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Hitler's offspring.

It's a cool and drizzly evening in Munich. A taxi drops me in a well-to-do neighborhood preferred by lawyers and accountants, but I have a different sort of appointment. I know I've arrived at the right place, thanks to a large picture of Adolf Hitler easily visible through a street-level window.

"This is open national socialism," boasts Bela Ewald Althans. "I like to provoke people."

At twenty-seven, Althans is one of the most important figures in Germany's fast-growing neo-Nazi scene. From a well-equipped office in Munich, he runs his own public-relations firm, selling Nazi literature, buttons, and stickers to support his political operation. The PR products bring in $400,000 annually for Althans to use as he wishes.

Scanning the walls of his headquarters, I notice a map of Germany with bloated borders spilling over to include parts of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. "Greater Germany," I comment, gesturing toward the map.

The real Germany," he snaps.

An imposing presence at six foot four inches, with blond hair and blue eyes, Althans seeks to unify a host of extreme right organizations and forge them into a trenchant political force capable of challenging the German government. "I could use my intelligence to get a job in this system, make a lot of money, and have fun. But I don't want it," says Althans. "Because I'm thinking of the future. I'm thinking about power, I'm thinking that the system is dying, and when the system is dying people will look for heroes."

Sprinkling his discourse with quotations from Nietzsche and other philosophers, Althans personifies the suave new face of German extremism - the designer neo-Nazi whose polished manners and smooth intellect set him apart from the rabble of swastika-tattooed, rock-throwing boneheads who've been wreaking havoc throughout Germany of late. Quick to condescend, Althans speaks derisively of violent neo-Nazi lumpen - low-brow types "with little understanding of Hitler." But he acknowledges their utility as cannon-fodder for the cause. "If the boys didn't kick up a row, nobody would bother listening to me," he says.

"Althans represents a new and highly sophisticated strand in the upper echelons of what we broadly call the neo-Nazi scene in Germany," says Graeme Atkinson, a special investigator for the European Parliament's commission on xenophobia and racism and an editor of Searchlight magazine, an antifascist monthly. "He's highly educated and can converse in a much more sophisticated way than most of his counterparts. He is also very capable and well connected internationally. He can fit into different social circumstances. And he's totally convinced of the correctness of his own ideas."

Never far from a car phone or fax, Althans dashes around the country, weaving a web of contacts while promoting his political views. Fluent in French and English, he speaks freely of his hatred of Jews and foreigners, his devotion to Hitler ("I am living proof that Hitler can happen again!"), his determination to take back the so-called eastern territories, and the overall excitement he feels about the burgeoning neo-Nazi movement.

"The more people you are, the more interesting you are," he asserts. "Now everyone must look behind the curtain to see who directs this force. You cannot just follow our marches on the street, you must know the idea behind this. What is the energy? Where is the motor?"

Althans flaunts his role as a neo-Nazi ringleader. "I am the one who gives to the masses the words they shout at the demonstrations." Then he quickly shifts into the first-person plural. "We tell them to go to Bayreuth, to Dresden, to other cities, to make protests here and there."

The royal "we" in this case is an elite coterie of young Hitler-wannabes who are pumping fresh blood into the Far Right in Germany. Collectively, they constitute a de facto neo-Nazi junta that includes Althans, one of eleven neo-Nazi militants now on trial for violating Germany's laws against organizing fascist groups.

By his own account, Ewald Althans was born into "a typical middle-class family" in Hanover, West Germany. When he was thirteen years old, he fell under the influence of a group of old Nazis who recognized his leadership potential and groomed him to fulfill their dream of resurrecting national socialism. He was tutored in Nazi philosophy, oratory style, organizing skills, and secret party lore by Willi Kraemer, an adviser to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, and Major General Otto Ernst Remer, who played a crucial role in thwarting the July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. A living legend among Hitler-worshippers, Remer became a father-figure to Althans after the youth was disowned by his real parents.

The political education Althans received from the Third Reich veterans convinced him that his country had been hoodwinked by corrupt historians, journalists, and government officials who were bent on making Germans feel shame and guilt for the crimes of the Nazi era. It was all part of a master plot, according to Althans, to justify reparations to Israel and postwar domination by the United States.

"Germany has been colonized by America," says Althans, "and people are sick of it." He blames America for "infecting" Germany "with the idea of a multicultural society, an idea that simply won't work .... We must eradicate everything that is alien, non-German, from our culture .... Europe should be in the hands of white people first."

A crucial turning point in Althans's political development came in 1982, when he encountered Michael Kuhnen, a German army lieutenant who had been expelled from the military for pro-Nazi agitation in the barracks. At that time, explicit Nazi organizing was strictly verboten, and radical nationalists carefully distanced themselves from the excesses of the Third Reich. Not Kuhnen; he defiantly flaunted his Nazi beliefs in a way that made a profound impression on Althans: "Kuhnen is the first person who said openly and proudly, |I believe in Hitler. I am a national socialist.' He broke every kind of taboo."

It was Kuhnen who devised a scheme for building the neo-Nazi movement by stirring up resentment against immigrants and guest workers. "He developed an effective strategy, one that has since been employed with success by right-wing extremists throughout Europe," said a staff member of Berlin Antifascistisches Infoblatt, a newsletter that monitors neo-Nazi activity in Germany.

Kuhnen knew that brandishing the foreigner issue and coming on strong as an outspoken Nazi would attract media attention and followers. During the 1980s, he created a rag-tag network of skinheads, soccer hooligans, and smart-aleck youth who paraded around in boots, brown shorts, and flak jackets adorned with illegal swastikas. "We were fanatics. We would have died for Kuhnen," recalled Althans, who joined the Aktionsfront Nationale Sozialisten, Kuhnen's original neo-Nazi clique, shortly before German authorities banned the organization for trying to reconstitute the Nazi party.

Every time one of Kuhnen's groups bit the dust, two or three more arose with new names and recruits to carry forward his strategy. Kuhnen remained a dominant influence even while living in exile for almost a year in Italy and France. His travels during this period were subsidized by infusions of cash from Althans, who brushes off questions about funding sources. "Money has never been a problem for me," he says.

Kuhnen died of AIDS in mid-1991, leaving behind a well-organized network of neo-Nazi stalwarts who jointly control what is known as Die Bewegung ("The Movement"). For strategic purposes, Althans and his colleagues continue to operate through a diffuse array of front groups and factions, with different names in every region of the country. Calling the shots behind the scenes is an illegal cell structure that functions essentially as an underground version of the old Nazi Party - whose revival is explicitly forbidden.

Althans alludes to this elusive cell structure when he talks about the main task he has undertaken - "cadre building." "We are doing cadre work. That means inside of any nationalist group in Germany I have two or three people and through them I can take my influence. That makes me dangerous politically because I have people in place everywhere," he asserts.

Althans's ascension to the ranks of the neo-Nazi elite comes at a time when Europe is reeling from immense geopolitical changes that have fostered a neofascist resurgence throughout the Continent. Accentuated by German unification and the demise of the Soviet Union, the extreme Right in Europe has gained considerable momentum since the end of the Cold War.

Althans sees great opportunities for advancing the cause - particularly in Eastern Europe, where shattered economies and widespread social dislocation have afforded Nazi groups a mass constituency that is receptive to their pitch. "Everywhere in the world they are trying to install democracy without success," he argues. "There will be no democracy [in Eastern Europe] like they originally expected. They already know it doesn't work."

Noting that many former Communist Party officials have now become entrepreneurs, he denounces democracy as a fraud, designed to rip off "the nationalist energies of the people," who are "no more free than they were before. They have changed their old, rusted chains for new golden ones.

"In Germany we say, |Russia stole the liberty, but America steals the soul,'" Althans continues. "Everything is stuck .... For us, national socialism is the only way out." He predicts that with the demise of communism, "capitalism is going to collapse faster now."

Althans's critique of the primacy of money over politics and his antidemocratic harangue - often tinged with violent overtones - has touched a raw nerve, especially in the eastern part of the country, where unemployment hovers at 50 per cent and disillusionment is rife among young people who pine for a quick identity-fix.

Althans and his Nazi colleagues were ready to move as soon as the Berlin Wall came down. Sensing a major opportunity in the offing, they drew up a blueprint called "Arbeitsplan Ost" ("Working Plan East"). The document describes the neo-Nazi strategy for expansion into East Germany, which entailed setting up a network of safe houses and squatters' settlements in East Berlin and other cities, where skinheads and hooligans launched repeated attacks against leftists, foreigners, and people of color. The violence quickly spread throughout the country, prompting the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution to declare late in 1991 that the situation was "out of control."

The violence intensified in 1992, reaching a peak last August, when 800 young Nazis from all over Germany converged on the Baltic seaport of Rostock and stormed a housing complex for refugees. Cheered on by thousands of local residents, they attacked with Molotov cocktails, shotguns, and clubs, shouting "Sieg Heil," "Foreigners out," "Kill the Gypsies," and "We demand a new Fuhrer!" As the guest hostel went up in flames, a jubilant crowd sang "Deutschland uber Alles," while the police stood nearby and did nothing.

Althans was present in Rostock during the six-day pogrom, along with other neo-Nazi leaders. They communicated with each other via car phones and walkie talkies, while broadcasting commands to convoys of followers from various West German cities who slipped into Rostock under cover of darkness.

For Althans and his comrades, Rostock drew a line across the political landscape. They had much to celebrate when the government caved in to the Nazi mob by ordering all refugees out of Rostock forever. Henceforth, this former East German city of 250,000 would officially be "foreigner free," just as the Nazis demanded. Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters went a step further, calling for the immediate repeal of the German constitutional guarantee of asylum for political refugees - another key Nazi demand. A few weeks later, Seiters disclosed that almost 100,000 "Gypsies" would be deported to Romania, and similar agreements for expelling foreigners would soon be enacted with Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria.

Rather than defusing tensions, the government's capitulation to the Nazis sparked a wave of terror unlike anything Germany has witnessed since Hitler was in power. Nazi thugs went on a rampage, attacking foreigners in hundreds of cities and towns. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated with swastikas, and a memorial to a concentration camp was gutted by arsonists.

Some of the worst incidents occurred in former West Germany, as when Nazis attacked a busload of ten-year-old Danish boy scouts, beating them with fists, chains, and sticks. Nor have attacks been confined to foreigners. Last September, skinheads assaulted a school for the handicapped in the eastern city of Stendal, injuring five already-crippled German children, including two girls who suffered brain concussions. German officials indicate that Nazis were responsible for more than 4,500 attacks against foreigners that left at least seventeen dead and hundreds injured in 1992.

"The trail of death from rightists has just started," warned State Security Chief Ernst Uhrlau, who said Nazi violence had taken on "terrorist dimensions." Uhrlau acknowledged that Nazis schooled in guerrilla tactics were firing live ammunition at immigrants.

Rigorous paramilitary training is standard fare for Nazi youth throughout Europe. "I can't give many details about this," says Althans cautiously. "There are a lot of important things that young people have to learn. In a difficult situation, they must be able to follow an order. If you're in a camp you learn to follow orders. When we have 500 people on the street confronting 2,000 leftists, our members must know whether to stand and fight or leave. They are trained to be disciplined in situations like this."

Weapons are easily available to neo-Nazi fanatics, who have procured large stockpiles of firepower by raiding Red Army installations more than forty-five times since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In some cases, neo-Nazis have bought rocket launchers and other arms directly from withdrawing Russian soldiers. For a while, Kalashnikovs were being sold openly on the streets of East Berlin for 300 marks and a bottle of vodka.

"The war is already going on," declares Althans, who envisions a life-or-death battle against the German establishment. "We have only two possibilities: We can win or we can lose."

Two hours into our interview, Althans suggests that we continue the discussion at his house not far from the office. It's a short walk past neighborhood discos, of which Althans is an eager patron. "I like discotheques," he says. "The more extreme the better." He tells me about "Technophobia," the latest dance rage - "the worst kind of noise you can imagine. It's like pure sex."

Althans's home is upscale, yet sparsely furnished. A huge bookshelf dominates the hallway, featuring dozens of Nazi tomes, interspersed among extensive volumes of literature, poetry, and history.

Entering the kitchen, I notice a dozen or so uncorked champagne bottles on top of the refrigerator. "Looks like you had a party recently." It was Hitler's birthday a few days ago, Althans reminds me. "I had some very good friends over."

Althans is in his Mister Charming mode, offering me a drink as I settle into a comfortable chair in his den. The consummate marketer whose product is national socialism, he tries to sell me photos of neo-Nazi mercenaries from Germany and other countries who are fighting in Croatia against the Serbs. The Nazi volunteers have been involved in frequent truce violations, provoking retaliation by Serbian troops who were invariably blamed for breaking the peace.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Althans and his Nazi colleagues openly supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Althans mentions that he has video footage of members of a so-called international Freedom Corps, composed of 150 Nazi volunteers who were posted in Baghdad when the United States began bombing Iraq. That, too, is available to journalists for the right price, he assured me.

Althans takes out a scrapbook of photographs and shows off a wad of magazine and newspaper articles about him. "I am a master manipulator of the media," he says in a mockingly devious tone. His photo album leaves no doubt that Althans is a mover-and-shaker in a strange political netherworld. His frequent trips abroad are chronicled in pictures of meetings with Nazis, young and old, in Europe, the United States, and Latin America.

There are snapshots from a November 1990 historical revisionist conference in Munich hosted by Althans, who is always ready with a quotable soundbite: "The Holocaust is a fabrication, the pictures of the dead, of gas chambers, of mass murder are filmed by Hollywood, narrated by Trevor Roper, and directed by Hitchcock."

The Munich gathering attracted an international rogues' gallery of apologists, including Professor Robert Faurisson, who was fined by a French court last year for denying Nazi crimes against humanity. A picture of Faurisson turns up in Althans's scrapbook, his nose and mouth bleeding profusely after an angry antifascist struck the French revisionist in the face.

Now Holocaust propagandists are stepping up their efforts as the older generation that witnessed the horrors of Nazism passes away and those who follow have no direct connection to that era. A key component of the Nazi Holohoax network is the California-based Institute for Historical Review (IHR), whose leaders are all smiles in Althans's album. The IHR is a spin-off of the Liberty Lobby, headquartered in Washington, D.C., which publishes a weekly tabloid called The Spotlight that rails against Zionists, Freemasons, finance capitalists, and advocates of multiculturalism.

Althans talks about living in the Howard Beach section of Brooklyn - the site of a highly publicized racist attack that resulted in the death of a black teenager - for a month in 1988. He later bought a 1957 Chevrolet and drove to Southern California, where he stayed with skinhead guru Tom Metzger, leader of the neo-Nazi White Aryan Resistance. Althans appeared as a guest on Metzger's weekly cable-access television program, Race and Reason, which aired in many parts of the United States.

"I love America, but I hate the politics of America, the ridiculous imperialism," Althans remarks. "It must be horrible for an intelligent person to live in a country governed by people like Reagan and Bush."

Since the end of World War II, Nazi activity has largely been dismissed as San expression of a lunatic fringe composed of deranged misfits and malcontents. Neofascist violence has been seen, for the most part, as a minor nuisance, not as a serious threat. But this complacent notion has been demolished by recent events in Germany.

Today Althans speaks for an entrenched grass-roots movement swollen with new adherents. Although hard-core Nazis are hardly poised to muscle their way into power, they have already had a significant impact on German politics. There are increasing signs that Nazi militants are cooperating with mass-based right-wing parties such as the Republikaners and the Deutsche Volksunion (DVU), both of which recorded big gains last year in state elections at the expense of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Nazi toughs often provide security for far-right candidates at meetings and public rallies, while members of the Republikaner Partei and the DVU also belong to extraparliamentary Nazi groups. Shortly before he died, Michael Kuhnen identified one of his former collaborators as Harold Neubauer, who is currently a Republikaner-elected deputy in the European Parliament.

Recent opinion polls indicate that the Republikaners would win 19 per cent of the vote in western Germany and 12 per cent in the East. Support for the Republikaners is particularly high among the German police, which may help to explain their reluctance to crack down on Nazi groups.

Unless they are physically assaulted by Nazi gangs (which occasionally happens), the police are apt to turn a blind eye as Althans and his pals parade through the streets, illegally chanting "Sieg Heil!" Last year, police in Eisenhuettenstadt, a small city near Berlin, joined the fray, attacking foreigners with batons and billy-clubs after the Nazis left the scene. Police also attacked three refugee centers near Dresden.

In an effort to stop the mass defection of CDU voters, Kohl hag jumped on the anti-immigrant bandwagon, adopting the jargon of the Nazis. ("No to false asylum seekers!" is a CDU campaign slogan.) In so doing, Kohl and other CDU leaders have incited an atmosphere of hatred against foreigners. "The neo-Nazis took this as a signal. It legitimized their politics in a way that they couldn't have achieved before," notes Graeme Atkinson of Searchlight.

Perhaps most disturbing of all are the "white-collar skinheads," as author Gunter Grass put it, who occupy influential positions within the German government. These days, top German officials speak casually of "Middle Germany" when describing what was once East Germany. Listed in the official German budget - which also refers explicitly to "Middle Germany" - are government funds earmarked for "vertriebenen" (refugee) groups that share Althans's belief that Germany should reclaim the "Eastern Territories."

Stung by negative publicity and the loss of international prestige because of mounting racist violence, German law-enforcement authorities recently outlawed four Nazi groups. Such efforts proved ineffectual, however, as the banned organizations were quickly reconstituted under new names with the same members. The government has yet to take action against dozens of other Nazi groups that function openly.

All this is happening at a time when popular support for the neo-Nazi movement is growing. According to a September 1992 survey conducted by the well-respected Infas Institute, 51 per cent of Germans agree with the neo-Nazi slogan, "GERMANY FOR THE GERMANS," and 37 per cent agree with the fascist claim that Germans have the right to resist foreigners with violence.

Althans sees things evolving this way: "There is no ideology fighting against us. There is nobody else trying to give an alternative. Today there is none except the neo-Nazis who are saying, |We want the country. We want the power. We want the world.'"

Martin A. Lee is the co-founder of the media watch group FAIR and publisher of Extra!, FAIR's magazine.
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Title Annotation:German neo-Nazism
Author:Lee, Martin A.
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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