A leading neo-Nazi has withdrawn from the scene. His departure could act as an example for other disillusioned members of the movement, who, like him, are frustrated by the its failure to modernize.
It's over for Andreas Molau, known widely as one of the most prominent strategists of the German far right. He was in the executive of Germany's National Democratic Party (NPD), Germany's most important far right political party, and was one of the leading activists behind pro-NRW, a populist right-wing citizen's movement in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Now he's handed in his party membership, left his party jobs and broken off contacts. He wants to go back to a normal life.
But, as he told public broadcaster NDR, he can't see himself - now, at 44 - going back to his old job as a teacher: "I can't stand up tomorrow in front of a class and say, 'It was all for nothing.' "
Not your typical neo-Nazi
Molau was always seen as an intellectual and didn't look like a typical neo-Nazi, eschewing the typical boots and leather jacket. He even taught in a Rudolf Steiner school in his previous life, until he started working for the NPD in 2004 as a research assistant.
"Nobody at the school knew about his far-right background, and nobody looked into it," says Patrick Gensing, a journalist specializing in the neo-Nazi scene. Molau was seen an example of the "new right," trying to move the NPD in a new direction. "He failed completely," says Gensing. "He tried to make the NPD more moderate, and to get it to distance itself from the crimes of National Socialism. But it didn't work."
Molau says that he left the far-right scene because of a speech given in February 2009 by Udo Pastörs, leader of the NPD faction in the state parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
"Pastörs used disgraceful language," says Stefan Schölermann, a journalist with NDR. "He referred to hooked noses, a Jewish republic, and [he described the Turks as] seed-cannon [referring to their alleged intention of taking over the country through their birthrate]. This speech made it clear to Molau that leading NPD politicians and other people on the far right were very close to Hitler-style ideology."
Schölermann has spoken to Molau several times in recent months, and says he wasn't surprised by his withdrawal.
Traumatic division of Germany
It was a speech by Udo Pastörs that led Molau to think again
It may well be surprising that someone with a conventional middle-class background, with a family and two children, a degree and a job as a teacher, could end up in the far-right world. Schölermann told DW, "When he was at school, he hated the people in the 1968 generation. He had personal experience of the division of Germany from the western side, but his teachers, who came from the 68 generation, made a taboo of the division of Germany as well as refusing to recognize those on the right who opposed the Berlin Wall." That was how he began to read and study the leaflets handed out by right-wing organizations.
Molau's career led him to the "Junge Freiheit" ("Young Freedom"), a national weekly magazine for politics and culture that was the mouthpiece for the New Right. He also began writing for the NPD party paper, and, above all, he had an important role in a think tank which was highly influential among far right extremists, the "Gesellschaft für Freie Publizistik" (Association for Free Journalism).
He set the tone and led the scene, publishing pamphlets against Muslims. "I'd be happy if I came to a town and didn't see a döner kebab restaurant," he once said, referring to the popular Turkish snack, and called for "no-döner kebab" areas to be made into a political demand.
"He was the intellectual motor of the movement and practically gave the movement its terminology," says Schölermann. Experts think his resignation could be a blow to the far right community. As Schönemann points out, "He's a prominent figure in that world. They'll be looking closely to see how he gets on in the future. There could be other people on the right who think the same as him, and there could be people who decide to follow his example."
Less influence now
But Patrick Gensing doesn't think he is that important in the far right any more. "His influence has diminished over the last few years," he says. But Gensing also reports what Molau told him about the reactions to his move: "He said that he has had emails from former comrades in the NPD who have said, 'That was brave of you - I should really do the same.' "
Molau's withdrawal from the scene can certainly be seen as final, since he has made contact with the intelligence services. That makes it irreversible as far as the far right community is concerned. The intelligence agency in the state of Lower Saxony has confirmed the contact and says it will help Molau leave the scene.
Molau now plans to return to his middle class existence, and wants to help explain right-wing extremism and work in social projects. The first question for him will be how he is going to fund his future life. Until now, he's been living off party jobs and far-right journalism. But he won't be going back to his old job of teaching - that's clear to him.
As Gensing says, "You can't put off your ideology, like you can take off a suit. But it's still a success when someone leaves the scene. Such people need a perspective and you can't slam the door in their faces." He calls for Molau to be given a fair chance.