[Marxism] Face Paint, Balloons and ‘White Power’: German Neo-Nazis Put on a Pretty Face
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Thu Sep 27 15:50:56 MDT 2018
NY Times, Sept. 27, 2018
Face Paint, Balloons and ‘White Power’: German Neo-Nazis Put on a Pretty
By John Eligon
LEINEFELDE, Germany — The children came colorfully dressed to the family
festival. They tumbled around an inflatable bounce house and in
neon-colored sacks, wearing face paint and bright smiles.
Scattered amid the children’s games and guitar-strumming folk singers,
though, were unwelcoming messages. “Stop the asylum flood” on a
brochure. “Asylum traitors not welcome” on a T-shirt. “White Power” on
This was the eighth annual Eichsfeld Day, a gathering of the National
Democratic Party, which is a political party of avowed neo-Nazis better
known as the NPD.
Recent violent demonstrations in the eastern German city of Chemnitz
drew worldwide attention. In Germany, they set off a new round of
soul-searching over identity, immigration and an emboldened far right.
But the festival here in Leinefelde, in the center of the country, is
telling of the quieter inroads being made by right-wing enthusiasts who
preach an anti-immigrant, pro-white gospel.
As Germany has taken in more than a million refugees since 2015, German
right-wing extremists are holding more open-air events, mostly rock
concerts, in small towns throughout the country. They hope to spread
their message, recruit supporters and show their power.
“It’s spreading an ideological message through music and speeches,” said
Katharina König-Preuss, a left-wing member of the parliament in
Thuringia, the German state that contains Leinefelde and that has seen
most of the events. “At the very least, the music and the speeches
indirectly encourage hate and contempt for certain people.”
As a black man, I would be among those people.
Covering race for The New York Times, I was curious what the far-right
events were trying to accomplish and what the openness with which they
were occurring might tell us about German society.
Leinefelde, with 9,000 residents who saw better days before the local
textile factory shut down after the reunification of East and West
Germany, has been torn over how to handle the festival.
Some people avoid it.
“I’m just scared,” said Margit, a 68-year-old resident, explaining that
she wanted nothing to do with the festival because of the seeming menace
of a gathering of Nazi sympathizers in her small community. She declined
to give her last name for that very reason.
But, furrowing her brows, she also seemed particularly concerned about me.
“Yeah, I don’t know about you going there tomorrow,” she said.
Swarms of police officers descended on Leinefelde for the festival,
erecting barricades around the site, a grassy, fenced-in sports field on
the southern edge of town.
The police strictly controlled access to the area, which, to the delight
of city officials, was away from the town center with its quaint shops
selling ice cream, clothing and baked goods.
A gaggle of photographers snapped photos outside the festival entrance,
as festival goers offered pleasantries in the form of middle fingers and
“This can end very, very badly,” yelled a woman pushing a stroller,
warning them not to photograph her children.
In past years, Eichsfeld Day, named after the district where it takes
place, attracted as many as 800 people.
This year, only about 200 came, in part because many far-right
sympathizers instead went to a huge demonstration in Chemnitz on the
same day. And unlike previous years, there was no rock concert this
time, just a family festival.
“We wanted to be closer to the people,” said Rene Schneemann, the deputy
head of the NPD in Eichsfeld. “The people don’t necessarily like this
far-right rock music. So it is better to do something that appeals to
Mr. Schneemann stood behind a table of leaflets. One of them argued that
most asylum seekers brought crime and wanted to live off taxpayer money,
an argument heard frequently around Germany.
Closer in, you could find more radical views.
The police, as is customary, briefly escorted reporters around the
festival. Walking around, I felt like a zoo animal. All eyes on me.
Smirks, whispers and gawks through cellphone cameras.
Amid the albums by neo-Nazi bands for sale was one with a cover
depicting a cartoon of a black man with his arms around a white woman,
and three white men glaring menacingly. “Guess who’s staying for
breakfast,” it read.
Then I spotted a man wearing a Confederate battle flag T-shirt. Why the
flag, I asked.
“That’s to show our solidarity with the American South,” he said.
Supporting the Confederacy is about standing in unity with the South’s
desire for independence, said another man at the record stand, who gave
only his first name, Stephan.
“Not that we are all against” black people, he said, using an anti-black
slur. “That was also a free state that was invaded by the North.”
But, in fact, Stephan, 37, later told me that he thought negatively of
“Whenever someone says to me, ‘You are racist,’ I say, ‘Yeah, I am
racist,’ ” he said. “Do I have something against black people? At the
moment, yes, I have to unfortunately say, even though you are black.”
Racism was not about the individual person, said Stephan, who withheld
his last name for fear of the consequences that come with his beliefs.
It stemmed, rather, from letting refugees into the country.
“Right now, it’s like this for me: When I drive through the city, I see
black people and immediately — pooh,” he said, spitting on the ground.
“I’m filled with hate because there’s always more and more coming. I am
not at home when everyone looks different than me.”
There were at least 289 far-right events in Germany last year, the most
since 2005, and a continuation of a steady increase since 2014,
according to an analysis of government data by the newsmagazine Der Spiegel.
Germans seem in general agreement that people are entitled to radical
opinions. But what causes those opinions, and what to do in response, is
a point of contention.
“As a foreigner, I would say that we can’t let ourselves be provoked,”
said Yasar Gunduz, 39, a Turkish immigrant, from the kebab restaurant he
owns a few hundred yards from where the festival was held.
Organizers of far-right events typically register them as political
gatherings, making it almost impossible for public officials to prevent
them because of Germany’s laws on freedom of assembly.
Werner Henning, the Eichsfeld district administrator, lamented
complaints that his office, which is responsible for issuing the permits
for the NPD event, should do more to stop it.
Politicians, he said, needed to worry more about solving the public’s
root concerns — things like integrating refugees into schools, housing
and the labor market.
“People’s anger will only grow when politicians do not try to understand
the concerns of the common man and dismiss people as right-wing
extremists,” said Mr. Henning, a member of the center-right Christian
Some of the people drawn to the NPD event, he added, were there “through
pure coincidence” and they “feel accepted there because other groups
have not accepted them.”
Yet to Georg Maier, Thuringia’s domestic minister, local officials
should use every tool available, including noise ordinances and child
protection regulations, to try to stop far-right events.
“Much more important is that there are protests, that the German people
stand up, resist and say, ‘We do not want this,’ ” said Mr. Maier, a
member of the center-left Social Democrat party, as he marched with
counterprotesters during the NPD event.
Mr. Maier’s vision of Germany stood in stark contrast to the one
espoused by Michael Regener, a popular neo-Nazi singer who goes by the
During his set here, he asked festival goers if they had seen the
reporter from The Times. He smiled brightly as everyone laughed, then
pulled back an unbuttoned shirt to show off a T-shirt with a KKK symbol
and the words “White Power.”
“You have to make yourself stylish,” he said, giggling, before launching
into his song “The KKK Ballad.”
“In the good old South,” he growled, strumming his guitar, “crosses
burned in the night and riders in white robes kept watch on the hill.”
John Eligon is a national correspondent who covers race for The Times
and is currently on assignment in Germany as an Arthur F. Burns fellow.
Follow him on Twitter: @jeligon
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