A new-look neo-Nazi outfit, the Autonomous Nationalists, embody the shifting complexion of Germany’s far-right.
Dortmund’s new generation of neo-Nazis have come along way.
They wear the latest designer track-jackets and listen to the freshest techno-house mixes. They’re tech-savvy, embracing social media and using Twitter to communicate.
To the naked eye, they’re just like you and me. But deep down, they harbour the same visceral xenophobia that made pariahs of their older cadres in the far-right.
“Today a neo-Nazi can eat Turkish kebabs and still go out and beat up immigrants”, says Johannes Radke, a German journalist interviewed by Reuters.
"They see themselves as the avant-garde of the Nazi scene," Radke said. "They're much more professional than some drunk, dim-witted skinhead - and more dangerous."
With their affinity for technology and their capacity to blend into the local community, the Autonomous Nationalists are a far more discreet beast. Their attacks are methodically planned, resembling the work of a private investigator rather than the vitriolic frenzies of their older peers.
Dortmund has long been a hotbed for neo-Nazi activity, but groups such as the Autonomous Nationalists have flocked to the former industrial powerhouse to exploit the anxiety and vexation caused by the city’s deteriorating unemployment crisis.
“Many Nazis moved here because they thought this was a broken city”, Dortmund mayor Ullrich Sirau told Reuters.
Reportedly, such an influx has sparked a soaring rate in Nazi-related crimes, with 131 crimes tied to far-right militants in the first half of 2012.
The problem is not just specific to Dortmund as well, over 1,517 far-right crimes –
including both propaganda offenses and violent crimes –
have been reported in the West German state of North Rhine-Westphalia between January and June, a 52-case increase on the equivalent period in 2011.
The rising tide of German neo-Nazism came to the fore in 2007, when it was revealed that a neo-Nazi cell calling themselves the National Socialist Underground were responsible for the racially-motivated murders of nine people between 2000-2007, most of them ethnic Turks.
The combination of mounting German sensitivity and a rising trend of racially aggravated crimes prompted the North Rhine-Westphalian authorities to launch an extensive offensive in August, which saw the outlawing of three neo-Nazi groups, including the Autonomous Nationalists.
Accompanying the bans, around 900 police officers searched the almost 100 group residences or clubhouse in Dortmund and two nearby cities, seizing an array of banned propaganda material alongside various weapons, including imported firearms.
But with no Autonomous Nationalists arrested in the crackdown, the group remains at large. And although the authorities have made significant inroads into disrupting the cell's command chain, its vitriolic heart still beats.
However, on September 1st – a date neo-Nazi’s celebrate to commemorate Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 – the only visible banners were ones demanding neo-Nazis to leave town.
Similarly, the board of Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund – the city’s football club – invested €250,000 in a state-of-the-art surveillance apparatus capable of taking close-ups of potentially disruptive fans. It paid dividends: at the opening game of the season, two fans were arrested for unfurling a banner supporting one of Dortmund’s banned neo-Nazi groups.
But despite social opposition and federal crackdowns on Dortmund’s far-right extremists, their ability to vanish into obscurity is a worrying sign. No longer can police identify these groups by their Swastika-clad bomber jackets or their Nazi tattoos. They will need to adapt to the evolving nature of the city’s far-right if the beast is to be vanquished.