‘Ready to Fight a War’: A German Far-Right Group Stockpiled Weapons & Prepped for Violence. Its Alleged Leader Wasn’t Tried on Terror Charges.
The photos are striking: In image after image, men in uniform carry out military-style maneuvers — including scaling bridges and seemingly casing out how to blow them up.
The images, which appear in the above clip from the new FRONTLINE documentary Germany’s Neo-Nazis & the Far Right, show members of a secret group of soldiers, police and civilians in Germany called Nordkreuz, or Northern Cross: part of a far-right ecosystem that is now resurgent in Germany, decades after the Holocaust, and that has helped drive a wave of violence against Jews, Muslims, immigrants and left-wing politicians over the past five years.
Found along with maps and plans on a hard drive obtained by the German investigative journalist Dirk Laabs, these images are being published by a U.S. media outlet for the first time. They are believed to depict Nordkreuz members preparing for something they called Day X: a future moment when the German state would collapse in chaos, and the far right could step in and take control.
“They’re organizing big training drills, with soldiers who would train civilians,” Laabs tells FRONTLINE producer and correspondent Evan Williams of the group’s plans. “So, it was really thought-through. It was a military operation.”
In the documentary, Williams investigates the rise of neo-Nazi ideology and far-right extremism in modern-day Germany — including within the country’s military and police — and why authorities are struggling to confront the growing movement, of which Nordkreuz was just one element.
As the film reports, Nordkreuz grew out of an online chat group set up to support ex-soldiers. But it morphed into something different in 2015, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees in an effort to reckon with the country’s past.
“We can really see that these guys are hardcore neo-Nazis. You know, it’s a lot of racism,” says Laabs, who obtained private chats between alleged members of the group. “There’s this one meme they were sending around: We can see a soldier [in the] Second World War shooting hostages, and they basically imply you should do the same thing with migrants.” In Germany, posting neo-Nazi material or denying the Holocaust is illegal.
After learning about the group in 2017, police discovered that Nordkreuz had “made lists of potential attack sites, which they, in part, had already cased as well,” says Martina Renner, who sits on a committee in the German parliament that has been looking into extremism and the government’s response to it. “That they had organized trainings, sniper trainings, urban combat training, those kind of things. And yeah, that it was a typical terrorist structure.”
In raids of several alleged members’ homes, German anti-terrorism police found Nazi memorabilia, lists of enemies and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition — large portions of it stolen “from police stocks,” Renner says. As the above clip recounts, the alleged leader of Nordkreuz himself, a former paratrooper and police sniper named Marko Gross, was caught with ammunition stolen from the police and the army, and a cache of weapons.
“They found an Uzi, they found stun grenades, they found all sorts of stuff,” Laabs said. “He was ready to fight a war, that’s for sure.”
But German federal prosecutors didn’t charge Gross with terror offenses. State prosecutors convicted him on an illegal weapons possession charge, for which he received a 21-month suspended sentence.
Laabs says he asked state prosecutors why terrorism charges weren’t pursued and was told there wasn’t enough evidence. But other prosecutors Laabs spoke with were skeptical.
“You know, here you have a guy who is looking for safe houses, who’s exchanging radical, you know, views on, in his chats, who was stealing ammunition from the police. And still you don’t charge him for terrorism,” Laabs says. “Let’s be crystal clear: If you have an Islamist, a jihadi, doing the same thing, he would go to jail. It’s just, you know, clear as day.”
Stephan Kramer, the intelligence chief in Germany’s Thuringia state, tells Williams prosecutors and the courts haven’t taken cases involving Nordkreuz and other far-right threats seriously enough.
“If we are warning, as intelligence agencies, for certain threats, if the police is warning and taking executive measures to take out those threats, and then in the third branch, the justice system … basically belittles it, it plays it down … then our work is useless,” Kramer says.
State and federal prosecutors declined to speak to FRONTLINE about the case, as did Gross. He has told reporters in Germany the group was just “prepping” in case social order broke down. Based on witness statements in the Gross case, federal prosecutors opened a terrorism case against two other alleged members of Nordkreuz: a lawyer and a police officer.
For an in-depth look at the far-right threat in modern-day Germany, watch Germany’s Neo-Nazis & the Far Right. The documentary is supported by Exploring Hate, a multiplatform public media initiative from The WNET Group in New York aimed at offering an in-depth understanding of the rising tide of hatred, hate crimes, antisemitism and racism. Watch the documentary Tuesday, June 29, 2021, at 10/9c on PBS (check local listings) and on YouTube, or stream it that same day starting at 7/6c at pbs.org/frontline and in the PBS Video App.