Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution. At the height of its popularity, its forum drew several million clicks per year. The website's "racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic content" was largely accessed by neo-Nazis.
What came out of the first Altermedia trial in 2011?
In 2011, two Altermedia Deutschland operators stood trial in the northern German city of Rostock: Axel Möller and Robert R., both members of the neo-Nazi political party NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany), were jailed for hate speech and incitement to commit criminal acts. Author Andreas Speit covered the trial for the German daily newspaper Taz. He described how Möller – who had also been convicted of similar crimes in 2010 – refused to accept the term "admission of guilt," instead insisting upon giving a "very proud admission of guilt" after prosecutors quoted anti-Semitic rants and calls for "violence against colored people." Shortly thereafter, Altermedia was removed from its US sever only to surface again elsewhere, before eventually finding a new home on a Russian server.
What followed the 2016 ban of Altermedia?
Berlin's interior senator, Frank Henkel, says that after the neo-Nazi outlet was banned, Germany's right-wing extremists were forced relocate to foreign-based websites. The Russian social media network VK, formerly known as VKontakte, quickly became one of their favorite spots.
A visit to the website for Altermedia's current incarnation yields a rather empty webpage featuring a quote from George Orwell and a link to a French and Belgian version of the site. The French-language website features diary excerpts from Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Was Altermedia even relevant in the right-wing scene?
When the ban was announced, many observers noted that Altermedia Deutschland was no longer a relevant force in the right-wing extremist scene because more and more neo-Nazis had turned to social media networks like Twitter and Facebook, which allowed them to reach far more people. The 2016 Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution also pointed to "a shift of the scene's formerly internal communication to increasingly larger recipient groups on social media networks and short message services."
Offensive posts reported by users are not always removed from such sites, according to a test recently carried out by the "jugendschutz.net" (youth protection) initiative. It is also very easy to set up proxy accounts. Jugendschutz.net found that alternative platforms such as VK rarely removed any offensive content.