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German state police free of far-right networks

March 12, 2021

After an uproar over the presence of far-right sympathizers in the German police, the country's most-populous state has said it found some officers tied to far-right groups but no networks of extremists among the force.

Two NRW police officers simmulate the arrest of a football "hooligan" at an exercise
German NRW state police have been declared free of major far-right tendenciesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Bildfunk/I. Fassbender

Conspiratorial, action-focused far-right networks were "not detectable" among police in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), according to a state Interior Ministry report.

Only in a few cases, flagged last year, was there a suspicion of contact or membership in right-wing extremist organizations, the report's authors concluded.

What did the report find?

Some 273 prosecution and disciplinary probes against 170 police officers as well as administrative personnel had not confirmed the presumption that a majority of offenders had a fixed far-right mentality, concluded a ministry-appointed team led by Uwe Reichel-Offermann, deputy head of NRW's intelligence agency.

"Every individual case is a drama, but it does not occur in large numbers," NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul said, after last year declaring police electronic chat disclosures as his priority concern. 

He added that while the problem of far-right extremists in the police was "too big," he maintained that it was "not so big that one could speak of a problem for the entire police."

After Bavaria, NRW, which is the country's most populous state with 18 million residents, maintains Germany's second-largest regional police force, comprising some 40,000 officers, as well as civilian staff, making 56,000 NRW police personnel.

Contacts by four suspects to far-right groups were proven, said the NRW report, with racism, anti-Semitism, glorification of past Hitler's Nazism reflected in "digital group exchanges," but these had not been replicated in the "analog world."

The probe has resulted in three disciplinary warnings and two dismissals, said the report, citing 186 suspected cases of far-right leanings dating from 2017 until late 2020, centered in Essen (50), Cologne (21), Aachen (25) and Dortmund (14).

Among 273 prosecution and disciplinary proceedings, so far 72 have been completed.

Düsseldorf: Herbert Reul (CDU), Innenminister von Nordrhein-Westfalen
NRW's interior minister Herbert Reul: far-right police trends not in large numbersImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini

Reul said NRW police command planned a supervisory pilot project for officers in the coming months to encourage them to "reflect" on their actions.

Germany maintains a federal police force as well as forces in each of the country's 16 states that in all total 300,000 uniformed enforcement officers.

What sparked last year's NRW investigation?

Critics, including experienced jurists, doubt federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's assertion last year that far-right activity among police amounted to a few bad apples.

Exemplified by the 2011 exposure of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) racist murder series and subsequent 2013-2018 Munich trial, critics claim far-right crimes go back decades, resulting in more than 200 deaths, mostly of foreigners.

Parliamentarians, including left-wing politician Janine Wissler in the state of Hesse, have in recent years cited the release of personal details apparently accessed via police computers.

Last October, a probe by the public broadcaster ARD exposed a Berlin city-state police chat group comprising more than 25 officers.

Disciplinary proceedings were also launched in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg against 17 police officers for allegedly sharing racist imagery.

Hamburg police academy tutor Rafael Behr said German police were "not true-bred Nazis" but instead influenced by a "cop culture" of high secrecy.

Public trust in Germany's police forces typically exceeds 83%, according to Eurobarometer samplings done for the European Commission since 2016.

What other German entities are being investigated?

Last month, Germany's civilian ombudsman for the country's armed forces, Eva Högl, said 477 cases of right-wing extremism were recorded by the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) based in Cologne, including missing arms and munitions.

These included 31 new cases of suspected Citizens of the Reich, or Reichsbürger, who do not recognize the authority of the modern German state, said Högl.

Cases of suspected extremist Islamists in the Bundeswehr fell to 48 cases, down from 77 in 2019.

Monitoring extremism within Germany's military was a "permanent task for the whole of society and also the Bundeswehr," she said.

Especially under scrutiny is the Special Forces Command (KSK), a 1,600-strong division, headquartered at Calw in Baden-Württemberg, trained for missions such as freeing hostages and apprehending terrorists.

Earlier this year, a KSK soldier went on trial after a large cache of weapons was found buried in his garden at Collm, a village in eastern Germany.

Last July, one of the KSK units was disbanded.

How right-wing is the Bundeswehr?

ipj/sms (epd, dpa, AFP)