Thomas KLIKAUER, Nadine CAMPBELL
Where there are conspiracy theories, German Neo-Nazis are never far away. Indeed, the Corona pandemic is a welcoming vehicle for German Neo-Nazi to broadcast their ideology and to recruit new members. The belief in conspiratorial forces behind the 2020 Corona crisis isn’t just nonsense; it is a dangerous symptom of democratic societies’ plight to be exploited by its enemies.
It almost seems as if it expresses virtuous inclinations to make fun of conspiracy theorists. No wonder because an ever-growing community of ideological cranks is continuously giving new cause. German Neo-Nazis also talk of the Great Gates Conspiracy, threats of forced vaccination with microchip implants, and the planned destruction of the world’s white population. In Germany, thousands follow the antisemitic Ken Jebsen and the boisterous Xavier Naidoo rebelling against a supposed Corona dictatorship.
Conspiracies become even more serious when well-known cookbook authors like Attila Hildmann claim, there is a small elite that only wants evil. A few weeks ago, Hildmann claimed, while speaking in front of Germany’s parliament – the Reichstag, that many of you will be killed! Historically, this is nothing new. Inside Berlin’s Reichstag, only a few decades ago, Germany’s chancellor and soon to be murderous dictator Adolf Hitler was screaming about a Jewish World Conspiracy that was set to exterminate the German Volk. What followed was the opposite. Enticed by Nazi conspiracies, Germans and their henchmen exterminated millions while giving the world the Einsatzgruppen and Auschwitz. To elaborate on their conspiratorial nonsense, the Nazi party published 23 editions of the antisemitic Protocols between 1919 and 1939 – a Russian forgery.
Today’s German Neo-Nazis borrow Hitler’s Nazi vocabulary in their hate speeches. Their speeches are ideologically underscored through the spiteful “Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion.” Although many German Neo-Nazis do not (yet!) blame Jews for Corona, their rhetoric and reasoning are frighteningly reminiscent of the pamphlet.
The infamous Protocols are considered a prototype of modern conspiracy theories. Their history and impact are examples of how difficult it is to act against conspiratorial ideologies. The alleged documents of a Jewish world conspiracy have been exposed as a forgery in an internationally acclaimed Swiss criminal trial in the 1930s and many other examinations. As expected, Adolf Hitler hammered the same conspiratorial nonsense of a Jewish world-dictatorship in his demagogic pamphlet Mein Kampf. Nevertheless, the murderous anti-Semitism of the Nazis during the 1940s wasn’t stopped through rational deliberation. If such an obvious forgery as the Protocols is believed by so many and have such dire consequences, current conspiracy myths can reach very far.
Modern conspiracy theorists are a quasi-scientifically self-invented species with powerful tools to distribute myths. In recent weeks, many experts explained why people in crisis are trying to gain control over insecurities generated by the Corona crisis. Some individuals and groups are quickly held responsible for abstract problems such as the Corona crisis. Many conspiracy theorists are often seen as irrational outsiders, mentally ill, or simply nutcases. This view is easy but rather unhelpful in the case of Neo-Nazis.
Right-wing ideologies are by no means at odds with the ideal of an enlightened society. It was not for naught that the 18th century, the great epoch of the Enlightenment, was a heyday of conspiracy theories. Where God or mythical forces no longer direct human destiny, it seemed apparent that secret forces guide people. Conspiracies can be seen as the dark side of a rationalised society. It is a feeble attempt to find answers in times of existential uncertainties.
Such absurd explanatory patterns also have a function in the affairs of a liberal democracy. Studies have repeatedly found that dangerous conspiracy thinking occurs, especially when parts of society feel permanently threatened. People who feel their life situation is unfair and feel abandoned by politics are significantly more likely to believe in conspiracies. Demagogues like Donald Trump, right-wing extremists, and German Neo-Nazis have tapped into this.
The Puppets of Evil Forces
Recently, Germany’s highly regarded Mitte-Study found, less than half of the people in Germany are satisfied with how democracy works. Among workers, as many as 70% were dissatisfied. Some have argued that is the re-establishment of 4th Merkel’s grand coalition, in power since 2018, that might have contributed to a growing, breeding ground for conspiracy theories. On that basis, German Neo-Nazis argue that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, your voice doesn’t make a difference anyway. The system is to blame.
In modern societies, people are no longer under the control of capricious rulers or foreign powers. Instead, Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market is supposed to guide societies. In times of crisis, however, this is easily confused with puppets hanging on strings directed by unseen forces. Instead of grasping the world economic system as a crisis-prone, complicated relationship, the human need for personalised thinking is engineered by conspiracy theorists.
For Germany’s right-wing extremists focusing on the coronavirus, the mastermind is Bill Gates. He is presented as the enemy serving as a placeholder for a general unease about economic power relations. For Germany’s right-wing, Gates controls the World Health Organization. Right-wing conspirators seek a scapegoat for their diffuse frustration. Still, such right-wing conspiracy theories should serve as a warning and as an indication of the intellectual alienation of individuals from society.
It is important to remain vigilant against the extreme right-wing. In the course of Germany’s Mitte-Study, half of the respondents also answered yes, there are secret organisations that influence political decisions. Just as many agreed with the statement that they trust their own feelings more than experts, it was by no means the beginning of the Corona crisis that created the breeding ground for conspiracy theories. Rather, it reveals a deeper problem. Still, Corona conspiracies provide a perfect stage for right-wing strategists to mobilise an army of frightened people.
Neo-Nazi and the Corona Crisis
Thanks to the fear of the ongoing Corona crisis, the propaganda machine of German Neo-Nazis is running hot. Because of the scale of the pandemic, Corona is the defining theme of all public debates, so they spread conspiracies while staging themselves as helpers in need. For neo-Nazis and their conspiracy theorists, the current crisis is more than a starting point for the dissemination of their propaganda.
Since the beginning of the spread of the coronavirus, Germany’s extreme right published abundantly on the subject on social media and via messenger services. Dubious news, conspiracies, myths, and doomsday scenarios spread like wildfire. The digital world is the central battleground in which the right-wing’s information war takes place. The battle is being fought against measures such as bans on gatherings, music concerts, and the like. Overall, there are three strands of conspiracy theories. Depending on which theory one follows, the virus is either:
1) part of a Jewish world conspiracy according to its antisemitic reading;
2) deliberately produced in China; or
3) serves primarily to eradicate the German Volk or to paralyse the German Volksgemeinschaft.
Most of these myths are related to well-known Nazi propaganda. Nazi leader and conspiracy believer Hermann Goering once said, Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country. What is new is that German Neo-Nazis have woven their ideology into the fear of the coronavirus. Before the Corona pandemic, right-wing conspiracies secret forces formed the basis from which Neo-Nazis want to re-establish a new dictatorship – the IV. Reich. This goal was to be achieved through delegitimising parliamentary democracy and thus destabilising it. Just as Hitler’s Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, once said it,
In current Neo-Nazi mythology, the eventful Day X – the complete collapse of our current system – is just around the corner, fast-tracked by the coronavirus. The far-right thinks that we are in the final fight for the survival of the Aryan race. One of Germany’s key right-wing conspiracy theorist, hate speech producer, and esotericist is Heiko Schrang, runs one of the biggest YouTube channels on the scene with around 160,000 followers. His videos of the Corona spread reached 50,000, and he has over 200,000 clicks on his video portal.
In his videos, Schrang talks about a corona hysteria and that devilish elites pursue evil plans. His conspiracy theories are consistently anti-Semitic. He claims there is a much bigger plan that is behind all of this. For Schrang, the plan is to create chaos…and then install their order – the new order of the elite.
German right-wingers like Schrang are spreading conspiracy theories and doomsday scenarios on social media, which builds a sort of new digital fascism challenging the open society. At its core, they use the logic of social media broadcasting where negative and spectacular messages spread very rapidly – gone viral, as they say. Attention-grabbing right-wing conspiratorial ideologies are amplified by clicks and shares. The more clicks, the more is their fascist ideology spreads. The Corona crisis, which is causing people to find out more, online, further encourages this. This is the wave German Neo-Nazis ride.
Meanwhile, in the real world of the East-Germany state of Thuringia, Neo-Nazis are also spreading their anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. There, David Köckert, founder of the AfD (party) sideshow Pegida (rallies), and recently addressed his supporters in a Facebook video where he openly disperses anti-Semitic conspiracies. Köckert claims, we have known this virus for decades, we, the evil Nazis, are being scolded. We have known the virus for decades and we have been addressing it for centuries. And this virus is the one that has always poisoned the world. According to Köckert, it is about making man a will-less slave. For them, Untermensch, who spreads the virus, needs to exterminated.
Neo-Nazis Attack on the Media
Neo-Nazi Köckert is well aware of what he is saying. He points out that he will now again be accused of a popular incitement. In reality, he does this in order to explain, as he says. Again and again, he accuses a specific ethnic minority. Such statements are likely to be well-received by his supporters, knowing who those ethnic minorities are – anyone non-Aryan.
Meanwhile, openly Neo-Nazi Angela Schaller is organising a rather idiotically named Thing Circle in southern Thuringia. Even its German version “Thing-Kreis” does not make sense. She also features high on right-wing coronavirus videos. We also know that Schaller works as a doctor’s assistant in a general practitioner’s office in central Germany. For Neo-Nazis, the rather innocently looking term Central Germany always implies the East-Germany state of Thuringia is in the centre of Germany. Hence, there is a need to conquer Lebensraum in Eastern Europe. For them, it is all clear since there has not yet been a single Corona death as it is always pretended in the newspaper. People all died of pre-existing conditions and no one knows whether the coronavirus is really to blame.
In addition to the spreading of disinformation, neo-Nazis simultaneously discredit the media. Joseph Goebbels’ lying press rises from its Nazi past. The media is attacked to present their convoluted conspiracy fantasies as independent information. What they spread, not what experts say is the key. What is really frightening is that Neo-Nazi, Schaller, also advises patients as a medical practitioner.
Neo-Nazis as Neighbourhood Aid
On March 14th, Schaller’s neo-Nazi activist announced her next Thing Circle. It is set to be a Neo-Nazi gathering with right-wing song recitals serving as a networking opportunity. Unfortunately for Schaller, the event has been cancelled because of Corona regulations. At that same time, Schaller offered herself on eBay as a shopping aid for older people who just don’t venture out of the house. Nazi aid for the neighbourhood. It is precisely this sort of aid that many Neo-Nazi organisations are currently offering. The Neo-Nazi Young Nationalists, the youth organisation of Germany’s second-biggest Neo-Nazi party, NPD (after the AfD), distributes posters in several East-German regions, thereby promoting their support for older people. The Neo-Nazi claim is that they want to give something back to the generation that built our country because we live the community that we have always called for. East-Germany’s openly Nazi town of Jamel is the prime example of a Volksgemeinschaft.
In East-Germany’s Thuringia – home of the AfD’s most outspoken Neo-Nazi, Björn Höcke – another Neo-Nazi party is very active. It is the Neo-Nazi micro-party The Third Way that seeks to keep the Aryan blood of the German Volk pure. The Third Way runs militia-style training camps, and it advertises so-called neighbourhood aids. In numerous flyers, which are distributed and shown on their homepage, their deeply racist world view requests the solidarity of Germans – protecting the Aryan Volksgemeinschaft.
Neo-Nazi neighbourhood aid is also offered on the platforms of the alliance Future County Gotha organised by the neo-Nazi Marco Zint. Similar calls are circulating in the East-Germany city of Gera’s Neo-Nazi network. An online flyer with the logo of The Third Way is circulating as Gersche Krisenhilfe – meaning Gera County Aid. Here, too, Neo-Nazis are addressing the values of compatriots from Gera – another code word for Aryan.
The Neo-Nazi announcements say, in difficult times it is important that we as a Volk, a large natural unit, come together. Hitler’s Nazis never grew tired of repeating that the German Volk is of pure blood and race based on the exclusion of anyone non-Aryan. As with the other calls, it is an explicitly, racially organised solidarity – which only includes the white race. As such, offers of help during the Corona crisis come with a hefty dose of Neo-Nazi ideology.
Neo-Nazi messages are spreading as they interpret the current Corona crisis in a particular ideology. It guides readers towards their repeated warnings of an imminent collapse. Right-wing videos are distributed online in preparation for the supposedly looming emergency. Antisemit and Holocaust denier Axel Schlimper gives the latest tips on crisis preparedness in video lectures. Meanwhile, the Neo-Nazi and NPD apparatchik, Sebastian Schmidtke, shows videos on the production of disinfectants.
Simultaneously, the far-right group Deutscher Zivilschutz: Homeland, Tradition, Volksgemeinschaft advertises events in East-Germany’s Altenburg to prepare for power outages after a blackout. At the same time, Neo-Nazi, Tommy Frenck – who prefers to wear an I Love Hitler t-shirt – is hoarding weapons in order to prepare for possible problems in public safety. Germany’s Neo-Nazi are awaiting the collapse of civilisation because of the coronavirus so that a new Aryan Reich can awaken – ridiculous but very dangerous. The Nazis killed millions of people partly based on conspiracies while their ideological successors, today’s Neo-Nazis, killed two hundred people in Germany since 1990. Right-wing conspiracy theories are theories that kill.