By Ilana Siyance
The German government is slowly waking up to find its democracy is in danger. For years security chiefs and politicians fooled themselves into thinking that any far-right infiltration was merely an individual case. As per a recent article in the NY Times, alarming cases of far-right extremists in the military and police are on the rise. The country has proof that an extremist network exists, and has been hording guns and ammunition, stolen from the military’s stockpiles.
Further, in the last 13 months, far-right terrorists in Germany have assassinated a politician, attacked a synagogue and shot nine immigrants to death. Thomas Haldenwang, president of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, has named the far-right extremism and terrorism to be the “biggest danger to German democracy today.”
In May, police commandos raided a rural property owned by a sergeant major in the special forces, Germany’s most highly trained and secretive military unit. The sergeant major, nicknamed Little Sheep, was suspected of being a neo-Nazi. With the use of a digger, the police team uncovered from beneath his garden: two kilograms of PETN plastic explosives, a detonator, a fuse, an AK-47, a silencer, two knives, a crossbow, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. They also found a bunch of Nazi souvenirs including an SS songbook, and over a dozen editions of a magazine for former members of the Waffen SS. Most of the weaponry found is believed to have been stolen from the German military. “He had a plan,” said Eva Högl, Germany’s parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces. “And he is not the only one.”
Guns and ammo have been waning from military stockpiles for years without any serious investigation. Additionally, there has been an emergence of the Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which legitimizes a far-right philosophy and which has been using the Coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to rise up. What’s even more alarming is that many of these extremists are highly trained elite fighters in the military unit, many of them part of the special forces, known by their German acronym, the KSK.
Last week, as per the NY Times, Germany’s defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, took a strong stand, disbanding a fighting company in the KSK thought to be infested with extremists. Explaining her actions, she said that roughly 48,000 rounds of ammunition and about 137 pounds of explosives have disappeared from the KSK. Germany’s military counterintelligence agency is currently investigating over 600 soldiers for far-right extremism, out of 184,000 in the military.
Last week another case emerged, of a reservist, who has now been suspended, who kept a list with cellphone numbers and addresses of 17 prominent politicians. The case led to at least nine other raids across the country on Friday. “Once they really started looking, they found a lot of cases,” said Konstantin von Notz, deputy president of the intelligence oversight committee in the German Parliament. “When you have hundreds of individual cases it begins to look like we have a structural problem. It is extremely worrying.”
Pinpointing the problem and identifying the extremists will have extra challenges because even the military counterintelligence agency, which does the investigations, may be infiltrated. In June, a high-ranking investigator in the extremism unit was suspended for sharing confidential information about the May raid with a contact in the KSK. The information was passed on to at least eight other soldiers, warning them that the agency might probe them next.
“If the very people who are meant to protect our democracy are plotting against it, we have a big problem,” said Stephan Kramer, president of the domestic intelligence agency in the state of Thuringia. “How do you find them?” “These are battle-hardened men who know how to evade surveillance because they are trained in conducting surveillance themselves,” he added.
“What we are dealing with is an enemy within.”