Transcript

Germany’s Neo-Nazis & the Far Right

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MAX PRIVOROZKI:

That day I was at 11 o’clock in the synagogue. It was Yom Kippur; it was not everyday, it was Yom Kippur. We had guests. Some of them were from the United States, another from Germany.

CHRISTINA FEIST:

A few people I knew were traveling from Berlin to Halle, a place I didn't even know exactly where it was, to celebrate Yom Kippur in a smaller community, and I was happy and curious.

MAX PRIVOROZKI:

We had more than 50 people here in the synagogue. Almost full.

CHRISTINA FEIST:

We had actually started reading from the Torah. A friend of mine was seated in front of me, and I remember hearing this bang.

MAX PRIVOROZKI:

And then began this terrible story.

NEWSREADER:

Germany is in shock after an antisemitic attack on a synagogue in the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

NEWSREADER:

One person reported seeing somebody dressed in military combat fatigues.

EVAN WILLIAMS, Correspondent:

On Oct. 9, 2019, a gunman tried to massacre Jewish worshippers at a synagogue in Halle, Germany.

STEPHAN BALLIET [on security video]:

[Speaking German] S---, man!

NEWSREADER:

At least two people have been killed in a shooting near a synagogue in the east German city of Halle.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

He failed to break through the locked door but gunned down two people who happened to be nearby.

The attack caught German police and intelligence by surprise—

STEPHAN KRAMER, Head of Domestic Intelligence, Thuringia State:

I think we got a very severe wake-up call. Right-wing extremism is the most vital threat that we face at the moment in the Federal Republic of Germany.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

—and left Germany’s Jewish community in shock.

CHRISTINA FEIST:

The image Germany portrays to the outside is that Germany has learned its lesson from the Second World War. Germany is taking care of its people—among those people, Jewish people. But what is happening is that antisemitism is marching down the streets out in the open and nobody seems to care.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Over the past five years, Germany has faced a wave of violence against Jews, Muslims, immigrants and left-wing politicians. I’ve been covering the far right in Europe for almost a decade. I’m now investigating what’s driving this surge of hate in Germany and whether the authorities are doing enough to confront it.

NEWSREADER:

[Speaking German] The trial against the far-right Halle attacker begins.

NEWSREADER:

[Speaking German] Stephan B. showed no remorse, instead calling himself a loser because his plan to kill many people failed.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

The synagogue shooter was a 27-year-old named Stephan Balliet. He had done mandatory service in the German military years earlier and was living with his mother at the time of the attack. At his trial, a prosecutor described his plan to massacre Jews as "the most despicable act of antisemitism in Germany since World War II."

The jury was shown a document police discovered on his computer.

MIRO DITTRICH, Online extremism expert:

He believed in the Jewish world conspiracy. He thought that Jews are the people who run all the things in the background and control the world to nefarious purposes. So he thought attacking Jews on a holy day would send a message because he wanted to kill these people.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Online extremism expert Miro Dittrich has studied how Balliet was radicalized.

MIRO DITTRICH:

The Halle shooter was a person who spent a lot of time on the internet in far-right networks. He wasn’t really connected with offline far-right groups. He really was radicalized in these digital spaces.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Balliet spent time on message boards praising far-right extremist ideas and mass shootings, with advice on how to carry them out and tutorials for making weapons.

MIRO DITTRICH:

We often see these shooters as lone wolf, single people carrying out these attacks, but if you look at the communities they spend their time in, you can clearly see that a lot of people work together on this. They crowdsource ideas on what targets are the best targets, and what weapons should you use, what materials to create bombs. And I think that's also the reason why he streamed his attack in English, because there's this global community.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Balliet’s livestreamed video ultimately attracted more than 2,000 viewers. Many posted supportive comments.

MIRO DITTRICH:

There's a huge community of these people, and it's an international discourse that's happening that's driven by people from the United States. But a lot of other people from the world are part of this discourse, and I've seen a huge interest from Germans. And even if the group is only 80 people strong, at least five people of them are German. And so far, I've seen no real interest from the German security forces to have a look at these people. And I think that's really dangerous, because it wasn't a surprise that it happened then, and I still see a lot of interest by these people to have further attacks.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, declined to talk to us about the synagogue attack. But other German security officials told us how hard it is to identify threats like Balliet in advance.

STEPHAN KRAMER:

You cannot monitor completely the internet. We of course try to be part of the internet communities and try to identify people, but it is very difficult, and we don't have a tool that you just need to switch on and everything is fine.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Stephan Kramer is the intelligence chief in the neighboring state of Thuringia and is himself Jewish. He wasn’t involved in the Halle case, but he acknowledges that German security services could have done better.

STEPHAN KRAMER:

We learned in a very hard way, to put it very diplomatic, that we haven't looked at the right platforms, at the right spots on the internet for increasing the chance of identifying people that might be starting to become weird and becoming a lethal threat.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Critics of the police say the investigation and trial were missed opportunities to shed light on the online communities where Balliet was radicalized.

CHRISTINA FEIST:

I remember, over the course of the trial, sitting in the courtroom listening to police officers who were there to testify, and it was just obvious they have next to no knowledge of right-wing extremism online. They barely know anything about the whole movement. They barely know the chat rooms and switchboards and how the actual language, the specific vocabulary—they barely know anything.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Balliet had spent hundreds of hours playing violent games online.

MIRO DITTRICH:

He definitely comes from a gaming community. And of course, it's really important that not all these games make you violent or anything like that. But we've seen from this data that he was part of a clan of a game, a group of people who play a certain game together, and the police never really followed up. Who are these people that he played with? Were they encouraging him? We don't know anything about these people. The federal police officers who testified there—and it was real embarrassment— she had to admit that she doesn't really know anything about games.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

No one from the German Federal Police would speak to us, but they have defended their investigation as thorough.

For the Jewish community in Halle, the attack was something they’d been fearing for years.

MAX PRIVOROZKI:

It was very, very terrible. It was panic in the synagogue.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Max Privorozki is the chairman of the community. Three years earlier, he had installed the heavy locked door and security camera after police declined to provide officers to guard a religious event.

He says that the police repeatedly told him there was a low security risk.

MAX PRIVOROZKI:

And they explained me that they think that it's not necessary to be present nearby synagogue.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Halle’s police have publicly said that on the day of the attack they had a regular patrol scheduled, but for later in the day.

If he had managed to shoot through the door, what do you think might have happened?

MAX PRIVOROZKI:

I don't know how many people would be killed. Two people? Twenty people? I don't know.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Stephan Balliet was ultimately sentenced to life in prison. But for many in the Jewish community, a climate of fear remains.

CHRISTINA FEIST:

I don't feel safe at all in Germany. Among my friends and other Jewish activists, I do not know a single person who is doing OK at the moment. Nobody is OK.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Shortly after the attack Christina moved to Paris.

CHRISTINA FEIST:

What really gets me, what really infuriates me, is the reaction of some politicians, and especially people in Germany who are surprised. They're genuinely surprised when they hear that antisemitism is spiking, that Jewish people are being attacked, that we're scared, that we don't really know any more what to do, because nobody hears us and nobody sees us.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

German society has struggled for more than half a century to come to terms with its Nazi history. In an effort to reckon with this past, Chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed more than a million refugees into the country since 2015.

ANGELA MERKEL:

[Speaking German] The world sees Germany as a place of hope and opportunity, which wasn’t always the case.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

But the influx had unintended consequences.

RALLY SPEAKER:

[Speaking German] AfD, no to the mosque.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Far-right parties like the Alternative for Germany, the AfD, won millions of new supporters, playing on fears of mass immigration.

CROWD:

[Speaking German] Adolf Hitler hooligans.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

And Germany was hit by a new wave of neo-Nazi violence—

NEWSREADER:

What’s believed to be Germany’s first far-right political assassination since World War II.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

—culminating in the assassination of a pro-refugee politician, Walter Lübcke, in the summer of 2019.

NEWSREADER:

There is concern about the size, shape and scope of extremism in the country.

MARTINA RENNER:

[Speaking German] In the last few years there have been fundamental changes in the extreme right. We have a significant increase in right-wing crime and violence. We are seeing more and more of these crimes being committed using weapons and explosives.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Martina Renner sits on a committee in the German Parliament that’s been looking into extremism and the government’s response to it.

MARTINA RENNER:

[Speaking German] There is a change in the perpetrators. There are more and more people emerging who are from the security services, current and retired soldiers or policemen. And today there are more craftsmen, insurance brokers, local politicians, lawyers and they lead completely inconspicuous lives.

STEPHAN KRAMER:

We have round about 35,000 considered right-wing extremists across Germany. Thirteen, fourteen thousand, roughly spoken, considered to be aggressive and violent. But the problem is it's like with an iceberg: you see just a small tip on the surface, and the rest is beneath.

Köln, West Germany

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Over the past five years, some German authorities have been taking steps to confront the evolving threat.

Oh, my God, I just realized, so that’s an oven!

CHRISTOPH HEBBECKER:

Yeah, it’s an Auschwitz oven.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

And it’s got Hitler putting the chancellor's head in there?

CHRISTOPH HEBBECKER:

Yeah.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Christoph Hebbecker is a state prosecutor who set up the country’s first specialized unit dedicated to digital hate crime.

CHRISTOPH HEBBECKER:

Like this.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

That's interesting.

CHRISTOPH HEBBECKER:

Clear neo-Nazi stuff with the text, "We will cook your Jewish heads while you’re alive."

We’re seeing normal people who don’t have any problem in life, just normal lives, posting really, really extreme content. That's something which really concerns me.

[Speaking German] A few years ago I started working in the field of digital hate and could not imagine that this problem would have such proportions. I was extremely surprised. We see classic Nazi propaganda. But we also see conspiracy theories that have a pseudo-scientific veneer

and in this way deny the Holocaust.

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Mindful of its past, Germany has strict laws about antisemitism and hate speech. It is illegal to post Nazi content and illegal to deny the Holocaust happened. Both are punishable by fines or jail time. But Christoph Hebbecker says it’s been difficult to build cases even as hate flourishes on social media.

CHRISTOPH HEBBECKER:

[Speaking German] We see that right-wing extremist groups are enormous, sometimes with tens of thousands of members.

[Speaking English] It's getting even bigger. I think we are with serious problems, dealing with the numbers we will see right now. So if—I don't know how to do it, to be honest.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

What do you see the future being if it's not controlled or better prosecuted? What’s going to happen in the real world?

CHRISTOPH HEBBECKER:

It will not stop with words. From time to time words are getting into actions, and we're seeing this number growing. It will not stop at words.

NEWSREADER:

[Speaking German] Group S is in court in Stuttgart starting this week.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

A few weeks after I arrived in Germany, a new far-right terrorism trial was underway.

NEWSREADER:

[Speaking German] They had planned attacks against mosques and wanted to murder politicians Robert Habeck and Anton Hofreiter.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Eleven men appeared in court, charged with being part of a terrorist organization.

NEWSREADER:

[Speaking German] The prosecutor accuses them of planning a political overthrow to start a civil war.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Prosecutors allege the group had collected knives, axes and guns to attack mosques and kill Muslims.

They were known as "Group S."

MARTINA RENNER:

[Speaking German] In the first stage, Group S was planning attacks on mosques in small towns all over the country. And in the second stage they wanted to assassinate prominent political figures. Lastly, they were planning to storm and take control of the National Parliament.

I had the opportunity to see the files, to read their communications. They sometimes sounded almost religious. They are really, totally indoctrinated. More than what I have experienced before in dealing with neo-Nazis. “I am willing to die for this,” and so forth. They are really, truly, fanatical.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Group S members allegedly used Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp to recruit and organize. I’ve come to the city of Jena in the east of Germany to meet someone who investigates those networks.

Hi, Katharina?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

Hi!

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Hello. Evan. How are you?

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Katharina König-Preuss is a lawmaker in the Thuringia State Parliament and a prominent anti-fascism activist. For years, she’s been secretly infiltrating and monitoring far-right social media groups like the ones used by Group S.

Talk me through, what are you seeing?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

"Black people, I’ll take them as Brennholz."

EVAN WILLIAMS:

"Black people, I’ll take them as firewood."

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

Yeah. "I’ll take them as firewood." And Hitler.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

With a picture of Hitler.

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

Yeah.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Ku Klux Klan. Heil Hitler.

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

Anne Frank. So it’s written, [speaking German] "Fresh from the oven."

EVAN WILLIAMS:

"Freshly baked from the oven," over a picture of Anne Frank?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

Yeah.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Wow. And you think there are thousands, possibly tens of thousands of people sharing this material?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

Yeah.

It started with Facebook, and now most of the groups are Telegram. Some WhatsApp groups. Maybe 250, 300, but—

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Three hundred groups?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

Yeah. Some I check 10 times a day, because from my point of view these are important groups.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

What sort of thing are they discussing?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

[Speaking German] Some limit themselves to discussing how to make Germany a “purely white” country. [Speaking English] I’d say in 10 to 20 groups they talk about the terroristic attacks that we had in Germany, in Halle, and Mr. Lübcke. They talk about if it’s OK or not OK. Talk about—

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Do they say it’s OK?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

They say it's OK. Especially Halle. They said—

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Where they attacked the synagogue?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

Yeah, but it’s like, when Halle happened, they started to discuss, and the most they discussed was why he just killed two people. And it was something like, “If I would do that, I would kill more. I would kill hundreds.” They support it. And by supporting it, they give the signal to people in that group, "Do it. It’s OK to do it."

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Katharina publishes what she finds online, and that’s made her a target for the far right.

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

[Speaking German] I've received a lot of threats in recent years. Letters that tell me when I will be murdered, and that I will be murdered. I have received emails that outline how they want to torture me, and what they think should happen to me.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Two years ago those threats intensified. An underground far-right band released a song calling for her to be killed.

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

[Speaking German] I didn’t think it was possible to feel much more fear than I did after that song was released.

SONG LYRICS:

[Vocals in German] "You disgusting piece of s---, soon it will be your turn."

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

[Speaking German] In a certain sense, I think I’ve become a symbol of an anti-fascist scene and that by killing me, Katharina König-Preuss, they would be killing much more than just a person.

SONG LYRICS:

[Vocals in German] "Then you’ll be ours, and we’ve planned something lovely for you." [laughter]

EVAN WILLIAMS:

How has it affected your daily life?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

[sighs] I stopped trusting people just by face. People look at me, it’s like, "OK, who it is? Do I know him? What sign on his car?" It’s like, everything. Kind of paranoid sometimes.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Do you ever seek or get police protection?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

No.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Why?

KATHARINA KÖNIG-PREUSS:

I don’t want— [laughs] [Speaking German] I don’t trust the police. If anything, I’m scared of the police.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Katharina told me her fears are based on a series of scandals that have recently rocked Germany and provided evidence that far-right extremists have infiltrated the German police and military.

DIRK LAABS, Investigative journalist:

We have all this here now.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

So this is their own information that you accessed through the hard drive.

DIRK LAABS:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Right.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Investigative journalist Dirk Laabs has obtained a hard drive containing thousands of photos, maps and plans.

DIRK LAABS:

And some of them are professional soldiers, as you can see.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Wow.

The photos show men in uniform on military-style maneuvers.

What’s this? This is them in camouflage.

DIRK LAABS:

Yes, this is in camouflage.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

And scaling bridges.

That’s training to take the bridge? Wow.

DIRK LAABS:

Since the Second World War there are compartments underneath the bridges where you can blow them up, so when the Russians are coming you blow them up, right? And you can actually see it here. So that’s why they’re going under it. They look like serious guys.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

The men were members of a secret group of soldiers, police and civilians. The group was led by a former paratrooper and police sniper named Marko Gross. It was called Nordkreuz—Northern Cross— and in 2015, they began to mobilize for something big.

DIRK LAABS:

You can see a real dynamic. They're really busy. So the one thing they're doing, they're setting up digital communication, their Telegram chat groups. They started to look for safe houses to be safe on a special day, to meet, to have weapons and ammunition to maybe fight other troops. So it was really thought through. It was a military operation.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Nordkreuz had grown out of an online chat group set up to support ex-soldiers. Many met during official army or police training at a shooting range in northern Germany. But with the mass influx of refugees starting in 2015, Nordkreuz had morphed into something different.

Laabs obtained private chats between alleged members of the group.

DIRK LAABS:

We can really see that these guys are hardcore neo-Nazis. It's a lot of racism. One meme they were sending around, where you can see a soldier in the Second World War shooting hostages, and they basically imply you should do the same thing with migrants.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Many of the messages focused on preparing for something called "Day X"—a future day when the state collapses in chaos and the far right can step in and take control.

DIRK LAABS:

This is a card they were passing out for Day X, for the "soldiers," so they know where to meet. I found very specific instructions for the Day X, like military instructions: where to meet, code words, the channels they would use to communicate, the signs they would show, how to pass a roadblock. And I spoke to other witnesses, and they said they had meetings where they would talk about that they will take over military units in Germany on that day.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

It wasn’t until 2017 that German anti-terrorism police stumbled on the existence of Nordkreuz while questioning an army reservist in a separate case. They raided the homes of several members and found tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, Nazi memorabilia and lists of enemies.

MARTINA RENNER:

[Speaking German] The police and the intelligence realized that there had been weapons and ammunition organized in great quantities, largely from police stocks; that they made lists of potential attack sites, which they had in part already cased as well; that they had organized trainings—sniper trainings, urban-combat training, those kinds of things; and yeah, that it was a typical terrorist structure.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Marko Gross, the alleged Nordkreuz leader, was caught with a huge stockpile of ammunition, much of which had been stolen from the police and army.

DIRK LAABS:

They found several 10,000 rounds of ammunition. They found weapons. They found an Uzi. They found stun grenades. They found all sorts of stuff. He was ready to fight a war, that's for sure.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

But federal prosecutors did not charge him with terror offenses. Instead, state prosecutors convicted him on a charge of illegal weapons possession. He received a 21-month suspended sentence and emerged to celebrate with his supporters.

Dirk Laabs asked prosecutors why terrorism charges were not pursued.

DIRK LAABS:

That’s the $1 million question. If you ask the prosecutors, they were going to tell you, "Not enough evidence." But I talked to a lot of other prosecutors, and they said they don't get it. Here you have a guy who is looking for safe houses, who's exchanging radical views in his chats, who was stealing ammunition from the police, and still you don't charge him for terrorism. Let's be crystal clear: if you have an Islamist, a jihadi, doing the same thing, he would go to jail, OK? It’s just clear as day.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Stephan Kramer, the state intelligence chief, told us prosecutors and the courts have not taken Nordkreuz and other cases like it seriously enough.

STEPHAN KRAMER:

Look, it's usually not very popular for someone from one agency and security branch to criticize some other. But the fact is that 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, judiciary system, the court system, basically belittles it, plays it down and doesn't see this threat, and takes the necessary measures, hard measures, to hit the brakes, basically, then our work is useless.

VANESSA SCHLESIER:

[Speaking German] Vanessa Schlesier here. Hello, Mr. Gross.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

We tried to get Marko Gross to agree to an interview.

It’s a chance to explain to us what Nordkreuz was all about.

He declined. He’s told reporters in Germany the group was just "prepping" in case social order broke down. But witness statements suggest something far more serious was going on. One Nordkreuz member told police the group was discussing assassination plots.

KATRIN BENNHOLD, The New York Times:

There were people within that group, according to at least one witness, who thought that that moment of the collapse of the public order might be a good opportunity to get rid of some political enemies.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

New York Times Berlin Bureau Chief Katrin Bennhold has investigated the case and read the witness statements.

KATRIN BENNHOLD:

There was a kind of pivotal meeting at a highway truck stop where a handful of people, including Marko, the police sniper, a couple of reservists, another police officer and a lawyer got together after work. And the conversation turned to Day X. And according to this witness statement, the lawyer and the other police officer in particular were mentioning or were asking questions of the reservists, who had access to military gear. They're saying, "Well, could we source trucks on Day X to transport our political enemies?" And they were all people listed in two fat files that the lawyer kept in his garage— and this witness had seen them with his own eyes—that these people would be gathered, transported and then they would be killed. The idea would be to kill them.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Based on the witness statements, federal prosecutors opened a terrorism case against the lawyer and one of the police officers. Marko Gross is now a witness in that case.

Since Nordkreuz, Germany has been hit by a wave of further revelations about right-wing extremism in the military. In May 2020, on a tipoff, police searched the home of Philipp Schaaf, a highly decorated member of the elite special forces, the KSK. They found neo-Nazi material. They also found he had thousands of rounds of army ammunition and more than four pounds of explosives buried in his garden.

MATTHIAS GEBAUER:

He has a right-wing mindset, there's no doubt about that. And so, if a soldier like this, with his military education, holds this amount of ammunition and also two kilos of highly explosive material from the army, that is raising alarm bells.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Matthias Gebauer specializes in covering the army for the weekly magazine Der Spiegel.

MATTHIAS GEBAUER:

What we all think why he hid this was—and that is what these guys talked about in their chat groups—was some sort of private cache, if something happens here, if we want to or if we need to take control of the streets or whatever. So the possible—the danger is immense.

His military leaders, they came as witnesses in the court. They said he was the role model of a good soldier. "He was one of the best of us." I mean, it's quite shocking, especially when you think about these witnesses knew what he did. At least, it gave me the shivers, but—

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Like Marko Gross, Schaaf was only charged with weapons offenses rather than terrorism. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years’ probation. He was also ordered to leave the army.

Schaaf’s lawyer rejected any link between the stolen ammunition and extremism.

LAWYER:

[Speaking German] Someone who privately buried ammunition, something he’s not allowed to do, but it was something he would use on a daily basis at work. There’s nothing more to it.

Army promotional video

EVAN WILLIAMS:

We wanted to talk to the German Defense Ministry about far-right extremism in the ranks. They wouldn’t agree to an interview but in a statement said "extremism in any form has no place" in the military, and that their goal is to remove "both recognized extremists and persons who are not loyal to the constitution."

Last year, the defense minister disbanded the KSK unit Schaaf was a member of and introduced reforms aimed at combating the issue, including education and training.

In May 2021, another trial connected to both Nordkreuz and the Germany military. This time, it was a terrorism case.

Franco Albrecht, an army officer, was charged with plotting an act of terror against the state.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Police had arrested him in 2017 as he retrieved a loaded pistol he had hidden in a toilet at Vienna Airport.

What's your defense for getting the weapon? What's your defense for that?

KATRIN BENNHOLD:

And after many hours of interrogation, they let him go, but they fingerprinted him. They realized these fingerprints weren't registered to a military officer. They were registered to a Syrian refugee, at which point they really did get concerned. And the intelligence service got involved, and the prosecutors, the federal prosecutors got involved.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

The prosecutors discovered that Albrecht had posed as a Syrian refugee for a year. They allege he wanted to use this false identity in a bizarre plot to bring about Day X.

KATRIN BENNHOLD:

They believe that he had created this fake refugee identity in order to commit an attack that would then be blamed on a refugee and trigger some kind of crisis that would be big enough certainly to affect government policy on migration and possibly affect the stability of the state—bring down the republic.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Investigators discovered evidence that Albrecht was linked to a nationwide, online, far-right network focused on Day X, of which Nordkreuz was just one part.

MARTINA RENNER:

[Speaking German] Nordkreuz was one of the groups which belonged to a countrywide organization. There was Nordkreuz, Südkreuz, Ostkreuz and Westkreuz. There were also groups in Austria and Switzerland which fed into this, based in the German-speaking realm.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

The prosecutors opened the trial saying Albrecht had a “particular aversion to people of the Jewish faith” and that he feared mixing of the races would exterminate what he called "ethnically pure" Germans.

KATRIN BENNHOLD:

Prosecutors in the indictment make the case that Franco has a hardened far-right mindset. The most compelling evidence is a kind of audio diary of his thoughts, if you will. A voice memo from the third of July 2015: “Hitler is above all things, above all things. Hitler is a creator of honest work. Anything that makes Hitler bad is a lie."

So that’s what he said about Hitler, which sounds very damning. He said it was all in jest and just a joke. When I was listening to the audio, I wasn’t entirely convinced that it was just a joke.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Police also found a diary in which Albrecht named several high-ranking politicians who they say he was planning to kill. This part of the diary named the foreign minister, Heiko Maas, and Anetta Kahane, the Jewish head of an anti-racism advocacy group. It had this sketch of the car park used by Kahane and photos of number plates.

Albrecht pled not guilty and said he simply found the gun in a park.

FRANCO ALBRECHT:

[Speaking German] This indictment is a farce. The prosecutor's office is politically motivated.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Are we able to have a quick chat with you?

Albrecht told me he had nothing to do with Nordkreuz and denied Day X was part of any terror plan.

As I understand it, there are messages that connect you to Nordkreuz.

FRANCO ALBRECHT:

No.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

You deny that?

FRANCO ALBRECHT:

In some way they tried to find explanation for things they couldn't understand, so they put them together, but in reality they don't have anything to do with each other.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

In the messaging there's discussion of Day X.

FRANCO ALBRECHT:

Day X is nothing special. You talk everywhere around the world about Day X if you mean something special.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

What do you think by—what do you see Day X being?

FRANCO ALBRECHT:

Well, Day X, what I understood what Day X was, when—by the way, we never talked about Day X as something extraordinary or something. It was—I think if—firstly, I don't remember anyone using this term. I don't remember anyone. Somehow it happens that in the media they talk about this Day X. And if you talk about tomorrow, it's a test at school, a physical education test, then it’s Day X. I think it's—

EVAN WILLIAMS:

It's a phrase for something that doesn't mean necessarily the downfall of a state and—

FRANCO ALBRECHT:

No, not at all. Not at all.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

But Albrecht admitted to me that he did know the man who set up the nationwide network of far-right chat groups that includes Nordkreuz: a former KSK soldier called "Hannibal."

DIRK LAABS:

I spoke with people who said Franco Albrecht was present in meetings with Hannibal, even in Hannibal’s private apartment, two to three times, and they were talking about weapons. And they talk about taking over military garrisons on the Day X, and Franco Albrecht is present. And after some of these meetings, he comes up with this idea, either by himself or inspired by this group, to register himself as a refugee. And he tells the story, he just wanted to point out that the whole system in Germany isn't working, they're accepting too many refugees. But really what they're talking about in this meeting, if you look at the communication of Hannibal, it seems to be they're thinking about, "Can we wait for the Day X to come by itself, or do we have to do something?"

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EVAN WILLIAMS:

There are now some 800 members of the German military, including some in Hannibal’s network, under investigation for far-right extremism.

STEPHAN KRAMER, Intelligence chief, Thuringia State:

I'm afraid that what we discovered so far—again, here I'm coming with my iceberg example—is just a peek, and there is more to be discovered. I am not afraid that the vast majority of servicemen and women are considered or have to be considered to be part of these networks. That's not the case. But we have severe numbers that we should be worried about and we should find out immediately, and very quickly, who they are, what their goals are. And if we don't identify those people who are among those who are a threat, we will get a very, probably a very bad, another wake-up call that is probably even more lethal than the ones that we already got.

CROWD [in unison]:

Fatih Saraçoğlu. Vili Viorel Păun. Mercedes Kierpacz. Hamza Kurtović. Said Nesar Hashemi. Ferhat Unvar. Kaloyan Velkov.

NEWSREADER:

Homegrown extremism has reared its ugly head again.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

In February 2020, four months after the Halle synagogue attack, another atrocity, this time in the city of Hanau.

NEWSREADER:

At least 10 people were killed after a deadly terror attack in a town east of Frankfurt.

NEWSREADER:

Many of the victims are said to have been of Turkish and Kurdish descent.

ARMIN KURTOVIĆ:

[Speaking German] The first victim of the attack was in here. Then he comes out here and shoots dead the second victim. Then he goes to the shisha bar, opens the door and shoots dead the third victim. And then he goes to his car.

And then he goes to the kiosk next to the Arena Bar. He shoots three people.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Armin Kurtović’s son Hamza was in the Arena Bar.

ARMIN KURTOVIĆ:

[Speaking German] He knew what kind of people went there. People with a migrant background.

Then he comes in and executes two people: Said Nesar Hashemi and my son. He shot my son once in the arm and once in the head. Here.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Nine people were shot dead, all of migrant background. Six of them were Muslim.

The killer returned to his home where he shot his mother, then himself.

TOBIAS RATHJEN [on video]:

If you don’t believe the following, you better wake up, quick.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

In the weeks before the shootings, Tobias Rathjen posted this video of himself repeating wild conspiracy theories and this manifesto online. He rants against immigrants, saying Muslims should be wiped out in Germany.

ARMIN KURTOVIĆ:

[Speaking German] What more could the attacker have done? He had a website. The manifesto was online for two weeks, the “confession” video for one week. It’s not the case that he came out of a cellar and no one knew anything. He was revealing himself, he was screaming, "Stop me." He never made his racism a secret.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Once a month, Armin Kurtović joins other relatives of the victims at this memorial.

ARMIN KURTOVIĆ:

[Speaking German] Here in this bar my son was murdered.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Why do you come here every month?

ARMIN KURTOVIĆ:

[Speaking German] So it doesn’t get forgotten. This attack must not be forgotten.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Even though the shooter killed himself, relatives are campaigning for a public inquiry. A Federal Police review of the case that we obtained shows that in the weeks leading up to the attack, Rathjen had sent his racist manifesto to the authorities on more than one occasion.

ARMIN KURTOVIĆ:

[Speaking German] And no one reacted. No one. That lack of reaction cost nine people their lives. Nine. For nothing. And to put it behind us, I’m sorry, that doesn’t work. Someone must accept responsibility.

RALLY SPEAKER:

[Speaking German] Imagine the number of violent acts if we have more foreigners. Therefore, it’s important that we go out on the streets and say we don't want that.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

In the year since the killings, the rhetoric behind them has continued, increasingly stoked by far-right politicians.

ARMIN KURTOVIĆ:

[Speaking German] The speeches are Islamophobic, misanthropic. It is pure dissemination of Islamophobia. The pure dissemination.

He commits the crime. What is written in this manifesto is known, who the crime is targeting.

Everyone says, “I’m sorry.” But no one wants to change anything. The responsible people don’t even want to meet us. And as long as it stays that way, then it’s already predetermined that it will happen again.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

In Frankfurt, the Franco Albrecht trial continues. In Stuttgart, the Group S trial continues. And new far-right plots are being discovered almost every week.

NEWSREADER:

[Speaking German] The investigation accuses some officers of being active participants in chatrooms in which they shared inciting material, including Hitler images, swastikas and insults against asylum seekers.

EVAN WILLIAMS:

Germany’s intelligence agencies admit they are struggling to keep up.

STEPHAN KRAMER:

We have had the attack on the Halle synagogue. We had the Hanau attack. We had the shooting and the brutal killing of Director Lübcke. All done by Nazis. We have seen underground armies preparing for Day X, when they take over and destroy the democracy.

It's not just dangerous because we have blood on the sidewalks. It's also dangerous because it goes to the roots of the tree, because it goes to the democratic system.

ARMIN KURTOVIĆ:

[Speaking German] I don’t feel safe at all in this country anymore. How could I? How could I?

It starts with thoughts, then come the words. After the words come the acts. Then it’s too late. Once blood has flowed, it's too late. And blood has flowed here. Lots of blood. A whole lot of blood.

55m
2107_TN_01_CLEAN
In Search of Al Qaeda
FRONTLINE follows the trail of Al Qaeda fighters — from the borderlands of Pakistan, across the Gulf of Oman, to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
November 21, 2002