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Former Left-Wing, German Extremist Horst Mahler Switches to Neo-Nazi National Democratic Party

In what may be a sign of things to come, the far right meets the far left inside a German neofascist party.

Horst Mahler is not your typical attorney. A founding member of the now-defunct Red Army Faction, he spent 10 years in jail for his exploits as an ultra-left-wing terrorist in West Germany during the 1970s and 1980s. But last year, Mahler switched sides and joined the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD).

The German government recently asked the country's highest court to ban the NPD, claiming it has ties to neo-Nazi Skinhead gangs involved in a surge of violent attacks against foreigners and other minorities. Mahler will represent the NPD when the Constitutional Court considers whether to outlaw the organization.

Mahler sees no contradiction between his past and present. "The labels 'left' and 'right' don't apply anymore today," he asserts, adding, "The NPD is against globalization. ... [It] knows that the only power that can stand up against globalization is the nation."

A born-again nationalist, Mahler says he is fighting for the identity of the German people and the survival of German culture against pernicious foreign influences — in particular, mass immigration and the homogenizing juggernaut of transnational corporations.

Mahler's anti-globalist diatribes have found a receptive audience, particularly among embittered Germans in the five formerly communist eastern states, where unemployment tops 20% and much of the population is demoralized.

Brandishing slogans such as "Work for Germans first" and "Big capital destroys jobs," the NPD has staged "pro-worker" demonstrations in several German cities. The purported goal of the NPD, according to a recent German intelligence report, is to "build a new Germany out of the rubble of liberal capitalism."

'Nazi Will be a Good Word'
Describing the NPD as the ideological seedbed for neo-Nazi aggression, German officials accuse the party of fomenting racist violence throughout the country. Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are the NPD's stock and trade. Its publications claim there is no evidence that poison gas was used to kill people at Nazi concentration camps.

Founded in 1964 during an economic recession, the NPD gained enough votes to win representation in a majority of state assemblies in West Germany. But the party soon ran out of steam and sputtered along at the political margins for a quarter of a century. It wasn't until after the Cold War ended that the NPD began to mount a comeback.

The party has been on the upswing since 1996, when Udo Voigt, a young university graduate, took over as NPD führer after its previous leader was jailed for denying the Holocaust and inciting racial hatred. Lashing out at the "system parties," Voigt dreams of establishing a new Reich that will "reunite" Germany with its former territories in Poland.

"Nazi is now a bad word," he explains. "It used to be a good word, short for National Socialist, Hitler's party. I hope in 10 years Nazi will be a good word again."

From Germany to West Virginia
While NPD candidates have won a few local council seats in Brandenburg and Saxony, the party's involvement in electoral politics primarily serves as a legal cover for grassroots neo-Nazi organizing — with an emphasis on direct action, street confrontations, and physical assaults against foreigners and leftists.

Most of the NPD's 7,000 members are German youths who favor the party's brazen, in-your-face tactics and Nuremberg-like pageantry. Festooned by flags, torches and black shirts, NPD campaign rallies typically resemble Skinhead rock concerts crammed with rowdy youths.

"Not every Skinhead is a member of the NPD," says Voigt, "but we have maybe between 3,000 and 5,000 Skinhead sympathizers."

The NPD's closest U.S. ally is William Pierce, head of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and author of the notorious hate novel, The Turner Diaries, which has been published in German.

In 1999, Alexander von Webenau, head of the NPD's youth wing, visited Pierce at his remote, rural encampment in West Virginia (see also The Ties That Bind).

A year earlier, Pierce attended the NPD's national convention in Germany. It was at this convention that NPD candidate Manfred Roeder called for the violent overthrow of the German government.

A veteran neo-Nazi agitator, Roeder served eight years behind bars for his role in a 1982 firebomb attack that killed two Vietnamese immigrants. Roeder also has traveled to the United States on several occasions, functioning as a roving neo-Nazi ambassador to the Aryan Nations in Idaho, the Liberty Lobby in Washington, D.C., and other North American white supremacist groups.

If the German government succeeds in outlawing the NPD, the party would lose its annual state subsidy worth nearly a half million dollars. But some German analysts feel that a ban would only paper over the problem of right-wing extremism.

"Maybe a symbolic act is necessary for Germany's reputation abroad," said Wilhelm Heitmeyer, sociology professor at the University of Bielefeld, "but it won't have much impact in the daily life of German society."