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German police are hunting for hundreds of neo-Nazis. The Interior Ministry says there was a significant jump in outstanding arrest warrants in 2016. Experts believe that right-wing terrorist networks pose a threat.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said just a few days ago in her New Year address that the most difficult test Germany faces is Islamist terrorism. But terrorism in Germany is not exclusively Islamist. It can also come from the political left or - as the National Socialist Underground (NSU) has recently demonstrated - from the right.
The interior ministry said in a December response to a parliamentary interpellation from representatives of the Left Party that just under 600 arrest warrants for neo-Nazis were still outstanding. Some 403 arrest warrants were issued in the first 10 months of 2016 alone. In total, warrants were issued against 454 individuals who, in the official jargon, "have been deemed on account of relevant police information to belong to the category 'crime motivated by the political right.'" Not all of these right-wing extremists are being sought for politically motivated crimes, but in 92 cases the arrest warrant does indeed relate to a politically motivated offense.
Going underground encourages radicalization
According to Matthias Quent, a Jena-based researcher into right-wing extremism, the number of neo-Nazis who have gone underground increases the risk of creating new right-wing extremist terrorist structures. In an interview with DW, Quent emphasized that going underground could lead to further radicalization and to political aims being pursued more determinedly, with violence.
This corresponds with the interior ministry's latest annual report on the defense of the constitution, which talks about an "exorbitant increase in right-wing extremist violence." The authors go on to say that "anti-asylum agitation creates a sounding board for right-wing extremist ideology fragments. Right-wing extremism gains connectivity," with the result that violence and crimes motivated by right-wing extremism and directed against asylum-seekers' accommodation increased more than five-fold in 2015 compared to the previous year. The report also found that after years in decline, the right-wing extremist scene is now attracting members again. The number of right-wing extremist-oriented people is estimated at just under 23,000.
Just as in France, where mosques were targeted in the aftermath of the Islamist terrorist attacks, the deadly attack on Berlin's Breitscheidplatz, where a truck was driven into a Christmas market, may inflame sentiments in right-wing circles. Matthias Quent says he has already observed on social networks that the threshold for verbal violence has fallen.
"The discourse is incredibly uninhibited," he told DW. "If the perception is that the state is no longer capable of protecting its borders, or its people, from terrorism, there is an increase in the perceived legitimacy of forming one's own organizations, of resorting to violence oneself, of arming oneself."
One can, for example, arm oneself online. A Russian-registered German-language website with the name "Migrantenschreck" ("Scourge of Migrants”) offers items such as crossbows or weapons that shoot hard rubber bullets. A gun costing 749 euros ($791) is described as follows: "An incredible 130-joule muzzle velocity speaks for itself, guaranteeing the successful use of this product."
The operator of this illegal internet shop, Mario Rönsch, belongs to the circle of neo-Nazis who have gone underground. Several German public prosecutors have already had dealings with him: He was wanted, for example, on suspicion of incitement and exhorting people to commit crimes. Rönsch is now believed to be living in Hungary, where he is selling weapons. The weapons Rönsch offers on his site are legal in Hungary, but it is forbidden to export them to Germany. It can hardly be assumed that Rönsch's intentions are peaceful: The website has videos demonstrating how to use the weapons in which photos of leading German politicians are shot to pieces.
Europol's anti-terror unit observes that right-wing extremist groups all over Europe have been trying to instrumentalize the refugee crisis for their own ends. The Europol officials have also registered a significant increase in right-wing extremist websites across the European Union.
As with other forms of extremism and radicalization, social networks also play a key role in right-wing extremism. "The support that potential violent criminals get for their subsequent acts of violence very often comes from social media," Ulrich Wagner, a social psychologist from Marburg, told DW. This support, he said, comes either from interactive platforms or, quite simply, from the repeated viewing of particular acts of violence. "Violent perpetrators also learn by example how to do these things," says Wagner. "And the images are there on the internet for everyone to access."