Far-right vigilantes have become a familiar sight in many German cities in recent years. They claim to be maintaining law and order, but in reality they are striking fear into the hearts of law-abiding residents.
A vigilante group calling itself "First Class Crew — Steele Boys" takes over the streets of Steele each week, a suburb of Essen in western Germany. Sometimes the vigilantes are twenty-strong; other times as many as one hundred. Most of them are Rockers or Rowdies, and their presence strikes fear into the hearts of law-abiding residents. Steele is not even a dangerous area; the crime rate has been dropping steadily over the past ten years. But now these so-called militias have also started threatening anybody opposed to them — on the Internet and in public. For they are being met with courageous opposition from a counter-group calling itself "Steele Stays Mixed." Residents, churches, clubs, political parties and unions have united to protest either in silent marches or with singing against the far-right. The vigilantes in Essen have links to groups in the nearby towns of Herne, Mönchengladbach and Düsseldorf. But German police have also uncovered nationwide far-right networks, and the Essen group is under surveillance by the national security services. In other German towns the groups are variously called "Concerned Citizens" or — more obviously nationalistic — "Brotherhood Germany." Reporters Jule Sommer and Udo Kilimann have observed the development of the Essen vigilante movement for more than a year, and in this report they show how resistance to the far-right has grown under the auspices of the Lutheran Church.