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Skinhead style is gone, neo-Nazi danger remains

Interview: Elizabeth SchumacherDecember 10, 2015

Political parties on the far-right in Germany have begun exploiting modern trends to recruit young people. Author Johannes Radke spoke with DW about the changing style of neo-Nazis.

Nipster Phänomen der rechten Szene
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Johannes Radke is a journalist who specializes in right-wing extremist and the neo-Nazi movement in Germany. He's also co-author of the book "Neue Nazis" (New Nazis) along with Toralf Staud.

Radke talked with DW to elaborate on 'Nipsters', neo-Nazi hip-hop, and how dangerous far-right groups in Germany attempt to appropriate "cool" to recruit a younger generation of followers.

DW: What are some examples of how far-right extremists use modern trends to recruit young people?

Johannes Radke: The best thing for the neo-Nazis to use to recruit young kids, since the 1980s, has been music. If you're 15 years old, you will never just read a Nazi flyer and say "Oh, they're right! I'm a Nazi now!" But if you listen to Nazi music, it's cool, but full of hate. That's how people get into the Nazi scene.

Has that changed all at since the 1980s?

They still use music, but they have new styles now. Now there's neo-Nazi rap and neo-Nazi metal even neo-Nazi techno with hard beats and speeches by Hitler in the background. They're trying to make it more attractive for those who aren't into skinhead rock and roll.

Have these attempts to modernize themselves been successful in increasing their numbers?

That's hard to say. But what I have seen is that there is still a growing number of young neo-Nazis who get into the scene from the music. Everyone I know who has dropped out of it, I would say around 70 percent of them tell me the got into the scene in the first place from the music.

Should society be worried about these new far-right phenomena like using hip-hop and 'Nipster' - neo-Nazi hipsters, to boost their public profile?

Yes. Absolutely. First of all though, this term 'Nipster' is made up by journalists, it's not something they would say. But it's a topic that's difficult to deal with. Nowadays, you can't just see someone and say 'oh, that guy's a Nazi' because this neo-Nazi skinhead style is long gone.

Why are right-wing extremists changing their look?

Because skinhead style is old school, not cool. Neo-Nazis are also young people who to want to be cool, look cool. They want to have what the other young kids have. They want to steal this clothing and music and put their message inside it. A good example of this is the Run-DMC logo. Patrick Schröder sells a shirt using the basis of the logo, with the German word for swastika, minus the vowels [to flout German laws against Nazi symbolism]. This is one way they are trying to make their old, racist, anti-Semitic ideology look cool.

Deutschland Patrick Schröder NPD-Funktionär
Patrick Schröder is a member of Germany's most visible far-right group, the National Democratic Party (NPD)Image: picture alliance/Breuel-Bild

What's being done by the government to fight the recruitment of young people by extremist groups?

Information is collected by the government, the police, youth groups involved in helping draw kids away from the neo-Nazi scene. But sometimes I'm really surprised by how little the police know.

You think they could do better?

It's almost funny, if you read the report put out every year by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution about left-wing, right-wing, and Islamic extremism, everything that's in there - I found out about it or researched it two years earlier.

What should change then?

Hire better people, people who are really interested in stopping neo-Nazis. Sometimes, for me, it seems like the people who work in this branch of the police are just not really interested. We need staff who are passionate about stopping these dangerous people.