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Germany's well-organized neo-Nazi scene is merging with the anti-Islamization PEGIDA movement. They've become an integral part of the group's weekly marches - and they appear to be tolerated by organizers.
André E. is a highly conspicuous man. His earlobes have large holes widened over time by black rings. The backs of both his hands are covered in tattoos, one with a skull. If you don't know André E., at first he comes across as intimidating. But if you do know him, you know he's dangerous.
He has been on trial in Germany since 2013 on charges of helping the far-right terrorist group National Socialist Underground (NSU), together with group member Beate Zschäpe. He is said to be one of her closest associates. The two are bound together by their hate - for immigrants and for Muslims.
André E. isn't afraid to show his attitude publicly. In mid-January, right after the NSU trial in Munich, he went straight from the courtroom to a demonstration held by the anti-Islamization PEGIDA movement together with his comrades from the Bavarian neo-Nazi scene.
PEGIDA, an acronym which translates to "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West," sprung up in the eastern German city of Dresden, and has been organizing weekly demonstrations since October 2014.
Over the past several weeks, well-organized neo-Nazi networks have established their own powerful block within the marches. Officials from far-right parties, neo-Nazis from violence-prone regional groups, and convicted right-wing terrorists are among them - people such as Karl-Heinz Statzberger, for instance, who planned to carry out a bomb attack on a Munich synagogue in 2003.
A common cause
When the marches get underway each week, the neo-Nazis form a kind of rearguard. They scream far-right battle cries with a gutteral roar: "If you don't love Germany, leave Germany!" And many regular citizens join in enthusiastically. Evidently no one seems to feel disturbed by their presence.
And so it plays out again and again at PEGIDA marches in cities around the country. In northern Germany, the leadership of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) participates in the demonstrations. In Berlin, neo-Nazis march with Nazi symbols on their clothing, clearly showing off their beliefs. And at the home of the PEGIDA protests, in Dresden, members of far-right hooligan groups serve as leaders. None of the protest organizers seem to object to their participation.
So why has the extreme right been so successful in merging with the PEGIDA movement? A recent study by the Technical University in Dresden indicates that the neo-Nazis and the "furious citizens" who participate have many beliefs in common. Both groups share a general dissatisfaction with politics, both have racial prejudices, and both reject Islam.
The far-right scene tries to use that to its advantage, and so far it's been successful. Its alliance with the middle classes is, however, fragile, because most of the people who support the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement reject the use of violence as a political tool. Violence, however, is one of the key features of the organized neo-Nazis.
Deutsche Welle is bound by German law and the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or their victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases. In the case of Beate Zschäpe, an exception was made because a warrant for her arrest had been issued in 2011, and at the time the German press determined it was in the public interest to reveal her full name.