Germany has complained neo-Nazi groups were getting U.S. aid

April 27, 1995|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Berlin Bureau of The Sun

BERLIN -- If Americans were surprised to learn from the Oklahoma City bombing the possible menace of armed groups of right-wing radicals in the United States, it was no news to Germans, who for years have been nettled by American aid and comfort to German neo-Nazis.

Law enforcement officials here have long complained of a handful of American individuals and organizations supplying German neo-Nazis with moral support, outlawed propaganda and sometimes money.

Just last month German authorities requested the extradition of Gerhard Lauck, an American being detained in Denmark on an international warrant. German officials have sought for years to shut down a flow of illegal Nazi literature from Mr. Lauck, whose message includes strong racist and anti-government themes.

Mr. Lauck, who years ago changed his name from Gary to Gerhard, has distributed such material for 20 years from his home base in Lincoln, Neb. A few days after his arrest, German police raided the apartments of 80 neo-Nazis in the Hamburg area, seizing materials supplied by Mr. Lauck at many of the locations.

These American connections, while far from vital to the German neo-Nazi movement, have nonetheless provided a psychological boost to groups that often feel isolated by government action and adverse public opinion.

In Germany, although individual neo-Nazis have resorted to violence in well-publicized attacks on foreigners, refugee centers and synagogues, authorities say there have been virtually no actions requiring extensive planning or group coordination. And no act of violence has approached the magnitude of what happened in Oklahoma. Even in 1992, the worst year for German neo-Nazi violence, the death toll was 17.

"As a rule, neo-Nazi organizations in Germany don't use force. If they did they would be prohibited right away," says Dr. Hans-Gert Lange, spokesman for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the agency that monitors extremist groups. "There is a potential for force, and a few of these groups may react with delight to what happened in Oklahoma, but this is only a hypothesis."

Dr. Lange says that Americans apparently don't try to export either violence or weapons to Germany -- neo-Nazis find it much easier to acquire old Soviet weaponry -- and

American financial support is probably "marginal."

But former neo-Nazis and others who have infiltrated the organizations say that international connections are playing an increasingly important role.

Ingo Hasselbach, a one-time neo-Nazi leader who renounced his brethren after a change of heart two years ago, wrote in his 1993 book, "The Reckoning" that computer networks have been used to link right-wing groups in Germany, the United States, Russia, South Africa and other countries.

The most important aspect of the American connection is propaganda, and the undisputed leader in this realm is Mr. Lauck.

Besides sending such neo-Nazi staples as swastikas and bumper stickers that say "Foreigners Out!" during the past 20 years, Mr. Lauck wrote an "Action Program for Aryan Skinheads" a few years ago, urging followers to, among other things, prepare for a race war, avoid voting, avoid reading the "Jewish" liberal news media and to "store their weapons in remote places."

Mr. Hasselbach's book noted that Mr. Lauck was "constantly in touch with all of the most important Nazi leadership cadres throughout Germany."

Other American groups and individuals have also been cited by various investigations.

In a June 1993 report, the Simon Wiesenthal Center presented the results of a six-month undercover investigation by a man who infiltrated the neo-Nazi movement. The report cited ties to Americans Willis Carto and Mark Weber, both associated with the California-based Institute for Historical Review, which promotes the idea that the Holocaust was a hoax. The report also named an American ex-G.I. living in Munich, who was said to serve as a conduit for U.S. donations to German neo-Nazis.

German Journalist Michael Schmidt worked his way inside several neo-Nazi groups, and his 1992 film, "Wahrheit Macht Frei" and his 1993 book, "The New Reich," documented contacts with Mr. Lauck and the Institute for Historical Review.

"It's not a surprise to hear about these [American] groups," says Hajo Funke, an authority on radical-right and neo-Nazi organizations who teaches at the Free University of Berlin. "And I am surprised, to be honest, that the American government institutions don't get after these groups more."

His surprise is partly a result of the ease with which the government can crack down on right-wing organizations in Germany. In trying to safeguard against another Hitler-style rise to power, German law sacrifices some aspects of free speech to allow the suppression or even outlawing of hate-mongering groups.

It is illegal, for example, to either display a swastika or to deny the Holocaust, and most neo-Nazi groups that are at all outspoken are eventually banned on the grounds of being a threat to the constitution.

The Germans also don't embrace the free-wheeling American views on gun ownership, especially concerning the kinds of automatic weapons found in the arsenals of some anti- government "militia" groups in the U.S.

Recently U.S. authorities have vowed to try and do more. When FBI Director Louis J. Freeh visited the German capital, Bonn, a year and a half ago, he pledged to help crack down on the mailings of Nazi literature from U.S. sources, and officials said later that Mr. Lauck was his prime target.

German officials say cooperation with enforcement authorities is often close on such matters. But when it comes to spreading propaganda, there is far less U.S. officials can do to intervene.

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