The Autonomous Nationalists - new developments and contradictions in the German neo - Nazi movement.pdf

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Interface: a journal for and about social movements Article Volume 5 (2): 295 - 318 (November 2013) Schlembach, Autonomous Nationalists 295 The ‘Autonomous Nationalists’: new developments and contradictions in the German neo-Nazi movement Raphael Schlembach Abstract This article examines the action repertoires, symbolism and political ideology of the ‘Autonomous Nationalists’ (Autonome Nationalisten in German) that have emerged as a sub-cultural youth trend within the German
   Interface : a journal for and about social movements Article Volume 5 (2): 295 - 318 (November 2013)    Schlembach, Autonomous Nationalists 295 The ‘Autonomous Nationalists’: new developments and contradictions in the German neo-Nazi movement Raphael Schlembach Abstract This article examines the action repertoires, symbolism and political ideology of the ‘Autonomous Nationalists’ (Autonome Nationalisten  in German)   that have emerged as a sub-cultural youth trend within the German extreme right.  Agitating within a landscape of networked, extra-parliamentary neo-Nazi organisations, Autonomous Nationalist activism forms a specific subsection within the German extreme right that copies the styles, codes and militancy of anarchist and radical left activists. A political analysis of its texts and slogans reveals a self- definition as ‘anti  - capitalist’ and ‘national socialist’  . A particular mobilisation potential beyond the traditional and party-political forms of extreme nationalism is fuelled by an openly displayed confrontational militancy, mostly directed at anti-fascist and left-wing groups and individuals, and by strong counter-cultural aspects. The article analyses how this emphasis on individual forms of expressions and rebellion appears to stand in contradiction with fascist understandings of organisation and has put the movement at odds with the established neo-Nazi scene in Germany. Introduction  When the first Autonomous Nationalists began adopting the stylistic elements of left-wing and anarchist counter-culture, many organised fascists rejected this is as a temporary sub-cultural fad. However, the social phenomenon of young people, mostly men, forming black blocs and engaging in violent and militant street demonstrations against ‘ global capitalism ’  has taken a foothold within the neo-Nazi spectrums in Germany, Belgium and Holland as well as in Central and Eastern Europe. Certainly, more traditional and populist politics remain central to the extreme right movement in Europe. The Autonomous Nationalists present more of a fringe phenomenon, yet they make for a particularly rich case study due to the strategic and conscious use of symbolic codes, its elements appealing to youth culture, and the reactions they have provoked both within the traditional organised fascist movement, and amongst anti-fascists and the democratic public discourse. What is more, noting their networked and horizontal appearance, their focus on DIY and counter-culture, and their anti-capitalist sloganeering allows for a particular and critical angle from which to examine the contradictory nature of such themes and methods in the neo-Nazi movement.  We can situate the emergence of the Autonomous Nationalists as resulting from  within organised militant fascist groups in some urban centres, especially in   Interface : a journal for and about social movements Article Volume 5 (2): 295 - 318 (November 2013)    Schlembach, Autonomous Nationalists 296 Berlin, at around the beginning of the 2000s. It is thus important to note the specific situation of post-reunification, which in Germany had led to new forms of organisation within the neo-Nazi scene. Whereas in the early years after reunification disorganised networks of fascists dominated the headlines, soon new forms of militant street organisation appeared, especially the network of the  Freie Kameradschaften (the free fellowships) . These are groups of extra-parliamentary significance that seek to establish themselves as political actors outside of the more traditional political party approach coming from the main far right parties, especially the NPD (  Nationaldemokratische Partei  Deutschland  ). The less rigid structures and the tendency towards avant-garde and disestablishment politics allowed for a situation where new trends, analysis and symbolic codes could develop unchecked by the established channels of fascist agitation and free of the structures of party politics. The Autonomous Nationalists thus provide a greater appeal to nationalist youth, especially around the topic of globalisation. They mirror the internationalist language of the global justice movements with their own nationalist rejection of globalisation. However, as we will see, the employ a particular ‘globalist’ approach to their mobilisation and political expression –  one that makes ample use of imagery and rhetoric borrowed from radical left and alternative subcultures; a fact that undermines their claims to give expression to the ‘no global’ and anti -multicultural perspectives of nationalist and neo-Nazi youths. The internet here proves vital for propaganda and recruitment purposes, with many Autonomous Nationalist groups using social media, blogs and youtube  videos to promote their activities to potential supporters. This article is based around a content analysis of several such websites. It detects a self-understanding that is deeply contradictory, for example in terms of the opposition of nationalism and globalisation, movement and party, rebellion and realpolitik . In terms of primary sources, the paper takes accounts of Autonomous Nationalist events from the German media as well as from anti-fascist and educational resources. This is combined with an analysis of the self-presentation by Autonomous Nationalist groups on internet platforms, and content analysis of their banners and slogans. Secondary analysis is taken from the few scholarly accounts of the movement in German language, as well as further studies of recent developments in German extreme nationalist discourse and action repertoire.  After a descriptive and illustrative account of several demonstrations and actions that involved Autonomous Nationalists, the article looks at three aspects: first, it accounts for the stylistic and symbolic elements of Autonomous Nationalist action repertoires, describing them as a response to, and adaption of, alter-globalisation and anarchist militancy on demonstrations. Second, it investigates the movement’s ideologically  -justified perspective on violence against ‘political enemies’ . Third, the article offers an assessment of the political ideology of Autonomous Nationalist mobilisation as driven by the concern over anti-globalist and anti-multicultural themes, which are being approached from a distinct ethno-pluralist and sometimes antisemitic angle. This allows us to   Interface : a journal for and about social movements Article Volume 5 (2): 295 - 318 (November 2013)    Schlembach, Autonomous Nationalists 297 return to the question of contradiction of organisational form and political content in our conclusions. Locating the Autonomous Nationalists It is certainly the case that in terms of numbers of supporters and active organisers, the Autonomous Nationalists remain a fringe phenomenon on the German extreme right. Nonetheless, their influence has slowly grown. While in 2007 the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution still counted only about 200 individuals as belonging to the Autonomous Nationalist scene (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz 2007), in 2009 the figure was estimated to lie around the 400-500 mark, making roughly 10 percent of the organised neo-Nazi movement (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz 2009). The agency’s first report was titled “a militant fringe phenomenon”, whereas the 2009 report no longer made such mentions of a fringe, instead focusing on increasing militancy. In one of the latest reports in 2011, for the state of Brandenburg alone, police estimates counted some 320 individuals as belonging to the militant organised neo-Nazi spectrum, with 160 of them belonging to the Autonomous Nationalist scene (Scharf 2011: 79). Beyond simple capacities and numbers, however, the Autonomous Nationalists matter politically. Their appearance and rebellious attitude raise questions  beyond the specific contexts of the German far right, and can even help us rethink themes of rebellion and resistance that we identify as progressive and as  belonging to the left. Firstly, autonomous nationalism as a political tendency certainly punches above its weight. It has influenced and sparked debates within the German far right, as well as within fascist youth movements in other European countries. As such it opens up questions over the future of fascist organisation in Europe, at a time when network politics appears to exert stronger mobilising factors than traditional organisational structures. Second, it highlights the importance of rebellion, counter-culture and globalisation-critical attitude for an ultra-nationalist perspective. The latter also impels us to question certain presuppositions held about the autonomous left and alter-globalisation movement. For example, to what extent are DIY attitudes, horizontal organisation and rebellious counter-culture necessarily defining characteristics of New Left-style politics? Is the endorsement of such principles by youth movements of the far right an example of simple imitation, or are more fundamental connections to be made? I will return to these questions as I discuss the Autonomous Nationalists’  use of symbolic codes, street-based violence and political ideology.  Stolberg, 12 April 2008 450 neo-Nazis march through the town of Stolberg, close to the Dutch border. Many are masked, provoke scuffles with the police, and attempt to reach the neighbourhoods where most of the small migrant population lives. They are   Interface : a journal for and about social movements Article Volume 5 (2): 295 - 318 (November 2013)    Schlembach, Autonomous Nationalists 298 running five hours late, after advance stop and searches by police led to confiscations of dangerous objects, amongst them sling shots and an axe. Scuffles also break out between the demonstration stewards, mostly members of the NPD, and several of the ‘autonomous’ protesters. At the end of the day, according to anti-fascist sources (Blockieren 2012), there are 31 injured and several dozen arrests. The demonstration came just one week after a group of German men clashed with a group of ‘migrant youth s ’ in Stolberg after a night out. A German was killed in the fight. Nationalists in the area accused the attackers of ‘anti -G erman racism’. This is also the theme of the demonstration ( “Murder, Mourning, Resistance”). A spontaneous march had already attracted 160 neo-Nazis on the day after the incident. The Stolberg marches are now annual events, organised by the NPD. They count amongst the larger regular neo-Nazi events drawing participants not only from Germany but also from neighbouring countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands. And they have become important events for Autonomous Nationalists who form a large section of the demonstrations. While the demonstrations are now tightly regulated, both by the NPD organisers and the police, Autonomous Nationalists use the mobilisation for activities before and after, in Stolberg and in nearby towns. Anti-fascist reports mention attacks on social centres in the area as well as physical assaults on counter-protesters.  Dortmund, 6 September 2008 More than 1,000 Autonomous Nationalists assemble in the Ruhr Region town of Dortmund for the fourth annual National Anti-War Day. Many of the banners are in English. In speeches, nationalists decry the attempt of ‘speculators and globalists’ to take control of world affairs, while the ‘peoples of Europe’ and the  world suffer. They declare opposition to ‘war and capitalism’, to America n global hegemony and cultural imperialism. Their chants demand ‘National Socialism Now’ and they pride themselves as being free and autonomous from nationalist membership organisations. The day is specially targeted at non-German nationalists who participate from various countries. There are groups from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the Czech Republic. Some of the speakers have come from as far away as Russia and Bulgaria, and a message by a Palestinian activist is read out, condemning the Israeli occupation.  Hamburg, 1 May 2008 The NPD has organised one of its regional Labour Day marches in Hamburg. 1,500 neo-Nazis take part, many of them belonging to the militant spectrum of the  Freie Kameradschaften . Amongst them are between 300 and 500  Autonomous Nationalists. Repeatedly they form blocs to break away from the official demonstration route, attacking counter-protesters and bystanders. Several journalists are assaulted and their equipment targeted. Police later release a statement declaring that they regarded 80 percent of the marchers as ‘prepared to use violence’ (Zand -Vakili 2008). Journalists report the attacks on


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