Hundreds of rightwing extremist incidents by German security services revealed

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Germany’s first nationwide report into rightwing extremism in the security services has revealed hundreds of incidents across the police and military that contravened the country’s constitution.

Horst Seehofer, the interior minister, sought to downplay the incidence of extremism in the forces, at the same time as insisting that each case was a “disgrace” and that a “no tolerance” policy would be exercised against personnel who broke the rules.

He said police, soldiers and other officials had a “role model function” and even a single incident had the effect of bringing all uniformed officials into disrepute.

The 98-page report itself stated that while the absolute figures appeared low compared with the number of employees in the security forces, “it can basically be assumed that there is also a dark field” of unknown extremists.

It recommended the security forces take the problem more seriously, saying both “state and society are in considerable danger if an official who is armed becomes an extremist”.

Seehofer had been criticised by anti-racism campaigners for refusing to allow an independent study, calling instead on members of the domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is overseen by his ministry, to carry it out.

The report comes after a series of recent revelations that have exposed racist chat groups and other activities within security authorities, mainly involving the police.

The report was commissioned following several violent incidents that shocked the nation last year, including the fatal shooting of a pro-immigration politician by a suspected far-right extremist outside his home near Kassel, and a murderous attack targeting a synagogue and a kebab store in the city of Halle by a gunman with antisemitic views. Questions have been asked as to whether authorities did enough to stop the attackers.

Politicians and anti-racist campaigners have called on the interior minister to take a detailed look at the issues as a matter of urgency amid concerns that authorities have consistently ignored signals that violent extremists might be trying to infiltrate the uniformed services.

Seehofer told a news conference in Berlin on Tuesday morning that 99% of security personnel “stand firmly anchored in the law”. He said: “We are only dealing here with a minor number of cases.”

Anti-racism campaigners poured scorn on his analysis, after it was revealed that there were 1,064 cases among military personnel, compiled separately by the military secret service MAD, 550 of which are being actively pursued, and 370 separate incidents among police and intelligence officers.

Between January 2017 and the end of March 2020, there were 319 suspected cases of rightwing extremism on a state level, in addition to 58 suspected cases among federal security services, including 44 cases in the police, six in the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and a handful in the customs authorities, the office for the protection of the constitution and the federal intelligence service.

The worst-affected state is Hesse with 59 incidents, followed by Berlin with 53, North Rhine-Westphalia (45), Bavaria (31) and Saxony (28).

Since the data gathering was completed at the end of March, more than 125 new incidents across the country have come to light.

The majority of cases had led to either criminal proceedings or disciplinary measures including sackings being taken against the individuals involved, although 20% of the criminal cases had been discontinued.

Often cases involved security force employees sharing symbols or pictures deemed to be anti-constitutional, such as swastikas, or expressing rightwing extremist remarks. Only in a few cases did officers concerned have contact with known rightwing extremists or organised groups, or had participated in rightwing extremist events.

Thomas Haldenwang, the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, who jointly presented the report with Seehofer, said the spectrum of cases was “large” and the accusations against the individuals “very heterogeneous”, but he said most of them broadly fell into categories with “typical rightwing extremist hallmarks”, such as racism, antisemitism and glorifying National Socialism.

He said he would continue to analyse the results of the study and would look for any connections that might suggest individuals were forming networks within the forces.

“We can guarantee that we will not view these cases in isolation,” he said.

Seehofer called for authorities to make a “consistent effort” to get to the bottom of the cases and to “rigorously” pursue any suspected ones. He also urged all employees across the security services to “keep your eyes open, defend our constitution, be active. Passive collaboration is not allowed.”

Seehofer insisted the report would not be a one-off. He called for a similar model of inquiry to be applied across the entire public sector, and to result in a “deeper analysis”. However, he stopped short of calling on further investigation specifically into racism within the security forces, insisting “racism is a universal topic”.

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