Revived German neo-Nazi movement has found its Goebbels in America

January 13, 1994|By Rogers Worthington | Rogers Worthington,Chicago Tribune

LINCOLN, Neb. -- This town is too white and too prosperous for national socialist agitation, the Farm Belt Fuehrer says over a lunch of fried rice and pork satay at a downtown restaurant.

"If we were agitating here it probably would be more against Southeast Asians than blacks," he says offhandedly as the Thai waitress smilingly brings more tea.

But Gerhard Lauck has set his sights on the Fatherland, where economic problems, the collapse of the Soviet Union and a flood of East European immigrants have bolstered the radical German Right since reunification in 1990.

Mr. Lauck, who says Hitler's greatest shortcoming was being too humane, has become a latter-day Joseph Goebbels for the illegal neo-Nazi movement in Germany. Government officials there have repeatedly identified him as the leading source of banned Nazi propaganda and memorabilia.

While producing such material in the United States is protected by the First Amendment, it has been illegal in Germany since the Allied occupation in 1945.

After increased neo-Nazi and rightist violence, the German government last year stepped up its campaign against Mr. Lauck, whose mailed and smuggled literature they say consistently turns up during raids and arrests of activists.

When the new FBI director, Louis Freeh, stopped in Germany to talk about organized crime a few weeks ago, he got an earful about Gerhard Lauck and his Lincoln post office box.

Mr. Lauck appears to shrug all this off. "We are legal, and they know we're legal," he said. He says he does not play a strategic role in the activities of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in Germany.

Recently, however, an imprisoned neo-Nazi organizer, Godfrey Kussel, was quoted as saying he was on the phone with Mr. Lauck as often as once a day.

Mr. Lauck was born Gary Rex Lauck in Milwaukee 41 years ago. Tall -- 6-foot-4 -- with narrow shoulders, there is about him something of the person who delights in saying shocking things. embraces the revisionism common to neo-Nazis: There were no mass killings of Jews in concentration camps, and the gas chamber "showers" and cremation ovens were built after the war by the Allies.

"The Jewish issue was not the central point of the Third Reich," he said. "It was almost like pest control at the periphery."

He publishes the New Order and other neo-Nazi newspapers in nine European languages and Russian. He also sells flags, armbands (made in Taiwan) and jewelry bearing swastikas, cassettes of Nazi marching music and books ranging in subject from "SS Race Theory and Mate Selection," to "Adolf Hitler, the Unknown Artist."

"These things are very important as symbols, as a kind of reference for them [the neo-Nazis]," said Helga Schmidt, a German Embassy spokeswoman in Washington. "They enable them to recognize each other and hold together."

A report by the German government's Office for the Protection of the Constitution notes that 90 percent of neo-Nazis are age 14 to 19.

Lincoln is the mail-order staging ground for Mr. Lauck's creation of a "New Order throughout the white world." This is his ultimate goal, according to his literature.

Over the years, Mr. Lauck has made untold trips to Germany and the countries on its borders. He was expelled in 1974 after making a speech about Hitler.

In 1976 he spent 4 1/2 months in a German prison after being arrested with a suitcase containing 20,000 swastika stickers, a false passport and what police described as a large amount of cash. He returned in 1979 with immunity to testify for the defense at one of the first trials of neo-Nazis.

He vows he will continue to produce Nazi propaganda for export until the German government gives legal recognition to the NSDAP. "If the German people want to vote for us, fine. If they don't, they don't have to," he said.

But Mr. Lauck is convinced there is widespread secret nostalgia in Germany for the efficiencies of the Third Reich.

"We don't need everyone to join us," he said. "If we can get 5 to 20 percent in elections, then a lot of German people would say, 'Well, jeez, maybe they've got a chance after all.' "

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