What is right-wing extremism?
We all have an idea of what ‘right-wing extremist ideas’ are – but where exactly do they start? Answering this question is not so easy. From a scientific perspective, it includes all attitudes and behaviour that assume inequality of people on the basis of ‘race’ or ethnicity. Right-wing extremism thus also rejects the human right of equality and a plural society. Democracy and its values are rejected; in this ideology, the individual is supposed to be subordinate to the community and the will of the state.
More on the subject?
Jaschke, Hans-Gerd (2001): Rechtsextremismus und Fremdenfeindlichkeit: Begriffe, Positionen, Praxisfelder. Wiesbaden, S.30
Facts and figures
Since the end of the Second World War, right-wing motivated perpetrators have murdered more than 300 people in Germany for racist, anti-feminist, social-Darwinist, homophobic and anti-Semitic reasons. Some in the GDR, many in the old Federal Republic, most of them after the unification of the two German states.
Right-wing violence in Germany is commonplace: Especially in the early 1990s and in the mid-2010s, the violence policy escalated. In 1992, 2,639 cases of right-wing violence were documented, in 2015 there were 1,698 cases. The actual numbers are even higher due to the considerable number of unreported cases, that is acts of violence not being reported to the police. Attacks and night-time arson attacks are mainly directed against refugees and migrants. Politicians who stand up for a pluralistic society are also increasingly becoming targets of right-wing attacks.
In spring 2020, the number of neo-Nazis wanted was 481 (cf. Bundestag document 19/22127). For years, the number of right-wing extremists wanted by arrest warrant has been in the higher three-digit range. From November 2012 to September 2017, the number rose from 266 to 501. The reasons for the arrest warrants are politically motivated offences, but above all violent offences. Many of the wanted Nazis have been in hiding for several years – quite a few are abroad.
Right-wing violence in Germany
After the war
After the end of the Second World War, the extreme right initially had to keep a low profile; however, extreme right-wing groups and parties soon re-emerged. From the late 1960s onwards, these groups also formed terrorist structures. In the 1960s and 1970s, these were mainly directed against the left in the old Federal Republic, Jews and the memory of the Holocaust. 1980 was a peak year for right-wing terror: the racist attacks by the ‘German Action Groups’, the anti-Semitic murder of Rabbi Shlomo Levin and Frida Poeschke in Erlangen, the Munich Oktoberfest assassination. However, some murders were not understood as right-wing violence for a long time.
Escalation in the 1990s
After acts of right-wing terrorism in the 1980s, the unification of the two German states brought a wave of racist violence. Fuelled by misinformation about crime and asylum abuse, fears of the collapse of the welfare system increased. Right-wing violence escalated into a mass phenomenon: some of its symbols became city names like Solingen, Hoyerswerda, Mölln and Rostock-Lichtenhagen.
After the Millennium
During the 2000s, the investigating authorities failed to recognise the right-wing terrorist background of the NSU murders – although those affected by the attacks had pointed out possible right-wing terrorist motives of the perpetrators early on and demanded at a demonstration: “No 10th victim!” (“Kein 10. Opfer!”) Only after the NSU was exposed as a right-wing terrorist group on 4 November 2011 were the state and the police forced to admit that they had not taken the victims seriously.
The new right
The fear of an alleged Islamisation and ‘Überfremdung’ triggered a renewed wave of right-wing violence from 2014 onwards – especially against refugees. Extreme right-wing associations and parties such as PEGIDA and AfD established themselves. The unmasking of right-wing terrorist groups revealed in some cases the involvement of members of the police and the armed forces in the preparation of right-wing acts of violence. In Halle, the protective measures of the Jewish community prevented a mass murder; in Hanau, a right-wing terrorist killed ten people and himself.
More on the subject?
Virchow, Fabian: Zur Geschichte des Rechtsterrorismus in Deutschland. In: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 49-50/2019, S. 15-19.
Benz, Angelika (2016): Stationen bürgerlicher Gewalt. Von Rostock-Lichtenhagen bis Clausnitz. In: Benz, Wolfgang (Hrsg.): Fremden Feinde und Wut Bürger. Verliert die demokratische Gesellschaft ihre Mitte? Berlin: Metropol, 69-97.
Right-wing violence in Greece, Norway and the UK
In recent years, the neo-Nazi party ‘Golden Dawn’ has systematically organised attacks on refugees and immigrants as well as on members of left-wing organisations in Greece. It was not until the murder of the hip-hop singer Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013 that the awareness of the danger posed by the right-wing broadened. In 2020, Golden Dawn was condemned as a criminal organisation. However, racist discrimination and violence persist, including in the shape of systematic terror against refugees who are crammed into camps on Greek islands.
On 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb in the government district and killed 69 participants in a summer camp of a youth organisation of the Social Democratic Party on the island of Utøya. In a comprehensive manifesto, the perpetrator revealed his racist, anti-Semitic and anti-feminist world-view. The crime shook the self-image of Norwegian society, which sees itself as a tolerant community. However, since the late 1990s, the anti-immigration ‘Progress Party’ had already achieved double-digit election results and at times was involved in government. The Norwegian blogger ‘Fjordman’ also gained notoriety for his anti-Muslim racism. Even after Breivik’s conviction, right-wing violence continues to occur: on 10 August 2019, the eve of the Islamic Festival of Sacrifice, a right-wing extremist attacked a mosque in Bærum. Although he was armed with several firearms, worshippers were able to subdue him.
In the meantime, security authorities also assess right-wing violence – whether in everyday life or in the form of terrorist attacks – as a major threat. In particular, the nationalist campaign for Brexit and the anti-Muslim reporting of many mass media have contributed to a significant increase in hate crime. This is mostly racially motivated. Following the far-right murder of British politician Jo Cox in mid-June 2016, numerous other right-wing violent plots have been uncovered.