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Men with shaved heads attend a Neo-Nazi concert
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Police unveil 'Nazi Shazam'

Simon Broll / nm
December 6, 2013

German police may soon be armed with a smartphone app to help crack down on far-right music. Dubbed 'Nazi Shazam,' the program has been praised as a handy tool to combat extremism, but some experts are skeptical.


They have names like "On the attack" or "Enemy," and they are dangerous – especially for children and young people. In Germany songs from the far-right often end up on a black list, called the Index, for material seen as inciting racial hatred, discriminating against minority groups or playing down Nazism. Such tracks are not allowed to be openly displayed for sale because they could fall into the hands of minors. The titles are also prohibited at concerts with young audiences, and police can break-up parties if one of the indexed songs is played.

For investigators, however, it's often difficult to recognize these forbidden songs. It can be particularly hard to keep track at Nazi concerts where "heavy" music – so-called "rechtsrock" – is the norm, according to Rainer Wendt, the Chairman of the German Police Union. "It makes a huge racket, because the music is deafeningly loud," he said. "You can't immediately identify the indexed music, which would justify an intervention."

Fingerprinting forbidden titles

The NPD uses music to attract young people
In Germany songs inciting racial hatred end up on the so-called IndexImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Help for the police may be on its way from the federal state of Saxony. There, the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) has developed software that could make it easier for the black-listed music to be identified. The program uses audio fingerprint, a tool popular with smartphone applications. With help from an algorithm, a song's characteristic frequencies can be pinned down, and it is given a unique identification mark – like a human fingerprint.

The pilot project will be presented at the Interior Ministers' Conference in Osnabrück on Friday (06.12.2013). The program has already been dubbed "Nazi Shazam" – based on the app that recognizes songs on the radio when a smartphone is held up to the speaker – because it makes it possible for the song title and artist to be identified within seconds. If the software is developed into an app, it could serve as a handy sidekick for police in the future.

Nazi songs and homophobic rap

For Kathlen Zink from the Saxon LKA however, the name "Nazi Shazam" is misleading. "It's not only about recognizing radical right-wing pieces of music, but also generally music which is criminally relevant," she said. That could also include songs from the German rap scene that stir up hatred against homosexuals or women. For example, the song "Stress ohne Grund" (Stress without a reason) by rapper Bushido landed on the Index in July 2013 because it contains anti-gay slogans and violent fantasies.

Two black boots
Is music a gateway drug into the far-right scene?Image: imago/Rüdiger Wölk

The Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons in Bonn is responsible for deciding which songs end up on the Index. The department investigates lyrics which could have a "brutalizing effect on children and adolescents," and most of them come from the far right-wing. There are currently 1128 songs on the list for glorifying the Nazis and promoting violence or war. "Every year about 100 new songs are added," said the Department's Chairman, Elke Monssen-Engberding. She believes the messages in many right-wing nationalist songs are dangerous: "Children could adopt as their own views examples like foreigners being seen as inferior human beings, or that homosexuals should be expelled from the country."

An insight into far-right thinking

Police unionist Rainer Wendt agrees. He said the songs can be tricky, "because young people can quickly get caught up in the music without paying much attention to the lyrics," and so it's through the medium of music that inhuman ideologies can reach the minds of students.

But can music really be a gateway drug into the far-right scene? For Daniel Köhler, the director of the Institute for the Study of Radical Movements in Berlin, this explanation is too one-sided. Today there are video games, chat rooms and social networks that could be considered far more dangerous triggers, he said, however he conceded music can be a "door-opener" into far-right thought.

As part of his research work, Köhler has spoken with numerous ex-Nazis. "Many members report that their first contact with the scene actually took place through music," he said. "That could be an old copied cassette tape from a band, which you might have gotten in the schoolyard. It could be from a concert that you were invited to, or perhaps an NPD rally."

The far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) in particular is known for using concerts to recruit young followers. Germany's 16 Federal States this week submitted an application to the Federal Constitutional Court to have the NPD banned. The party is currently represented in two state legislatures, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and in Saxony – where the new app is being developed.

Calls for debate about right wing ideologies

Portrait of Rainer Wendt
Police unionist Rainer Wendt welcomes the new app for smartphonesImage: picture alliance/ZB

Rainer Wendt hopes that the software will soon be incorporated into practical everyday police work, making it possible for black-listed songs to be recognized with a simple click on the smartphone.

But political scientist Daniel Köhler remains skeptical. Although he welcomes the use of apps in the fight against right wing extremism, Köhler sees the general indexing of songs as a problem in itself. "In an age of Internet and downloading, a classic index is out of date," he said. It takes too long for the tested songs to arrive on the list, and what's more, in some circles the indexing could serve as a 'seal of quality' for the potential buyer, an indication that the band is really hardcore."

Köhler wants there to be more education in schools. Instead of banning songs, he is calling that there is more emphasis on debate and discussion in the classroom – so that young people understand the ideology behind the lyrics.

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