German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has outlawed a far-right club called the "White Wolves Terrorcrew." Security forces have carried out raids against the group across 10 German states.
The Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday morning that security forces were searching the homes of leading members of the far-right group.
CDs, clothing, propaganda material and weapons (including a crossbow and small-caliber firearms) had all been found during the searches, Interior Minister de Maiziere said at a press conference in Berlin.
Raids took place on 15 different homes across 10 states throughout Germany. Some 16 suspects were targeted, the minister said, though the group's hard core is said to include around 25 people. The group's financial assets were confiscated and turned over to the federal government.
"This club is an organization of neo-Nazis that openly and aggressively incites against our state, against our society, against those with opposing political views, against migrants, and against the police," de Maiziere said.
"This club openly espouses the values of National Socialism and wants to erect a dictatorship according to that model. It wants to force through that aim with all possible means," he added.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas expressed a similar sentiment: "The ban contains a clear sign - we will not watch idly when neo-Nazis violate our laws," he said.
Critics: more investigations, fewer bans
Hamburg's Interior Minister Andy Grote welcomed the ban, the groundwork for which was partly prepared by the northern city's security forces. He called the measure a "successful and effective strike against anti-constitutional violent criminals."
"Whoever carries out racially-motivated acts of violence, whoever spreads national-socialist ideology, whoever wants to wipe out our free and democratic social order, will continue to face all the consequences of our protective democracy," Grote told the "Hamburger Abendblatt" newspaper.
Hamburg's state intelligence agency has described the WWT as a "union of neo-Nazis and members of the skinhead scene," whose "uniform-like upper clothing" made them readily identifiable.
But the opposition Left party criticized the new ban. Left parliamentarian Martina Renner said that banning the group would do little to stop the wave of far-right violence against refugee homes. Very few such attacks have been successfully prosecuted by police.
In a statement posted on her website, Renner said that unless the measure was backed up by more determined investigations, banning organizations would not lead to "a weakening or intimidation of the militant neo-Nazi movement."
"Every unsolved attack is a signal to the perpetrators and their potential mimics that they can just carry on," she added.
Violent rock band fan club
Despite the measure, de Maiziere declined to call the WWT a terrorist organization. "We can't speak of right-wing terrorism," he said, "but we will stop every tendency towards that."
Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, describes the "White Wolves Terrorcrew" as a neo-Nazi group active across the country. It is believed to have started in 2008 as a fan club for the neo-Nazi rock band "Weisse Wölfe" ("White Wolves"), based in western Germany.
The band released its first record on a Danish label in 1997, and has occasionally found itself in court over lyrics that celebrated the Holocaust.
German TV network ARD reported that the WWT had expanded rapidly in the region around Hamburg in the past few years, using far-right rock concerts and demos to recruit new members, especially among young men.
In October 2012, state prosecutors opened an investigation into a potential terrorist organization, some of whose members were associated with the WWT in Hamburg, but after a number of raids failed to turn up clear evidence, the investigation was dropped in 2014.
According to a 2014 report by domestic intelligence, members of the White Wolves Terrorcrew were involved in an attack on leftists at Hamburg's main railway station in February of that year.
The group was already subject to police raids in 2009, when 23 suspects were charged with violations of Germany's law on wearing unauthorized uniforms.The German government has banned a number of neo-Nazi organizations in the past few years,
both on a national and state level, including the youth organization the "Heimattreue Deutsche Jugend" ("The Fatherland-loyal German Youth"), "Hilfsorganisation für nationale politische Gefangene und deren Angehörige" ("Help Organization for National Political Prisoners and Their Relatives"), as well as the Internet portal "Altermedia