(Last modified 2005)
Since German unification in 1990, right-wing extremists’ strategies for action, their activities, and the public image they attempt to convey have changed significantly. Demonstrations, concerts, and political discussions by the radical right have become commonplace in many towns and cities; the distribution of protest petitions and flyers, right extremists who become squatters, and other forms of protest, previously devised or made popular by West Germany’s “new social movements” in the 1970s, have been adopted by right extremists.
Since 1989/1990, the militant right-wing movement has become more dynamic and increasingly attracted younger supporters. Up to that watershed year, the political right in the “old” Federal Republic was dominated by political parties such as the Republikaner, the Deutsche Volksunion, or the NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands). After that year, young adults joined the so-called Freie Kamaradschaften and other, rather loose associations, which no longer defined participation in political elections as their primary goal but instead aimed to make their political positions known on the streets—and not infrequently employed violent means to do so.
In this local case study, the activities of the right extremists in a city in eastern Germany were observed and analyzed over an eighteen-month period.
The study reconstructs the development of the rightwing groups on the basis of documents and interviews conducted with supporters as well as opponents of these groups. Key protagonists of the local political right are portrayed and their self-understanding, political hopes, and their position with respect to the use of violence are analyzed, based on the author’s interviews.
The focus is on the most active representatives of the right; these are the individuals who develop new forms of action and new concepts, who recruit new supporters and indoctrinate them, and who organize meetings and events. They play a significant role in the dynamic trajectory of the rightwing movement. In contrast to openly xenophobic individuals who commit acts of violence, these movement organizers are seldom guilt of breaking the law (or at least seldom prosecuted). As a result, relatively little is known about these (purportedly) nonviolent activists and leaders, in comparison to those who are arrested and convicted.
During the period focused on here, the right extremists in the town studied increasingly distanced themselves from the use of physical force and attempted to gain the attention of the public, as well as its recognition and acceptance by utilizing other, civil forms of protest. But evaluation of the interviews also revealed that the political goals and ideas of these activists, who continue to envisage an ethnically homogenous “Volksgemeinschaft” purged of foreigners and the radical rights’ political opponents, has not changed. This work offers evidence to support the assessment that the radical right’s apparent about-face—its attempts to civilize its supporters and its vociferous campaign to abandon the use of violence as a political tool—was in fact a tactical reaction to the de-legitimation of xenophobic violence and the social marginalization of rightwing extremism in the public arena.
(Completed in 2005)