FRONTLINE: Germany's Neo-Nazis & The Far Right
Stream or tune in Tuesday, June 29, 2021 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Thursday, July 1 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2
—FRONTLINE Investigates the Rise of Neo-Nazi Ideology and Far-Right Extremism in Modern-Day Germany—
An attempted massacre of worshippers at a synagogue on Yom Kippur. The assassination of a pro-refugee politician. A mass shooting targeting Muslims. Extremists, many of them ex-military, planning for civil war, creating death lists, and stockpiling weapons and body bags.
Decades after the Holocaust, a new FRONTLINE documentary investigates the rise of Neo-Nazi ideology and far-right extremism in modern-day Germany — including within the country’s military and police — and why authorities are struggling to stem the growing problem.
“The image Germany portrays to the outside is that Germany has learned its lesson from the Second World War, Germany is now a responsible country, Germany’s taking care of its people — among those people, Jewish people,” Christina Feist, who was worshipping at a synagogue in Halle, Germany, when a gunman tried to break down the door and then shot and killed two people outside, tells FRONTLINE. “But what’s happening is that antisemitism is marching down the streets out in the open, and nobody seems to care.”
“Germany’s Neo-Nazis & the Far Right” premieres Tuesday, June 29. From reporter, producer and director Evan Williams, who has been covering the far right in Europe for almost a decade, the documentary looks at how, over the past five years, Germany has faced a wave of violence against Jews, Muslims, immigrants and left-wing politicians.
The documentary is supported by Exploring Hate, a multiplatform public media initiative from The WNET Group in New York aimed at offering an in-depth understanding of the rising tide of hatred, hate crimes, antisemitism and racism. Exploring Hate reporting also appears on national news programs AMANPOUR AND COMPANY and PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND, and WNET’s regional news and public affairs programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News.
Speaking with victims of attacks and threats, government officials, politicians, experts in online radicalization, and alleged perpetrators, Williams examines what’s driving this surge of hate — and asks whether the authorities are doing enough to confront it.
“Right wing extremism is the most vital threat that we face at the moment in the Federal Republic of Germany,” says Stephan Kramer, the intelligence chief in Thuringia state. “We have ‘round about 35,000 considered right-wing extremists across Germany; 13-14,000, roughly spoken, considered to be aggressive and violent. But the problem is, it’s like with an iceberg, you see just a small tip on the surface, and the rest is beneath.”
“[There’s] this huge interest from Germany in this terroristic subculture,” Miro Dittrich, an analyst who has studied how the Halle synagogue attacker was radicalized online, tells FRONTLINE. “And so far, I’ve seen no real interest from the German security forces to have a look at these people. And I think that’s really dangerous, because it wasn’t a surprise that it happened then. And I still see a lot of interest by these people to have further attacks.”
As the documentary reports, in Germany, it is illegal to post Nazi content and to deny the Holocaust happened. But experts Williams speak with say it’s become almost impossible to police social media — and interest in such content is only growing.
“We learned in a very hard way, to put it very diplomatic, that we haven’t looked at the right platforms, at the right spots on the internet for increasing the chance of identifying people that might be … becoming a lethal threat,” says Kramer of the Halle shooting. “You cannot monitor completely the internet. We, of course, try to be part of the internet communities, and try to identify people, but it is very difficult.”
“We regularly see antisemitic postings and animations with gas chambers, cut-off heads of politicians being put into ovens. We see classic Nazi propaganda. But we also see conspiracy theories that have a pseudo-scientific veneer and, in this way, deny the Holocaust,” says Christoph Hebbecker, a state prosecutor who four years ago set up the country’s first police unit dedicated to digital hate crime. “It’s getting even bigger. I think we're going to see serious problems … It will not stop with words.”
The film examines the murder of nine people in Hanau, Germany, six of them Muslim and all of them of migrant backgrounds, by a shooter who had posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online two weeks before — and had even sent links to his website to government officials.
“No one reacted. No one. And that lack of reaction cost nine people their lives. Nine,” says Armin Kurtović, whose son, Hamza Kurtović, was among those killed. “And to put it behind us — I’m sorry, that doesn’t work. Someone must accept responsibility.”
"Germany’s Neo-Nazis & the Far-Right" explores what it’s like to live as a target of far-right extremists. Williams speaks with a local politician, Katharina König-Preuss, who has been a member of the Thuringia State Parliament in Germany for 15 years — and who has received a flood of far-right death threats due to her public stance against extremism.
“I have received letters that tell me that I will be murdered, and when it will happen,” König-Preuss says. “I have received emails that outline how they want to torture me and what they think should happen to me.”
She has not asked for police protection, believing that far-right sympathizers have infiltrated the German police and military. As the film explores, a series of high-profile trials across Germany have exposed links between police officers, and former and serving military members and alleged plans for far-right violence.
“In the last few years there have been fundamental changes in the extreme right. We have a significant increase in right-wing crime and violence, we are seeing more and more of these crimes being committed using weapons and explosives. There is a change in the perpetrators. There are more and more people emerging who are from the security services, current and retired soldiers or policemen,” says Martina Renner, who sits on a committee in the German parliament that’s been looking into extremism and the government’s response to it.
Gripping and alarming, "Germany’s Neo-Nazis & the Far-Right" is a powerful look at Germany’s efforts to come to terms with its past — and its present.
“I am not afraid that the vast majority of servicemen and women are considered or have to be considered to be part of these networks. That’s not the case,” Kramer says. “But we have severe numbers that we should be worried about … And if we don’t identify those people who are among those who are a threat, we will get a very, probably a very bad another wake up call that is probably even more lethal than the ones that we already got.”
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