The fall meeting of Germany's Federal Crime Office this year was dedicated to stopping far-right extremism. The upshot of the annual gathering: Above all, better research and information would help.
Some 17,000 crimes committed in Germany in 2011 had a far-right connection. In more than 800 of these cases, serious violence was used. And five attempted homicides, so far this year, have been attributed to far-right extremists. The facts Jörg Zierke, President of the Federal Crime Office (BKA), presented at the conference in Wiesbaden paint a bleak picture.
"The scene is younger, more action-oriented and more militant," Zierke told about 500 listeners. Among them were many investigators and representatives of Germany's domestic intelligence service, The Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). The BfV has faced withering criticism in the past year for only discovering a decade-long series of murders by the far-right "National Socialist Underground" (NSU) after the perpetrators killed themselves last November.
But the meeting was not about revisiting the security services' failures. Eyes were fixed on the future. "We have no time to lose," said Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU). "Every day counts."
Also in attendance in Wiesbaden was the Turkish ambassador to Germany, Hüseyin Avni Karslioglu, who also expressed an urgent need for change. He said people with a Turkish background are repeatedly victims of far-right violence.
"There is great disappointment at the seemingly helpless state," Karsioglu said, echoing the feelings of many of his compatriots. But few Turks are seriously considering a return to their homeland. They hope the German authorities will take more vigorous action.
Right-wing extremists in Europe are networked
The detectives presented a series of speakers, sociologists, political scientists and journalists, who offered starting points for implementing measures against far-right extremists more quickly and effectively.
One of them was Miroslav Mares, a political scientist at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, who has researched the phenomenon of rising far-right radicalism in Europe.
By comparing Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary and the Czech Republic he noticed numerous connections. Extremists learn from each other across borders and support each other in campaigns, share training camps and paramilitary actions, organize financial assistance and exchange information about structures.
The right-wing scene has long operated in small cells of three to five "comrades" rather than in structured organizations. This complicates the work of the investigators, because for legal reasons alone it is more difficult to act against these smaller units. Mares recommends that greater attention be paid to the international flow of information and that it be researched further.
Better recognition of behavior patterns
Political scientist Armin Pfahl-Traughber showed how beneficial this can be. The lecturer at the University of Bonn called for more research on right-wing extremists. Even the simplest questions have so far been hardly explored. For example, there is little understanding of the reasons for the enormous increase in the number of the most militant activists in the last 20 years.
Even patterns of action have not been documented methodically. If more comparative studies had been available, the investigators could have discovered that, for example, the NSU attack in Cologne in 2004 was carried out with a nail bomb of exactly the same type as the neo-Nazi organization "Combat18" in England used. It would have been possible to connect it to the far-right much more quickly, Pfahl-Traughber maintained.
Often simple measures are enough
One approach to alienate radicals from their followers is to start with emotions. Music has a strong visceral appeal. Journalist Thomas Kuban investigated the appeal of far-right rock concerts with a hidden camera and showed video clips in Wiesbaden. Visitors were seen out with the arms in a Nazi salute and chanting anti-Semitic texts. More and more young people are attracted to such music.
Kuban appears in public completely disguised - for security reasons. He has been threatened several times. But he can also report successes against extremism.
In Baden-Württemberg, the police raided an above-average number of far-right concerts and shut down an event with 450 participants.
This led to a great deal of frustration in the neo-Nazis scene and significantly reduced the number of new recruits. "The effect of music cannot be underestimated," Kuban said, noting that brochures are read only once, but fans memorize lyrics, absorbing the message.
NPD ban still uncertain
The exchange between officials and speakers at the annual BKA meeting lasted two days. Applying their vast expertise, the speakers attempted to show members of the security agencies new ways to fight far-right extremism.
Attorney General Harald Range said he hoped that an improved recognition of evidence would allow facts collected against neo-Nazis to hold up better in court.
According to BfV head, Hans-Georg Maassen, the agency has compiled 1,000 pages of information suitable for making the case to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).
In early December, Germany's federal and state interior ministers plan to discuss a new initiative to ban the party. The last attempt failed in 2003 because too many of the party's leadership were actually undercover agents. Now politicians are hoping to address the far-right with a better exchange of information. A special Center for Defense Against Left- and Right-Wing Terror was opened in Cologne on Thursday (15.11.2012).