Far-right violence in Germany is spreading beyond the neo-Nazi scene, a domestic intel agency has warned. More people are committing acts of violence without the usual "transitional phases" from far-right ideology.
Germany's far-right is expanding and becoming more radical, according to the latest report by the Verfassungsschutz bureau in North-Rhine Westphalia. The domestic intelligence agency in Germany's most populous state has said that 66 percent of the suspects of attacks on refugee homes had been carried out by people not previously known in the far-right scene.
The state reported 114 politically-motivated attacks against refugee homes in the first five months of this year, 22 of which were violent crimes.
"There is a new type of perpetrator who is radicalizing more quickly, and jumping over the threshold from ideology to attack without any transitional stages," the state's Interior Minister Ralf Jäger said as he presented the Verfassungsschutz report.
"It is particularly difficult to recognize this turbo-radicalization," Jäger said, before adding that the only way to counter it was through better societal awareness. Everyone has a duty to "stand up for our freedom and democracy," the minister said.
But Thomas Mücke, chairman of the Violence Prevention Network de-radicalization program, said this was not particularly new. Latent xenophobia is always likely to spill over into violence when something perceived as a social crisis arises.
Equally, one has to make certain distinctions, he argued. "The so-called 'lone wolves' - defined as those who have absolutely no contact to the scene - are a rarity," he told DW. "Then there are those who act outside the scene, without the scene necessarily knowing about it, but who have been incited and encouraged by it."
"Those people act without orders," Mücke added. "That happens a lot - but the true lone wolves - like Anders Breivik in Norway - are very rare."
Last year's influx of refugees into Germany has triggered a corresponding increase in attacks on the new arrivals. In all, the North-Rhine Westphalian intelligence agency recorded 222 "far-right-motivated" crimes against refugee homes in 2015 - almost a ninefold increase on the 25 attacks in 2014. Three-quarters of these were limited to property damage, propaganda, and incitement to hatred.
While most of the arson attacks happened when refugee homes were still unoccupied, one fire, in October 2015 in the small town of Altena, was set in a home with seven refugees inside (two suspects have been arrested and will go on trial this year).
There was even the emergence of what the agency described as a "terrorist organization" - the so-called "Oldschool Society" (OSS), whose existence became known in mid-2014, and which became increasingly radicalized in early 2015 until its leadership was arrested in May that year on suspicion of planning attacks on refugee homes in Saxony.
New level of violence
But more notable was the fact that the investigators did not see any "central control of these xenophobic attacks by extremist right-wing organizations."
The intel agency noted that last October's near-fatal stabbing on Cologne mayoral candidate Henriette Reker showed how far-right violence was spreading beyond the neo-Nazi scene: That showed that "sympathizers of organized far-right extremism can get radicalized at any time and commit serious acts of violence."
The intelligence agency's announcement was also clear about the roots of the new trend: "The inhuman campaigns against refugees by the far-right have contributed to a brutalization of the political climate," it read. "The number and severity of increasing attacks on refugee homes are extremely worrying."
Different circles of extremism
Mücke pointed out that far-right ideology has always been wider and deeper than the visible far-right scene.
"There is a kind of hardcore far-right scene, which is politically active and which comes together in certain subcultures, like the skinhead scene, to carry out violent crimes as part of a peer group," said Mücke.
"Then there is a kind of latent far-right, who have a right-wing outlook but aren't necessarily conspicuous, because they don't organize themselves," he said. "They only become visible in certain social crises."
When an issue like the refugee crisis becomes more socially visible, these latent far-right people wake up and feel justified in acting, Mücke explained. "You see the same social trend in the rise of the right-wing populist parties like the AfD [Alternative for Germany], or in far-right parties like the NPD [National Democratic Party]," he said.
The two elements also mix, of course. The NRW intel agency went on to warn that since Germany's refugee policy is likely to continue to set the media agenda throughout this year, neo-Nazis are also likely to continue to exploit and escalate the issue. "The hatred fomented by this will cause and trigger some people to commit violence," it read.
But while there was no recognizable organization behind much of the violent attacks, there was evidence of "far-right extremist control" at the so-called "GIDA" demonstrations - protests associated with the weekly PEGIDA protests that began in Dresden in the fall of 2014.
The agency found that PEGIDA's western German outliers - BOGIDA, DÜGIDA, KÖGIDA (based in Bonn, Düsseldorf, and Cologne respectively) was infiltrated last year by a small group around a single far-right activist who had been a leading member of the "Pro NRW" political party until early 2015.
Other far-right organizations and political parties, including the NPD, were also taking part in these demonstrations. But these, the report added, were not "formal PEGIDA events - rather a specific local specialty in the form of an - ultimately failed - takeover attempt of a nationwide 'brand' by far-right extremists."