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German police raided the country's largest neo-Nazi group, which is suspected of disseminating propaganda to neo-Nazis in prison, where they are prone to abandoning their beliefs and the movement.
Police were looking for any incriminating evidence
Police across Germany raided the offices and apartments of known members of the Hilfsorganisation fuer nationale und politische Gefangene und deren Angehoerige (HNG), the country's largest and most influential neo-Nazi organization, on Tuesday morning.
The raids took place in the five states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, North-Rhine Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Berlin They were organized by the Interior Ministry as part of an ongoing examination of the legality of HNG and similar right-wing organizations.
According to a statement issued by interior ministry official Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, the group's official objective is to support incarcerated neo-Nazi members and their families, in an effort to "strengthen and overcome the ideological struggles in the fragmented neo-Nazi scene."
"We suspect that the actions of the HNG do not conform to our constitution and that they threaten the cohesion of society," Fritsche added. "Today's searches will show if these suspicions are confirmed."
Help for prisoners - to 'hold onto convictions'
Fewer and fewer Germans are joining right-wing groups
The Interior Ministry suspects that the HNG is not only concerned with supporting neo-Nazi prisoners, but rather with preventing them from abandoning their ideologies while incarcerated.
A German government report dating back to 2001 said the group was involved in of a number of non-constitutional activities, most notably the dissemination of Nazi propaganda and the use of Nazi and other far-right extremist symbols.
Some 600 people belong to the HNG network, which has been in existence for over three decades, the Interior Ministry said. At present, the group supports between 100 and 200 prisoners in Germany. Members visit convicts and provide them with far-right extremist literature, among other things.
Not every neo-Nazi who lands in prison in Germany, however, is chosen by the HNG to receive the group's support. Only notorious far-right extremists - or those who committed a widely-recognized crime - make the list, which is published in the group's monthly magazine.
'Crucial period of reflection'
The HNG strives to "make martyrs" out of prominent incarcerated neo-Nazis, according to Bernd Wagner, who heads EXIT-Deutschland, a group which lends support to neo-Nazis looking to abandon their beliefs.
Neo-Nazis are given time to reflect in prison, Wagner said
"When prominent members get sent to prison for committing violent acts, the [HNG] portrays them as martyrs for the greater far-right cause," Wagner told Deutsche Welle. "This is for two reasons: First, it keeps the prisoners believing and fighting against the system. Second, it spreads interest in the scene in the free world outside of prison. This is crucial for the right wing scene, because it is losing momentum."
Indeed, the number of far-right radicals in Germany is dropping. The country's internal security agency published a report in 2009 saying that some 5,000 people belonged to the far-right scene, which showed a decrease of several hundred compared to 2008 and previous years.
Wagner's group, EXIT-Deutschland, is in direct competition with the HNG. He says prison is a crucial time for many neo-Nazis to "reflect on their actions and their criminality."
"As a group, we are there to help neo-Nazis who want to change their ways. We deal with many prisoners, which makes us a threat for the purposes of the HNG. They want to keep their members, naturally, and we are there just to give these people the assurance that it is possible to live a different life."
Author: Gabriel Borrud
Editor: Nancy Isenson