Germany Confronts The Enemy Within

There are 16 references to the far-right and six to neo-nazis in this article but no definitions are offered.

Katrin Bennhold writes for the New York Times:

Germany has a problem. For years, politicians and security chiefs rejected the notion of any far-right infiltration of the security services, speaking only of “individual cases.” The idea of networks was dismissed. The superiors of those exposed as extremists were protected. Guns and ammunition disappeared from military stockpiles with no real investigation.

The government is now waking up. Cases of far-right extremists in the military and the police, some hoarding weapons and explosives, have multiplied alarmingly. The nation’s top intelligence officials and senior military commanders are moving to confront an issue that has become too dangerous to ignore.

The problem has deepened with the emergence of the Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which legitimized a far-right ideology that used the arrival of more than a million migrants in 2015 — and more recently the coronavirus pandemic — to engender a sense of impending crisis.

Why does Germany have this problem? Why now? What is it in response to? A best-selling book published in Germany in 2010 (but never translated and published in English) offers a clue — Germany Abolishes Itself. According to Wikipedia: “Sarrazin argued for restricting Muslim immigration to Germany on the grounds that Muslims who had immigrated to Germany from Turkey and other Muslim countries had failed to assimilate into German society, lived culturally separate lives in densely Muslim neighborhoods, and that two thirds of Germany’s Muslim immigrants were on welfare.”

Most concerning to the authorities is that the extremists appear to be concentrated in the military unit that is supposed to be the most elite and dedicated to the German state, the special forces, known by their German acronym, the KSK.

I would expect that those most willing to sacrifice their lives to protect their people are the least friendly to multi-culturalism. People don’t sacrifice for a state as much as they will for specific people. One reason that Germany soldiers have been so formidable in the past century is that they have typically come from the same parts of the country and thus feel a fierce loyalty to each other.

In many cases, soldiers have used the networks to prepare for when they predict Germany’s democratic order will collapse. They call it Day X. Officials worry it is really a pretext for inciting terrorist acts, or worse, a putsch.

“For far-right extremists, the preparation of Day X and its precipitation blend into one another,” Martina Renner, a lawmaker on the homeland security committee of the German Parliament, told me.

The ties, officials say, sometimes reach deep into old neo-Nazi networks and the more polished intellectual scene of the so-called New Right. Extremists are hoarding weapons, maintaining safe houses, and in some cases keeping lists of political enemies.

A Germany bent on abolishing itself will inevitably have a Day X.

Some German news media have referred to a “shadow army,” drawing parallels to the 1920s, when nationalist cells within the military hoarded arms, plotted coups and conspired to overthrow democracy.

When the current system doesn’t work, people will seek alternatives.

Under the headline, the Times writes: “Germany worries about a problem of far-right infiltration at the heart of its democracy.”

I would think in a democracy, citizens infiltrating the state is the whole point of this particular system of government, unless these citizens have an allegiance to a political ideology that is illegal. What if the only system of governance that could preserve Germany is currently illegal? Then those who want to preserve their people have the choice of giving up or infiltrating the rotting structure of the current state.

“I would estimate the number of soldiers in European armed forces that also belong to nationalist groups to number in the hundreds of thousands, with just as many employed in law enforcement positions,” Mr. [Brendan] Tarrant had written.

That makes sense. These people may be the only hope for Europe.

But investigating the problem is itself fraught: Even the military counterintelligence agency, charged with monitoring extremism inside the armed forces, may be infiltrated.

Do those who support the current system have the same dedication as those opposed? I doubt it. People don’t risk death for constitutions and democratic values.

“If the very people who are meant to protect our democracy are plotting against it, we have a big problem,” said Stephan Kramer, president of the domestic intelligence agency in the state of Thuringia. “How do you find them?”

“These are battle-hardened men who know how to evade surveillance because they are trained in conducting surveillance themselves,” he added.

“What we are dealing with is an enemy within.”

If at core these insurgents are anti-social, then they will collapse from within like the American Alt Right. If at core these insurgents are pro-social, then maybe they deserve to triumph.

It was never easy to be a soldier in postwar Germany. Given its Nazi history and the destruction it foisted on Europe in World War II, the country maintains a conflicted relationship to its military.

For decades, Germany tried to forge a force that represented a democratic society and its values. But in 2011 it abolished conscription and moved to a volunteer force. As a result, the military increasingly reflects not the broad society, but a narrower slice of it.

General Kreitmayr said that “a big percentage” of his soldiers are eastern Germans, a region where the AfD does disproportionately well. Roughly half the men on the list of KSK members suspected of being far-right extremists are also from the east, he added.

Good luck trying to forge an armed service around democratic values. That’s thin gruel for people risking their lives.

Officials talk of a perceptible shift “in values” among new recruits. In conversations, the soldiers themselves, who could not be identified under the unit’s guidelines, said that if there was a tipping point in the unit, it came with the migrant crisis of 2015.

As hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from Syria and Afghanistan were making their way to Germany, the mood on the base was anxious, they recalled.

“We are soldiers who are charged with defending this country and then they just opened the borders, no control,” one officer recalled. “We were at the limit.”

For every action, there’s reaction.

One night in 2017, Little Sheep, the sergeant major whose weapons stash was uncovered in May, was among about 70 KSK soldiers of Second Company who had gathered at a military shooting range.

Investigators have identified him only as Philipp Sch. He and the others had organized a special leaving party for a lieutenant colonel, a man celebrated as a war hero for shooting his way out of an ambush in Afghanistan while carrying one of his men.

The colonel, an imposing man covered in Cyrillic tattoos who enjoys cage-fighting in his spare time, had to complete an obstacle course. It involved hacking apart tree trunks and throwing severed pig heads.

As a prize, his men had flown in a woman. But the colonel ended up dead drunk. The woman, rather than being his trophy, went to the police.

Standing by the fire with a handful of soldiers, she had witnessed them singing neo-Nazi lyrics and raising their right arm. One man stood out for his enthusiasm, she recalled in a televised report by the public broadcaster ARD. She called him the “Nazi grandpa.”

This group sounds anti-social and will probably fall apart on its own. Drunks and addicts don’t have the right stuff to change society because they can’t even control themselves.

Conspicuously missing is any mention of a disgraced former KSK commander, Gen. Reinhard Günzel, who was dismissed after he wrote a 2003 letter in support of an anti-Semitic speech by a conservative lawmaker.

General Günzel subsequently published a book called “Secret Warriors.” In it, he placed the KSK in the tradition of a notorious special forces unit under the Nazis that committed numerous war crimes, including massacres of Jews. He has been a popular speaker at far-right events.

“What you basically have is one of the founding commanders of the KSK becoming a prominent ideologue of the New Right,” said Christian Weissgerber, a former soldier who has written a book about his own experience of being a neo-Nazi in the military.

What exactly was this anti-Semitic speech? It was delivered by Martin Hohmann, who was then a member of the CDU. According to Wikipedia:

He attracted public attention with a speech on German Unity Day on October 3, 2003. He set out to repudiate the supposed accusation that during the Holocaust, the Germans were considered a “nation of perpetrators” (German: Tätervolk, a term which was later named German Un-Word of the Year by a jury of linguistic scholars).[1] To his end, he elaborated at length on the involvement of Jews in the violent 1917 Russian Revolution.

Hohmann starts from noting a strong sense of self-contempt among Germans and quotes Hans-Olaf Henkel, the vice president of the Federation of German Industry, who has stated that “Our original sin paralyzes the country”. Hohmann thinks that an undue occupation with Germany’s past—which he distinguishes from a necessary admission and remembrance of German crimes—lies behind discrimination against fellow-countrymen. Among examples, he mentions the refusal of German government officials to consider demanding compensations by Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic on behalf of forced German labourers in World War II, in the same way as Germany pays compensation for those they forced to labor camps.

He notes that, while the notion of collective guilt is usually denied, it is very much applied to Germans. Other nations tend to white-wash their history, like the French who hail the bloody French revolution as some kind of emancipation and the imperialist dictator Napoleon as a benevolent father of the people. The Germans, on the other hand are depicted in black and white as perpetrators and their enemies as innocent lambs. He vehemently denies the thesis of Daniel Goldhagen about a general German complicity in Hitler’s politics.

To illustrate his point, that this treatment of Germans is absurd, he draws a parallel with Jews, who, he argues with painstaking submission of evidence, have, to a remarkable extent taken part in communist activities, such as the Russian revolution. Hohmann states: “Thus one could describe Jews with some justification as a nation of perpetrators…Judged by these facts, it would feel justified to call the Jews a people of ‘perpetrators’.” His conclusion is: “That may sound terrible. But it would still follow the same logic, as the one used to call the Germans a people of perpetrators.” To make it clear that the judgement follows only if you accept the premises he is out for demolishing, he explains that “neither the Germans nor the Jews can be termed a nation of perpetrators”.

Hohmann goes on to note that the Jews who participated in revolutionary activities where such who had been alienated from their religion and heritage—a trait, he observes, they shared with national socialists. The target of his speech, hence, is secularisation. “Because of that neither ‘Germans’, nor ‘Jews’ are a people of perpetrators. It can be said with every justification, though, that: The Godless, with their godless ideologies were the perpetrators of this last, bloody, Century.”

That 2003 speech sounds much more anti-secular than anti-Jewish.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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