Would-be fuehrer draws heavy jail sentence as part of anti-Nazi crackdown

December 11, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- The ersatz fuehrer snarled through a rantin Hitlerite speech in his fake Berchtesgaden.

His name was Thomas Dienel. He was the self-made gauleiter of the neo-Nazi German National Party.

He snaked through the obscenities of anti-Semitism, xenophobic nationalism and racist hate. His performance was a rancid compound of bad acting, psychological compulsion and empty bravado.

Three somewhat sheepish-looking police officers sat among Dienel's leather-jacketed followers, recording the speech. Dienel knew he was skirting arrest. He had been arrested many times before. He would be again on that day.

After earlier arrests, he had been held only a few hours, or overnight, once for a few days. He all but sneered at the light punishment.

But in a court appearance Wednesday, Dienel lost the sneer. A judge silenced him with the toughest penalty yet handed out to a neo-Nazi leader in Germany.

Dienel was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for violations of anti-Nazi laws against inciting racism and denigrating and insulting Jews and foreigners.

The stiff sentence was the clearest signal yet of the German government's determination to crack down on the right-wing extremism that has broken out in a rash of virulent anti-foreigner nationalism and anti-Semitic vandalism.

Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters said Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government wanted to strip Dienel and another right-wing extremist of virtually all of their political rights.

In a drastic action that has never been sanctioned by Germany's constitutional court, the government would deprive Dienel and Heinz Reisz, another mini-fuehrer with a racist program, of their rights to run for political office, to free political speech, political assembly and membership in political organizations.

Yesterday a second main right-wing extremist group, German Alternative, was banned and Chancellor Kohl said Germany's past bound it morally to neutralize rightists responsible for a "terrifying increase" in anti-foreigner violence.

"We Germans are in a very special way called upon to stand up against any kind of violence and guarantee human dignity," he told parliament.

The speech Dienel made September 14 at a kind of mini-summit of neo-Nazi leaders and a few of their minions was part of the evidence against him.

He stood against the bar in a rural restaurant, a kind of hideaway surrounded by plowed fields overlooking the picturesque valley of the Saale River near Weimar.

Several leaders of the now banned German Alternative came to the wood-paneled bar, along with members of the National List. It was unclear if anyone from among the semi-mystical rightists of Wotans Volk was there. Dienel had invited them.

He's a short, pudgy man with doughy skin and a thin crown of blond ringlets. He looked like a kind of rumpled dandy in a dark suit he had worn at least for the past two days, a white shirt with palm trees embroidered above the pockets and a black tie.

He imitated the semi-hysterical style of Adolf Hitler at a torch-light rally. He grimaced and slashed at the air in an aborted Nazi salute. He spoke with a harsh, hacking voice that mimicked the Fuehrer of the Third Reich.

He sputtered and spurted through the whole catalog of right-wing radical obsessions.

He railed against Jews and Israel, against foreigners and asylum-seekers, against Mr. Kohl "the chancellor of the Jews," against "pig-loving police."

The 50 or so people in the bar responded with the old Nazis salute, "Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!" They were mostly about Dienel's age, 31, or younger, and drinking a lot of beer.

Poised beyond the hillside outside, a small army of border police in combat green uniforms and carrying assault rifles ringed the restaurant.

Dienel had called for a mass demonstration of Nazis in the small city of Rudolstadt, in Thuringia, one of the states formerly in communist East Germany. He was tried this week in Rudolstadt.

He had led a march of his booted, skinhead neo-Nazis through Rudolstadt August 15, to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Rudolf Hess, the Nazi who flew to England early in World War II with a bizarre peace plan.

Hess was convicted of war crimes and spent decades alone in the Spandau prison here. He's a cult figure to the new Nazis. Dienel called Hess "the second greatest Nazi after Hitler."

For Dienel, "Adolf Hitler was the greatest man that ever was in the world." Rudolstadt promptly banned any more marches and renamed the central square: "Plaza of the Victims of Nazism."

Dienel countered with a call for another march to claim the square and rename it "Rudolf Hess Place." He predicted 6,000 would come. Leftist began saying they would show up, too.

Thuringia took him seriously. The state saturated the region with police and border troops who set up roadblocks and checkpoints and turned back anybody who looked like they might be prepared for a little weekend violence.

Dienel was left with his little band of aspiring fuehrers and gauleiters and would-be storm troopers, talking to themselves in the country bar.

At the end of the day, the police played their tapes, listened to Dienel's speech and charged him with vilifying Jews and foreigners.

He would also be accused of leading his German National Party members in the desecration of a synagogue in the city of Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia. They left pig's heads wrapped in scrawled anti-semitic notes exalting in the death of Heinz Galinski, the longtime leader of the German Jewish community.

He remained defiant as the trial opened Tuesday, declaring again that the Holocaust never happened and that he was glad Mr. Galinski was dead.

As he left the court for jail after sentencing, he was more subdued: "I've already said all I wanted to say."

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