USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Worldwide
Neo-Nazis, literally meaning "new" Nazis, is a general term referring to all social or political movements that work to reintroduce concepts of the Nazi period of 1933–to 1945 in Europe and are based upon the racial policies of fascism. By definition, all manifestations of neo-Nazism need to have emerged after the fall of the original Nazi regime, which was brought to an end by the allied victory in Europe, sealed in May 1945 with the German surrender. Neo-Nazi groups can be found internationally, including in modern-day Germany, despite aggressive governmental attempts to limit their influence on society.
Neo-Nazi groups are largely defined by their philosophies, which are based upon an allegiance to Adolf Hitler and usually include a dedication to anti-Semitism and racism. These groups can be militaristic and, on occasion, violent. Neo-Nazi groups, particularly in the United States, are linked with other hate groups, particularly the white power movement whose goal it is to create a white racist state.
The original Nazi regime that the neo-Nazi movement is designed to recreate came to power in 1933 through the legal rise of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany. From 1933 until 1939, Hitler and his National Socialist Party, known as the Nazi party, instituted harsh racial policies aimed predominantly against the Jewish population of Germany. Policies included random deportations and arrests of Jews and extreme restrictions on the roles that Jews would be allowed to play in the Aryan, or white, segments of German society.
With the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the eventual annexation of countries all across Europe, these racial policies were extended into all countries under Nazi control. Under the Nazi rule, the "Final Solution" was instituted in 1942, calling for the mass extermination of Jews, eventually leading to the deaths of 6 million Jews by 1945; this period is generally referred to as the Holocaust. The allied forces were able to defeat the Nazis between the winter of 1944 and May of 1945; on May 8, 1945, the Nazi regime offered their unconditional surrender.
In the wake of the Nazi period, the new democratic government of Germany, together with the allied forces that remained in the region, attempted to stop the renewal of Nazi ideology through a policy of "denazification." This policy called for tight restrictions on any Nazi imagery or production of materials bearing the swastika, the predominant symbol of the Nazi regime. Materials of this nature found in Germany today are largely smuggled in from the United States and northern Europe countries with more liberal positions on the freedom of speech.
In the years immediately following the fall of Nazism, neo-Nazi activity was limited to the outer fringes of German society, as was the case in most of Europe. Beginning in the 1960s, some former Nazis began to once again embrace the ideologies as well as encourage the younger generation to support it. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 and the subsequent reunification of East and West Germany allowed for the considerable growth of neo-Nazism in the area. The largest population for neo-Nazis in Germany of the 1990s were teenagers from the areas that formerly made up East Germany, who had been the victims of economic uncertainty and high unemployment during the period of communist rule.
The 1990s saw the neo-Nazis in Germany becoming increasingly organized and violent, with the primary target of their activities being foreigners who had moved into Germany. The period saw numerous attempts at arson against homes of people seeking refuge from foreign countries. In 1992 and in 1993, several Turkish immigrants were killed in arson attacks.
The general population largely responded with outrage at the actions and the rise of the neo-Nazi movement. Large demonstrations brought hundreds of thousands of people out in the large German cities to protest against the new influence of extremist groups. The neo-Nazis responded with counter demonstrations, a situation that continues today. The two opposing demonstrators have erupted into violence on numerous occasions.
The National Democratic Party (NPD) today is considered to be the political party that best represents the interests of the neo-Nazis in Germany. In 2004, the party received 9.1% of the vote in the region of Saxony and was thus given a presence in the national parliament. Following the election, all other national parties refused to enter into any political negotiations with the NPD.
In the United States, the growth of neo-Nazism has been aided by the country's more lenient stance, as compared to Germany, on issues of freedoms of speech and expression. Racial and anti-Semitic speech, which is the primary tool of the neo-Nazis, is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution and has facilitated the ability of the groups to organize themselves, often within the confines of the law. Anti-Semitic groups existed in the United States even before the rise of national socialism in Germany. While they were extremely unpopular during the World War II period, support for Nazi racial policies continued to exist and, following the war, new organizations would emerge.
In the United States, the groups that do exist that are defined as neo-Nazi are very small in number, and any public demonstrations they hold are usually met with far larger counterdemonstrations. The United States groups often enjoy most of their support and recruitment through alliances with other racist hate groups that include neo-Nazi ideas in their philosophies, such as the Aryan Nations and other white power groups. The largest such organization, the Ku Klux Klan, while founded in the nineteenth century well before the rise of Nazism, is not considered a neo-Nazi group but shares many of the views of non-white races and Jews; relationships do exist between the Klan and Neo-Nazi groups.
While the right for the neo-Nazi groups to exist and to demonstrate remains protected in the United States, state and federal laws have made it easier to prosecute criminals within the organizations. Specifically, the United States Congress has passed legislation that provides additional penalties for crimes defined as hate crimes, where it is proven that the motive of the criminal was inspired by an ideology of hatred. Accordingly, such crimes as vandalizing a synagogue or a Jewish cemetery with swastikas will carry heavier penalties than crimes with no such motive.
Internationally, neo-Nazi groups exist in Britain, as well as a strong presence in the former Soviet Union, where despite the nation's bitter history with the Nazis, the rise of extreme nationalism has aided in the growth of neo-fascist groups that have declared a willingness to overthrow the ruling government. With the numerous social and economic problems that emerged following the fall of the Soviet regime in the early 1990s, there is a large number of people have turned to extremist paramilitary organizations like the neo-Nazis. The largest base in Russia is the youth, who have been most affected by the end of the Soviet period; many of them have embraced neo-Nazism as an outlet for their frustrations.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
The movement finds its ideological base in fascism, which is the political philosophy that Hitler based the Nazi party on in his rise to power. Fascism is based upon a notion that the government should be allowed to control all aspects of the lives of the people living in that society. Fascism distinguishes itself from other political ideologies by placing the needs of the state or nation over the needs of the individual and that the citizens should be loyal to a single leader.
Within the fascist model and within the understanding that has been adopted by neo-Nazism, adherents to the government should be willing to use violence and all tools of propaganda or censorship to deal with social or political opposition. The state is entitled to exercise economic or social restraints on the citizenry and retains the right to police people living within the system as it sees fit in the best interests of the future of the state.
In deference to their positions on Jews, neo-Nazis regularly subscribe to Holocaust denial or revisionism, which claims that the murder of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis is a myth that has been greatly exaggerated.
While Holocaust revisionism is a regular practice of neo-Nazis, it is often believed that this aspect of their ideology is not actually believed by members of their organization, but it is rather out of a desire to personally distance them from the genocide carried out by the Nazis. On other occasions, neo-Nazis attempt to rationalize the Nazi actions by saying that it was in response to acts of Jewish sabotage or terrorism or that the Germans' actions in World War II were no worse than the fire bombings of German cities that were carried out by the allies.
Neo-Nazi organizations often believe that they belong outside of the law and the political process and advocate the overthrow of the ruling government. Particularly in the international arena, neo-Nazis allege that the world's nations are increasingly being taken over by Jews and non-whites. The neo-Nazi position advocates killing or expelling non-natives with the belief that such action would be the best way to deal with any social, political, or economic problems that exist in their nation. In Russia the neo-Nazi movement supports a slogan of "Russia for the Russians," which has been adopted by other extremist organizations.
Neo-Nazi groups have actively been involved in discovering ways to put their vision of overthrowing the state into practice. Often organizing as paramilitary groups, neo-Nazi branches are involved in physical training as well as training in explosives and the handling of weapons. They generally operate outside of the realm of the central political arena but can often find allies with far-right politicians as has been the case in Russia, Germany, and Austria.
A primary outlet for strength for neo-Nazi organizations is through establishing alliances both with similarly minded organizations in their countries as well as with other groups around the world. The Internet is an increasingly important tool for these groups with innovative web sites that are used for both propaganda and recruitment. For those nations with more stringent speech laws like Germany, groups base their web sites out of countries like the United States or northern European nations to avoid limitations.
In an effort to avoid dealing with law enforcement agencies, Neo Nazi groups have made considerable efforts to construct their organizations in a manner that places the ideological leaders of the organization at a distance from the more violent and criminal daily activities of the group. These activities are placed in the hands of younger members so that there will be no direct linkage to the leadership and the leaders.
Even with this structure in place, certain names have emerged as the more prominent leaders in the neo-Nazi world. Matthew F. Hale, who is the head of the World Church of the Creator, is recognized as one of the public leaders of the neo-Nazi movement in the United States. Hale was recently convicted for soliciting the murder of a federal judge, which has virtually brought to a halt his activities.
The founder of the American Nazi Party in 1959 was George Lincoln Rockwell who, after reading Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), became an adherent of the Nazi ideology. In 1967, Rockwell was shot and killed by John Patler, who had been an editor of the American Nazi Party newspaper, The Stormtrooper. Following Rockwell's death, William Pierce who also founded the National Alliance white supremacist movement, assumed the leadership position of the American Nazi Party. Pierce was the author of a novel entitled The Turner Diaries, a book that details a future race war in the United States and was said to have been an inspiration for Timothy McVeigh, the man behind the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995 that killed 168 people.
The primary opponents of neo-Nazis are private groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Southern Poverty Law Center. While the actions of neo-Nazi groups are understood to represent far less danger in terms of its impact upon society than in the way the German Nazis did, these advocates against hate organizations recognize that neo-Nazis have expressed their commitment to violence and crime. They are therefore involved with exposing the activities of neo-Nazis and proposing ways to limit their influence on society.
The ADL, which is based in the United States, is dedicated to fight the defamation of Jewish people all over the globe and to lobby national governments to take action to defeat neo-Nazism. The ADL has defined neo-Nazis as representing a danger to society.
One of the principal complaints lodged by the ADL against the work of neo-Nazis was in reference to their use of the Internet. Describing the work of the neo-Nazis as poisoning the web, a report issued by the ADL says that these hate groups are the "Storm troopers of the web," and that "the symbols associated with Hitler's Nazis are attractive to bigots on the Web because they suggest anti-Semitism in an immediate, forceful way to the general public."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is one of the United States' most vocal advocates for the rights of free speech, has defended the position of the neo-Nazis to meet and demonstrate. One of the most famous cases involving the rights of the neo-Nazis to demonstrate in public came in 1977 in Skokie, Illinois. In this suburb of Chicago, where one of every six Jewish residents at the time was a survivor of the Holocaust, a neo-Nazi group submitted a request for a permit to host a parade through the town. When the town refused the permit on grounds that it represented a threat to public safety by offending the sensibilities of the local residents, the ACLU sued the city and forced their decision to be overturned, which has become known as one of the most famous free speech cases in U.S. history.
Many of the nations of Western Europe have outlawed neo-Nazi groups, Holocaust denial, and the display or sale of Nazi propaganda.
While clearly not impacting upon societies in the exact way the original Nazis did, the emergence of neo-Nazi groups in increasing numbers displays the impact that extremist groups can have, as well as the fact that hatred and intolerance continues to attract a considerable following around the globe. The neo-Nazis have been proven to be successful in publicizing their efforts, not because of the size of their organization but largely as a result of the dangerous nature of their message.
- The Nazi regime under the leadership of Adolf Hitler falls to the allies bringing an end to World War II and the Holocaust.
- The neo-Nazi groups began to gain power with the reintroduction of the ideologies by former Nazis.
- The fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification; the influence of German neo-Nazi groups began to swell.
- Neo-Nazis in Germany carried out numerous violent attacks primarily against foreigners living in the country.
- The German right-wing party that most closely identifies with the neo-Nazism, the National Democratic Party (NPD), gained a presence in the German parliament.
The constantly changing global political and social environments of recent decades have contributed greatly to the ability of the neo-Nazi movement to grow. With the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the communist control over Eastern Europe, large populations of young people facing desperate economic and social conditions have been turning to neo-Nazism. With the increased passage of time since the end of World War II, those nations that were most negatively impacted by the war, like Germany and Russia, are becoming less traumatized by the events of that period, leading to the slow reemergence of hate groups like the neo-Nazis. An ever-global world has brought about the increased flood of foreign immigration into countries like Germany, which has served to provide the neo-Nazis with a target for their hatred. The Internet has served as a critical resource for hate groups that rely on the borderless nature of the world wide web to reach populations all over the globe and are able to spread their message, often without concern for the legality of their sites.
At the same time, with much of the world voicing considerable opposition to the messages being advocated by groups like neo-Nazis, they have limited impacts upon the overall population and operate on the outskirts of society. In the United States, where free speech allows neo-Nazi groups to get their message out, concerted efforts both by private organizations and by government have worked to limit the activities of hate groups and to ensure that their crimes be prosecuted.
Strum, Philippa. When the Nazis Came to Skokie; Freedom for Speech We Hate. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2000.
The Southern Poverty Law Center. "Intelligence Project; Monitoring Hate and Extremist Activity." 〈http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intpro.jsp〉 (accessed October 13, 2005).
The Anti-Defamation League. "Fighting Anti-Semitism, Bigotry and Extremism." 〈http://www.adl.org/〉 (accessed October 13, 2005).