NEO-NAZISM, a general term for the related fascist, nationalist, white supremacist, antisemitic beliefs and political tendencies of the numerous groups that emerged after World War ii seeking to restore the Nazi order or to establish a new order based on doctrines similar to those underlying Nazi Germany. Some of these groups closely adhered to the ideas propounded in Hitler's Mein Kampf; others espoused related beliefs deriving from older Catholic, nationalist, or other local traditions. Some openly embraced the structure and aspirations of the Third Reich by displaying swastika flags and glorifying Nazi achievements, while others sought to mask their ideology and agenda. Neo-Nazi activity has surged and declined in unpredictable waves in Germany, France, England, Russia, the Scandinavian countries, the United States, Canada, South Africa, and elsewhere. In April 1993, after a series of incidents, the Italian government passed an emergency measure aimed at punishing racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination. The Mancino Law (Law No. 205) permits prosecution of individuals who incite violence using a broad range of methods, including displaying symbols of hate, such as swastikas. Hundreds of youths have since been convicted under the law. In February 2005, European Union ministers agreed to continue a long-term debate over the regulation of racism and xenophobia. Among the proposals under consideration is making it punishable by law to deny the Holocaust or other crimes against humanity.
Why do people become neo-Nazis? In the 1980s, social scientists began to move beyond notions of deviance and psychopathology to theories of social mobilization that see people who join any social movement – even neo-Nazis – as motivated by shared grievances shaped by social circumstances, recruited by face-to-face interaction, and focused on goals that seem practical and reachable.
Major factors in the global neo-Nazi upsurge included unstable economic, political, and social conditions, with their many causes–including, in the 1970s, simultaneous inflation and recession caused in great part by dependence on Arab oil; the disruptions of globalization and the collapse of the Soviet empire; waves of nonwhite immigration into Europe (from places formerly ruled or dominated by Europeans) and the United States; the constant threat of war, especially in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf; and the continued sense among white men that they were losing power and prestige in areas ranging from world affairs to their living rooms to their relations with women. In the United States, racial issues, not resolved in the 1960s, took the form of conflict over school desegregation, affirmative action, social welfare provision, and government social spending in general. Moreover, the failure of the Vietnam War, based on untenable Cold War premises, produced an atmosphere of political and cultural resentment on the right that became increasingly strong over time.
Leaders of neo-Nazi groups skillfully exploited the anxieties caused by these and other factors. The worldview of neo-Nazis is shaped by the way leaders frame issues and use narrative stories. While most neo-Nazi frames and narratives are based on myths, demonization, and scapegoating, this does not make them less effective in building a functional identity for individuals, even if they come from dysfunctional families. This process allowed neo-Nazis to adapt to changing historic conditions and expand their targets beyond Jews and black people.
Neo-Nazis were among the earliest users of online computerized networks in the 1980s, and surged onto the Internet with hundreds of websites allowing for the mass distribution of hate material, including claims that America was controlled by "zog," the Zionist Occupation Government, in Washington, d.c. As the gay rights movement grew, so did neo-Nazi attacks on gay men and lesbians. In response to the feminist movement, neo-Nazis crafted new roles and avenues for participation by women, while preserving a dominant role for men. Women were still placed on a pedestal with one arm around their children protecting hearth and home, but now they were expected to use the other arm to cradle an automatic weapon. Three other significant ideological innovations among neo-Nazi groups are "Third Position" neo-Nazism, Skinhead neo-Nazism, and neo-Nazi theologies built around hybrids of religion such as Protestantism and Paganism.
One group of neo-Nazis which denounces both capitalism and communism occupies what it calls the Third Position. This merges the early Nazi Party left wing's National Socialism with "revolutionary" white supremacy and opposes both globalization and multiculturalism. It calls for local economic cooperatives, support for the working class, and ecologically sound policy using populist "voelkisch" rhetoric. Third Position National Socialist parties have been organized in Japan, Iran, Scotland, Russia, Lithuania, and the United States, among other countries.
Nonracist Skinheads originated in the late 1960s as a multiracial working class youth subculture in Britain built around black music imported by immigrants from former Caribbean colonies. The neo-Nazi National Front helped convert the skinhead movement into a vehicle of white rage built around racism and violence. In the mid-1980s the movement jumped to continental Europe and the United States through the music of racist bands such as Skrewdriver; skinheads in the U.S.A. then split into racist and anti-racist factions.
A hybrid of Protestant Christianity with neo-Nazi racialism produced the Christian Identity movement in the United States, discussed below. A more widespread phenomenon was the rise of pagan neo-Nazis in the 1990s, built around racist forms of Norse religious traditions: Odinism, Ásatrú, and Wotanism. This drew on Nazi fascination with Aryanism and esoteric religions. These groups appealed primarily to youth.
Bridges to the Mainstream
Starting in the 1970s, a trend of conservative, right-wing populist, ethnonationalist, and neofascist challenges to sitting centrist or social democratic governments allowed right-wing groups a degree of legitimacy they did not possess in the immediate post-World War ii era. In response neo-Nazi groups have developed a variety of ways to build bridges to more mainstream political and social movements. Some neo-Nazis repackage their beliefs as forms of "White Nationalism" or "White Separatism," hiding behind broader racist movements for "White Rights," with alliances spanning Europe and North America. At the same time, Europe, North America, the Middle East, and South Asia saw the development of numerous right-wing populist political parties and reactionary fundamentalist religious movements that served to bridge the extreme right to the mainstream.
In several countries neo-Nazis (sometimes in alliance with quasifascist or xenophobic right-wing populist allies) became more involved in electoral politics, stressing anti-immigrant and sometimes antisemitic themes. Rather than simply staging street demonstrations, they ran for office, with surprisingly good results in some instances. According to the political scientist Cas Mudde, between 1980 and 1999 over 50 European extreme-right political parties ran candidates in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
This interaction has created a dynamic in which antisemitic ideas and conspiracy theories once circulated almost exclusively by German Nazis and their neo-Nazi offspring entered popular culture, mainstream political debate, and even broadcast television series, especially in Islamic and Arab countries in the Middle East. These even included a revival of the false allegations from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. These conspiracy allegations moved into more mainstream circles through bridging mechanisms that often mask the original overtly anti-Jewish claims by using coded rhetoric about "secret elites" or "Zionist cabals." The international organization run by Lyndon LaRouche is a major source of such masked antisemitic theories globally. In the U.S. the LaRouchites spread these conspiracy theories in an alliance with aides to Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. A series of LaRouchite pamphlets calls the neoconservative movement the "Children of Satan," which links Jewish neo-conservatives to the historic rhetoric of the blood libel. In a twisted irony, the pamphlets imply the neoconservatives are the real neo-Nazis.
Another way neo-Nazis launder antisemitic conspiracy theories is through *Holocaust denial, the attempt to "prove" that the Holocaust was a fiction and that the Nazis never used gas chambers to exterminate Jews. The international clearinghouse for this movement is the California-based Institute for Historical Review (ihr), founded in 1979, which held its first conference on "Historical Revisionism" that same year. ihr, publisher of the Journal of Historical Revisionism, was established by Willis Carto, founder of the Liberty Lobby and a figure long associated with organizing and propagandizing projects involving neo-Nazi, pro-Hitler, antisemitic and extreme-right alliances. Carto later lost control of ihr in a lawsuit, but started a new denial publication, the Barnes Review, edited by former ihr staff members. Holocaust denial also persists in France, where a scandal in the late 1970s was caused by the claims of Professor Robert Faurisson. In Britain, author David Irving sued American historian Deborah Lipstadt in the late 1990s for calling him a Holocaust denier. In 2000 Irving lost the case (see *Irving v. Lipstadt), which gained international headlines. Irving had previously appeared at an ihr conference, and Faurisson and other ihr advisors testified along with Irving on behalf of Canadian Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel.
Neo-Nazis often use Holocaust denial material along with anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, sometimes coming up with grotesque slogans. Neo-Nazis not only blamed the 1973–74 oil crisis on a Jewish conspiracy, but in the U.S. they distributed literature that proclaimed "burn Jews, not oil!" This approach was repeated during the 1990 Gulf War, which saw the extension of a rhetorical device in which Jews, Zionism, Israel, and Israeli government policies were conflated into a conspiracist stew serving up the Israeli spy agency Mossad as the secret power behind world affairs. Thus echoes from the Protocols moved from neo-Nazis into wider circles, including some pro-Palestinian organizers and left-wing antiwar activists. After the terror attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, some neo-Nazi groups praised the terrorists for striking a blow against this global conspiracy.
[Jack Nusan Porter and
Chip Berlet (2nd ed.)]
Post–World War ii, 1945–1970
Neo-Nazism in Germany came to be identified with antisemitic, ultranationalist, extreme right-wing movements, whether made up of old or new Nazis. In Germany, incitement to race hatred, as well as any attempt to resuscitate the Nazi Party, were and are explicitly outlawed by the constitution and the criminal laws of the German Federal Republic (as they were by the German Democratic Republic); no party overtly attempting to revive Nazism can legally exist there. Without seriously threatening the still fragile West German democracy (in East Germany such political tendencies were severely repressed), a number of such movements gained some short-lived popularity and notoriety. The first to draw ex-Nazis into a political party, if somewhat unwittingly, was Alfred Loritz, a confused demagogue with an anti-Nazi record. His Bavarian Economic Reconstruction Association, founded in 1945 with U.S. consent, denounced Allied policies and articulated the widespread economic discontent of the pre-"economic-miracle" era. The "blonde Hitler," as he was sometimes called, frightened the young republic and the world at large when he gained 14.4 percent of the vote in his native Bavaria, winning 12 seats in the Bundestag, in the first West German general election in 1949. The lack of positive policies, however, coupled with internal dissension, rent the party asunder long before the following general election of 1953, in which it failed to gain a single seat.
Similarly spectacular and ominous was Fritz Dorls' deliberate attempt to revive Nazism through the Socialist Reich Party (srp). Its leadership was made up entirely of old Nazis, the most prominent of whom was the deputy chairman, Otto-Ernst Remer, the Wehrmacht officer who successfully thwarted the July 20, 1944, plot against Hitler. Apart from distributing antisemitic election leaflets reminiscent of Der Stuermer, the srp even boasted a gang organized on stormtroop lines, the so-called Reichsfront. In 1951 when the srp gained 11 percent of the Lower Saxony vote, an alarmed federal government contested the party's legality before the Constitutional Court. Declared illegal as an attempt to reestablish the proscribed Nazi Party, this particular specter of resurgent Nazism disappeared. It reappeared a year later when the British arrested Dr. Naumann, one of Goebbels' top-ranking officials, whose plot to subvert the respectable Free Democratic Party by infiltrating ex-Nazis into key positions was well on the way to succeeding.
In the 1960s the spectacular and unexpected success of the npd (National Democratic Party of Germany) aroused worldwide fears of a Nazi revival. Founded in 1965 by Adolf von Thadden to unite the hitherto splintered and ineffectual "nationalist opposition," the party shocked German and world opinion when in the 1966–67 Land (state) elections it gained admission to a number of Land parliaments (Landstagen) by substantially exceeding the required 5 percent of the vote. Careful not to fall afoul of the Constitutional Court, the npd, run largely by ex-Nazis, appealed to exactly the same prejudices and national self-assertion to which Germans responded so overwhelmingly in the Hitler era. Jews were not openly denigrated, but the state of Israel and its policies were viciously attacked. The "domination by alien big powers," reminiscent of the Nazi fiction of a "Judeo-Marxist world conspiracy," was denounced, as were references to Nazi crimes. The party manifesto demanded "an end to the lie of Germany's exclusive guilt which serves to extort continuously thousands of millions from our people," apparently a reference to restitution and compensation payments to Israel and individual Jews. Beset like its predecessors by internecine leadership struggles and lacking forward-looking policies, the npd failed to gain the qualifying 5 percent in the 1969 general election. This failure led to a crisis of confidence, which resulted in the party's losing its seats in the various Landstagen after the 1970 elections. At that time it was doubtful whether neo-Nazism still commanded a politically meaningful potential, although the phenomenon still lingered on in violently "anti-Israel" weeklies like the Deutsche National Zeitung and in the publications of ex-Reich press chief Suedermann's Druffel Verlag and similar publishing houses.
In Austria, neo-Nazism lacked the organizational framework or a sufficiently numerous following to qualify as a politically relevant force. Among the minuscule groupings more or less openly committed to propagating Nazi ideas and extolling Nazi achievements, Theodor Soucek's Sozialorganische Bewegung Europas (sobre) was perhaps the most noteworthy in the early 1950s. It tried to coordinate efforts of Nazi collaborators and sympathizers in the former occupied territories to revitalize the Hitlerian "new order" in the context of the then emerging Europe. sobre enjoyed the support of Konrad Windisch, one of the founders of the Bund Heimattreuer Jugend (bhj, Federation of Homeland-Faithful Youth), whose initials hj, recalling the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth), proclaimed its ideological lineage and identification. Despite the insignificance of these movements, residual antisemitism and subliminal Nazi sympathies seemed to be more widespread in Austria than in Germany; thus the marked reluctance of Austrian authorities to prosecute and of juries to convict such war criminals and Eichmann aides as Murer, Novak, or Raiakovic, and the parsimoniousness of Austrian restitution.
Argentina figured prominently in the Nazis' plans to save the movement and themselves after defeat. This tied in well with President Juan Peron's dreams of Argentinean hegemony based on a modernized army and an independent armaments industry, which the Nazi experts were to develop. Nazis headed nuclear research institutes, while World War ii air aces like Rudel and Galland advised the Argentinean air force and Professor Tank, a German jet designer, started an Argentinean aircraft industry. Eichmann and others prominent in the Final Solution (Klingenfuss, Rademacher, and Mengele) found sanctuary, while Johannes von Leers, head of an anti-Jewish department in Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry, became an adviser to Peron. Moreover, the Nazi gospel continued to be preached in German in Der Weg (Buenos Aires) and other Duerer Verlag publications. After Peron's fall (1955), some of these fugitives moved to Egypt (a Nazi sanctuary since 1945), where military needs and anti-Israel, antisemitic resentments offered them scope. Years later the efforts of ex-Nazis to develop Egyptian jet engines, supersonic fighters, and rockets (the Messerschmidt, Brandner, and Pilz teams) caused greater international consternation than the activities of von Leers and SS General Bender in the Egyptian Ministry of National Guidance or of the former Gestapo chief Sellman as a police adviser on "anti-Jewish action."
Into the Present, 1970–2006
The interaction among right-wing populist movements, quasifascist political parties and organizations, and outright neo-Nazi groups blurred boundaries and created controversy over where specific groups fell on the political spectrum.
The European National Front was a network of right-wing Christian nationalist groups. Members and affiliates included groups in the Czech Republic (Narodni Sjednoceni (National Unity)); France (Renouveau Français (French Renewal)); Greece (Patriotike Summachia (Patriotic Alliance)); Italy (Forza Nuova (New Force)); Latvia (Nacionala Speka Savieniba (National Power Unity)); Netherlands (Nationale Alliantie (National Alliance)); Poland (Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (National Rebirth of Poland)); Portugal (Partido Nacional Renovador (Party of National Renewal)); Serbia (Otacastveni Pokret Obraz (Dignity Fatherland Movement)); and Slovakia (Slovenska Narodna Jednota (Slovak National Unity)), Jednota Slovenskej Mladeze (Association of Slovak Youth). Delegations attending meetings included those from Hyrsi Avgi (Golden Dawn), Greece; Nationale Alliantie, Netherlands; and Noua Dreapta (New Right), Romania. Supporters included Alternativa Espanola (Spanish Alternative) and La Falange (the Phalanx, the former ruling party under the Franco dictatorship), Spain; Garde Franque, France; and English First, United Kingdom.
Other nationalist far-right parties and groups operated in Australia (National Action, Patriotic Youth League); Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party)); Austria and Slovenia (Kärntner Heimatdienst (Carinthian Homeland Service)); Belgium (Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), formerly Vlaams Blok); Canada (Heritage Front, Reform Party); Denmark (Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People's Party), Nationalpartiet Danmark (Danish National Party), Fremskridtpartiet (Progress Party)); Estonia (Eesti Rahvuslaste Keskliit (Estonian National League), Eesti Kodanik (Estonian Civic Union), Eesti Paremäärmuslik Organisatsioon (Estonian Extreme Rightist Organization)); France (Front National (National Front), Mouvement National Républicain (National Republican Movement)); Germany (Republikanische Partei (Republican Party), Deutsche Volksunion (German People's Union), Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party of Germany)); Greece (Ellinoko Metopo (Hellenic Front)); India (Bharatiya Janata (Indian People's Party)); Italy (Lega Nord (Northern League), Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), Movimento Sociale Fiamma Tricolore (Tricolor Flame Social Movement)); Latvia (Nacionala Speka Savieniba (National Power Unity)); Malta (Imperium Europa); Netherlands (Centrumdemocraten (Democratic Center), Nederlandse Volks-Unie (Netherlands People's Union), Nieuwe Nationale Partij (New National Party), Nederlands Blok, Nationale Alliantie, Nieuw Rechts (New Right), Pim Fortuyn's List, Liveable Netherlands, Centrum Partij 86 (banned in 1998)); New Zealand (National Front, New Zealand First); Norway (Progress Party); Portugal (Popular Party); Switzerland (Swiss People's Party); Russia (National Unity, Liberal Democratic Party); and United Kingdom (British National Party, Scottish National Party).
Most of these right-wing nationalist political parties denied any connection to fascism or neo-Nazism, yet they echoed many of the same xenophobic (and sometimes antisemitic and racist) themes, and provided a recruitment pool for neo-Nazi organizers.
Conversely, right-wing politicians in several countries often tried to capture those voters who might be inclined toward neo-Nazism, without offending those segments of the electorate that would be alienated if the appeal were too apparent and the link too explicit.
They walked a political tightrope, especially when it seemed as if they had the opportunity to be acceptable to a mainstream public. Their political parties were described as "extreme right" or "radical right-wing populist" by academics, while their political critics called them quasi-fascist or outright neo-Nazi, with their actual ideologies ranging along a continuum. In some countries, the right-wing electoral parties were built around ethnoreligious forms of nationalism, as was the case with numerous militant Islamic political parties, some sectors of the Israeli right, some Christian Right political groups, and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp) in India. Another common form, and more easily recognized, were the right-wing ethnonationalist parties that featured xenophobia and populist rhetoric.
In Austria, where an explicit appeal would shut down other forms of political support, the candidacy of Jörg Haider was a prime example of these phenomena. Haider took over the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (fpo)) in 1986 and moved it further to the political right. By 1999 the fpo was gaining more than 25 percent of the vote, and the next year joined with the conservative People's Party to form a ruling coalition government. The fpo stumbled, however, and in 2002 only attracted some 10 percent of votes.
The French National Front (Front National [fn]) was founded in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, but only began attracting significant voter support in the mid-1980s. Since then the party and Le Pen have become major players on the French political scene, pulling 10–15 percent of voters. In 2002 Le Pen stunned observers with more than 17 percent of the vote, placing him in the second round of the French presidential election. To the right of the fn is a splinter group, the Mouvement National Républicain, led by Bruno Mégret.
The German Republican Party (Die Republikanische Partei (rep)) was founded by a former member of the Waffen SS in 1983, and began running candidates, whose fortunes varied over time. In 1989 some candidates attracted around 7 percent of votes in a West Berlin election, but then vote totals dropped. In 1992 the party staged a comeback with vote tallies in the 8–10 percent range in some elections. To the right of the rep was the German People's Union (Deutsche Volksunion) and the National Democratic Party (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands).
Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang), formerly called the Vlaams Blok, was one of several ethnonationalist regional political parties around the world that called for more autonomy or outright secession, and often were highly critical of immigrants and immigration. The Northern League in Italy was another example.
In Italy, Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi, forged a fractious parliamentary alliance with the more obviously right-wing Northern League (Lega Nord) and National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale (an)), coming to power briefly in 1994, and again in 2001. Further to the right was the Movimento Sociale Fiamma Tricolore. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Italian Social Movement/National Right (Movimento Sociale Italiano/Destra Nazionale (msi/dn)) fielded candidates including Alessandra Mussolini (Il Duce's granddaughter). These candidates gained as much as 45 percent of the votes cast in local elections. When the msi/dn split in 1995, Alessandra Mussolini joined the faction that created the National Alliance (an), and sat in the national Chamber of Deputies. She left the an in 2002 after its leader denounced fascism while in Israel. She then founded Liberta d'Azione and won a seat in the European Parliament.
In the United States Pat Buchanan pulled significant vote totals when running as a Republican Presidential candidate in 33 state primaries in 1992, attracting three million votes. His similar campaign in 1996 generally attracted 15–25 percent of Republican primary votes in the states where he was on the ballot. Buchanan's support plummeted, however, when he ran as the Reform Party candidate in 2000. The rhetoric of Buchanan's speeches included specific phrases that seemed innocuous but had special meaning for militant sectors of the Christian Right and the armed militia movement. Critics charged that Buchanan flirted with antisemitism and racism. Notorious antisemite Lyndon LaRouche, who shifted from left to right yet ran as a Democrat, has appeared on the presidential primary ballot for decades, attracting tens of thousands of votes in some states. The Constitution Party led by Howard Phillips and the America First Party (a splinter from the Reform Party) also fielded candidates for office.
Russian variants included several groups that more openly engaged in neo-Nazi and antisemitic rhetoric. These groups frequently complained about a gigantic Jewish or Zionist conspiracy. One of the largest of over 100 nationalist groups in Russia is the Russian National Unity Party, founded in 1990 and led by Aleksandr Barkashov. The founder of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party is Vladimir Zhirinovsky. In 2001 he caused a scandal when, as a member and deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, the Duma, he refused to stand for a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims of the Nazi genocide. He later expressed regret for his actions, which he claimed did not reflect antisemitism. In 1998, however, Zhirinovsky blamed Jews for starting World War ii and provoking the Holocaust.
As extreme-right political parties gained election victories across Europe, the language used to describe them became more moderate, raising fears that the situation was not being openly confronted. As the Belgian political scientist Jérôme Jamin explained:
Can one still apply the term fascist to a xenophobic party like the Lega Nord now that it has been in power… for many years? Can one view France's Front National as a mere relic of Pétainism when it made it into the second round of the presidential election… and when cities such as Toulon, Orange, Marignane and Vitrolles have had mayors from the fn? In what terms is it possible to stigmatize the Vlaams Blok in northern Belgium–a direct offshoot of pro-Nazi collaboration during World War ii–when this party is one of the most powerful in Flanders? It is very hard to use the old words to characterize those parties in power today. It was a lot easier yesterday when they were small and noisy racist parties instead of the big powerful actors they have now become.
While neo-Nazis interacted with right-wing and mainstream political parties, they remained tiny marginal movements compared to national populations, although they were capable of brutal acts of violence. Much of their energy, however, was devoted to organizing within their own subculture.
Some neo-Nazis studied the ideological writings of Julius Evola, who promoted high-culture intellectual fascism, and Corneliu Codreanu, advocate of a mystical-spiritual form exemplified by the Romanian Iron Guard. Others remained disciples of Hitler, or supported the pre-regime national socialism of the Nazi Party's left wing, associated with the Strasser brothers. Many overt neo-Nazis were networked internationally through Blood and Honour, which emerged from the racist skinhead scene. Based in the United Kingdom, in 2006 Blood and Honour claimed active branches in Australia, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Flanders (Belgium), France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine, and the United States. Blood and Honour recruited primarily through white supremacist music. Not all racist skinheads engaged in violence, but violence was a hallmark of the movement. In Canada, for example, neo-Nazi skinheads desecrated Jewish synagogues and cemeteries. In 2005, a report for the International Bureau of Human Rights estimated that there were more than 120,000 neo-Nazi skinheads worldwide. A true count was, of course, difficult because neo-Nazi organizations were rarely registered with any official agency, and they hid their true numbers.
Postwar neo-Nazism in the United States began in earnest when George Lincoln Rockwell organized the American Nazi Party in 1959, gaining much publicity but negligible support. The group was later renamed the National Socialist White Peoples Party. After Rockwell's assassination by a former party member in 1967, several splinter groups emerged, including the National Socialist Party of America led by Frank Collin, who garnered international headlines in the mid-1970s by threatening to lead a march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors. Instead, after winning a legal battle over the free speech issue, Collin led his uniformed brownshirts in several demonstrations in other Chicago suburbs and neighborhoods and a downtown plaza.
The next few years saw a great many neo-Nazis run for office, winning several primaries and one state legislative post. This trend began in 1975–76, when a neo-Nazi named Arthur Jones ran for mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jones, campaigning vigorously on radio and in newspapers, gained 5,000 votes and lost decisively against incumbent Mayor Henry Maier, a popular and strongly pro-Israel politician. In November 1976, Richard Johanson, a 31-year-old neo-Nazi, ran for the San Francisco Board of Education and received 9,000 votes. Other neo-Nazi candidates ran and lost in Houston (for mayor), in Chicago (for alderman), and Georgia (for governor and lieutenant governor). The notorious white supremacist J.B. Stoner of Georgia ran for several offices in the 1970s and later on a platform calling for the "eradication" of Jews and blacks. His best finish was in the governor's race in 1978, when he received 71,000 votes and came in fourth out of ten candidates. (In 1980 he was convicted for a church bombing in 1958.)
In August 1980, Tom Metzger, a Ku Klux Klan leader and Nazi sympathizer, surprised political analysts by winning the Democratic primary in the 43rd Congressional District in Southern California, the most populous district in the U.S., although he had fewer than 50 volunteers on his staff and less than $10,000 in campaign contributions. As the Democratic Party nominee in the November general election, however, he received only 35,000 votes (14 percent of the total) and was defeated by the Republican incumbent.
In Detroit, Gerald Carlson, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society, and the American Nazi Party, who ran a campaign based on a single issue–white "superiority" over blacks and Jews–defeated the official party candidate in the Republican primary in Michigan's 15th Congressional District to face the Democratic incumbent in the fall of 1980. The Michigan Republican Party was so embarrassed by the victory that it asked voters to vote for his Democratic opponent. Carlson went on to gain 53,000 votes (about 32 percent) in the November general election.
On May 6, 1980, Harold Covington, one of the major leaders of the American Nazi Party, ran in the North Carolina Republican primary election for state attorney general, and although campaigning with virtually no money and no neutral media coverage, received 56,000 votes, 42.88 percent of the total, losing by a narrow margin.
The most successful electoral drive was by David Duke, who spent years moving through various neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and racist groups. The photogenic Duke attempted to sanitize his views, establishing in 1979 the National Association for the Advancement of White People. In 1989 Duke was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives as a Republican. He lost his campaign for governor in 1991, but pulled 55 percent of white votes.
In the United States, Christian Identity became a significant variant of neo-Nazism in the 1970s by merging a racialized version of Protestantism called British Israelism with theories of racial superiority. By claiming that a tribe of Jews migrated to the British Isles and then to the United States, Identity adherents asserted that White Christian Protestants in the U.S. were the true descendants of the biblical Hebrews, the chosen people of God's Covenant. Contemporary Jews were dismissed as fakes. Adherents of Christian Identity, which had been condemned by Catholic and Protestant leaders, usually blended their theology with race hate and antisemitism. Throughout the 1980s, Richard G. Butler's Aryan Nations compound in Idaho served as the most visible racist Identity institution; however, most practitioners worshipped in small halls and private homes in the absence of an organized national religious structure.
Christian Identity theology foresaw an apocalyptic race war between white Christians and inferior Jews and blacks, seen as doing the bidding of Satan, in the End Times prophesied in the New Testament Book of Revelation. This confrontational stance led to violence, such as the 1999 attack by Buford O'Neal Furrow, Jr., who wounded several children and their teachers at a Jewish community center near Los Angeles, and then killed a Filipino-American postal worker. When arrested, Furrow proclaimed his act was a "wake-up call to America to kill Jews".
The murder in Texas in 1998 of James Byrd, Jr., a black man, was in part motivated by the Christian Identity beliefs shared by some of the white attackers who dragged Byrd to death on a chain attached to a pickup truck. Christian Identity beliefs were often acquired through neo-Nazi prison gangs, as in this incident, especially through the Aryan Brotherhood, which operated inside and outside of prisons. Two California brothers with views similar to Christian Identity's carried out 1999 arson attacks on three synagogues and a reproductive services clinic, and murdered a gay couple.
The National Alliance was founded in the mid-1970s by William Pierce, a former supporter of Rockwell and the National Socialist White People's Party. Pierce used a pseudonym to pen two books that became staples of neo-Nazi libraries, The Turner Diaries and Hunter. The books celebrated the murder of Jews, blacks, and homosexuals as part of a white revolution against what became known in neo-Nazi circles as the "Zionist Occupation Government" (zog) in Washington, d.c.
In the 1990s, the National Alliance was the largest and most active neo-Nazi group in the United States. Pierce paid some $250,000 in 1999 to purchase Resistance Records, a race-hate music company that produced and sold cds and White Power paraphernalia to a mostly young audience. Within a few years the Alliance was collecting over $1 million in annual sales and had more than a dozen full-time staff, as well as active members in over a score of states. The organization saw bitter feuds and near-collapse after Pierce's death in 2002.
White Aryan Resistance (war), founded by former California Klan leader Tom Metzger, brought the Third Position form of neo-Nazism to the United States, where it became popular in the late 1980s. The group collapsed after Metzger lost a civil lawsuit stemming from a murderous racial attack by several of his followers. Third Positionist groups such as National Vanguard and Volksfront continued to operate.
Ben Klassen invented the Creativity religion (originally World Church of the Creator) in 1973, and after his death, the organization eventually ended up in the hands of Matt Hale, later jailed for soliciting the assassination of federal judge. A follower of Creativity, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith went on a 1999 shooting spree across Illinois and Indiana. He was an equal-opportunity racist, wounding six Orthodox Jews on their way home from synagogue on a Friday evening, and a man of Taiwanese descent, and killing an African American and an Asian American.
On November 3, 1979, a confrontation between the National Socialist Party of America (nspa) and the Ku Klux Klan on the one hand, and the Maoist Communist Workers Party on the other, in Greensboro, North Carolina, led to the shooting death of five communists, one of them a Jew, and the wounding of ten others. Fourteen neo-Nazis and kkk members were arrested and charged with five counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, but they were subsequently acquitted.
Following this incident, a number of neo-Nazis and members of right-wing "Patriot" groups began to move underground, while others began to set up armed survivalist and "militia" units. A 1983 shootout involving law enforcement agents and Gordon Kahl, an organizer for the Posse Comitatus wing of this underground movement, prompted neo-Nazi leader Louis Beam to call for "leaderless resistance" against the government. Kahl later died in a stand-off with authorities. Members of one Oklahoma Christian Identity group, Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (csa, not coincidentally the initials of the Confederate States of America), began planning and staging attacks, including the 1984 murder by Richard Wayne Snell of a black Arkansas state police officer.
During this period eight persons affiliated with Aryan Nations, the National Alliance, and the kkk formed an underground terror cell called the Order, known internally as the "Bruder Schweigen" (Silent Brotherhood). The Order staged armed robberies, and was responsible for the June 1984 assassination in Denver of Alan Berg, an outspoken Jewish radio talk-show host. The government responded with arrest warrants, rounding up the cell and killing Order founder Robert J. Matthews in a December 1984 shootout. In 1985 the government raided the csa headquarters. A second Order cell formed in 1986 and used arson attacks to target human rights advocates, before being rounded up by authorities.
The federal government issued conspiracy indictments in 1987 naming several neo-Nazi and Patriot movement leaders. A jury acquitted the defendants, but the incident only added to growing anti-government anger. This increased after two raids were mishandled by government authorities. In August 1992 a raid on the Weaver family, Christian Identity survivalists, at Ruby Ridge, Idaho left the mother and teenage son dead, along with a federal marshal. In April 1993 a standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas led to a shootout and conflagration in which 74 men, women, and children in the group died. Four federal agents died during the course of the standoff.
On April 19, 1995, the anniversary both of the first battle of the American Revolution and the raid on the Branch Davidian compound, and the day csa member Snell was executed for murdering a state trooper, Timothy McVeigh carried out the bombing that destroyed the Oklahoma City Federal Building, killing 168 people. McVeigh, a U.S. Army veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, had drifted into neo-Nazi circles, and sold copies of the Turner Diaries. Another group, the Aryan Republican Army, staged 22 bank robberies and bombings between 1992 and 1996. The Turner Diaries was required reading for members.
Both states of the divided Germany were effective in combating neo-Nazism. In Communist East Germany, all neo-Nazi parties were banned, while West Germany was quite stringent in its reaction to right- and left-wing terrorism and successful in containing neo-Nazism. However, a terrorist bomb that exploded during Oktoberfest in Munich in 1980, injuring several people, was attributed to a neo-Nazi group. After the reunification of the country a number of neo-Nazi youth gangs arose, especially in the former East Germany, exploiting economic turmoil and racism toward nonwhite immigrant "guest workers" (many of whom had resided in Germany for decades, or had been born there, and were prevented from becoming citizens by restrictive ethnicity-based naturalization laws).
An American neo-Nazi, Gary R. ("Gerhard") Lauck of Lincoln, Nebraska, was a major publisher of neo-Nazi publications and in the late 1970s began to smuggle them into Germany, which had banned them. Lauck was deported from Germany several times for distributing Nazi material; arrested in Denmark in 1995, he was extradited to Germany where he was convicted and jailed for inciting hatred and distributing banned materials.
Before reunification, there were approximately 18,000 members of extreme right-wing groups in West Germany, members of the National Democratic Party (ndp), Neo-Nazi (nsdap) and National Freedom groups, and others. After re-unification in 1990, especially in the former East, thousands of young adults joined openly neo-Nazi groups. There followed a wave of violent attacks on refugees, immigrants, "guest workers," and Jews. In 1992 and 1993 two attacks left eight Turkish women and girls dead and a number of other family members and friends seriously injured. During this period German officials banned 17 neo-Nazi organizations, but the groups continued to thrive underground. Small groups called freie Kameradschaften (free fellowships) were set up to operate on a regional level. In 2002 a young man, Marinus Schoeberl, was tortured and murdered by neo-Nazi youth north of Berlin in the village of Potzlow. The attackers thought he "looked like a Jew." More than 100 murders by neo-Nazis and their allies occurred between reunification and the year 2006, with some 150 like-minded groups being monitored by government authorities; the number of adherents was estimated to be in the 10,000–25,000 range. At the same time, there were huge demonstrations in Germany against the rise of neo-Nazism and xenophobic attacks, and the number of neo-Nazis was tiny compared to the size of the population.
France's collaborationist and antisemitic legacy during World War ii was exploited by neo-Nazi groups to gain legitimacy in France in the late 1970s, as was the strong pro-Arab and anti-Israel position concerning the Middle East. Later, the increase in immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries became a major factor.
In 1980 there were several attacks against individuals in the Jewish quarter of Paris in July and August, and a bomb exploded on October 4 in front of the Rue Copernic synagogue, a few minutes walk from the Arc de Triomphe, killing four passers-by, two of them non-Jews and one of them an Israeli woman, and injuring over 20. A telephone caller claimed responsibility on behalf of the European Nationalist Fascists, a neo-Nazi group led by Marc Fredriksen. Two other synagogues, two Jewish schools, and a Jewish war memorial were machine-gunned.
The bombing had political ramifications since it was alleged that 10–20 percent of the 150 members of the European Nationalist Fascists (fne) were members of the police, and the government was criticized for its failure to stop the perpetrators. Massive demonstrations took place after the bombing.
Sporadic neo-Nazi activity and violence continued over the next twenty years, built around anti-Jewish, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim bigotry. In addition, antipathy toward Jews from Muslim immigrants also increased, and it was clear that antisemitic conspiracy theories were shared by a range of anti-Jewish groups, not just in France, but across Europe.
In the mid-1990s the Front National de la Jeunesse (National Front for Youth), claiming 12,000 members, pursued a revolutionary nationalist agenda. This tendency was supported by its parent group, the National Front, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen. The racist skinhead movement in France remained small throughout the 1990s, but its list of targets was familiar, including not just blacks, Arabs, and Jews, but also communists and drug addicts. The Charlemagne Hammerskins, however, claimed 1,500 members in the late 1990s. They blended neo-Nazi lore with pagan satanism and distributed printed and online materials promoting race hate, antisemitism, Holocaust denial, and Hitler.
In 2005 France sought to ban all neo-Nazi groups after violent incidents increased from 27 in 2003 to 65 in 2004. French government agencies estimated that such groups had 3,500 members.
John Tyndall was a major figure in organizing British neofascist groups. He left the League of Empire Loyalists and in 1960 joined elements from the White Defence League to create the British National Party (bnp). Tyndall became a national bnp organizer, and also worked with a paramilitary group established by Colin Jordan. In the 1960s, neo-Nazis in London carried out 34 arson attacks on Jewish institutions. In 1967, the National Front was formed through a merger of the bnp and the League of Empire Loyalists. Tyndall became chairman of the group, which gained consideration as a serious political movement, garnering electoral support in some districts.
There was a significant increase in racial tensions in England during the 1970s, due to the increased waves of African, Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, and other "Third World" immigrants. Previously, Jews had been more or less secondary targets but this began to change. The nf made a considerable appeal to the British masses as a result of its constant emphasis on racism, on Britain's loss of power and prestige, and the "grand conspiracy" theory that Jews or pro-Zionist non-Jews dominate the world with their liberal and radical policies, and their assertion that "white races" will become extinct through the "mongrelization" and integration policies espoused by black leaders and their Jewish/Zionist allies.
Tyndall left nf in a dispute to form the New National Front, which reclaimed the name British National Party in 1982. When the nf itself went through further splits, the reformed bnp emerged as the leading far-right electoral party in Britain.
The original skinhead subculture emerged in Britain in the 1970s, but was converted into a racist movement in the 1980s by organizers from the British National Front, including "Ian Stuart" (Ian Stuart Donaldson), who was lead singer in the white power band Skrewdriver. Beginning in 1992 a militant neo-Nazi group named Combat 18, established to provide security for the bnp, was responsible for a wave of street-fighting violence. In April 1999, bombings targeted the black community of Brixton, the Asian community of Brick Lane, and a gay bar in Soho where three died. In all 139 people were injured. David Copeland, active with the neo-Nazi British National Socialist Movement, told police he had acted alone, but had tried blaming the bombings on Combat 18, which he described as a "bunch of yobs." Another neo-Nazi group, the White Wolves, had also been suspected of the bombings. Copeland apparently learned how to make the bombs from Internet instructions. Nick Griffin, educated at Cambridge and trained as a leader of the National Front, took over the British National Party from Tyndall in 1999. In recent years the bnp has combined racism with anti-European Union sentiment to gain a small but significant degree of public support.
Russian nationalists and neo-Nazis began to emerge and intersect after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pamyat (Memory) was formed from a number of smaller groups around 1980. It split up in 1985. The National Patriotic Front/Pamyat was formed in 1987 but became inactive in the late 1990s. The Russian National Union, founded by Konstantin Kasimovsky with Aleksei Vdovin in a leadership role, split off from Pamyat in the early 1990s. The group became the Russian National Socialist Party in 1998. A similar group, also split off from Pamyat and the most popular such organization, is Russian National Unity, led by Aleksandr Barkashov. Some followers have used violence, and took credit for the 1998 bomb that exploded outside a synagogue in Moscow, injuring three. The organization began splitting in 2005 as new leaders started to emerge and followers chose sides. The National Front Party, led by Ilya Lazarenko, is more open in celebrating the Nazi heritage, as is the tiny Werewolf Legion, known for terrorist attacks.
In January of 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that antisemitism and the growth of neo-Nazism in Russia were problems when he attended ceremonies marking the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Also in 2006, Moscow's police chief promised to deploy officers to protect synagogues after a 20-year-old man was arrested for charging into the city's Chabad Bronnaya Synagogue with a knife, shouting "I will kill Jews." He managed to stab at least eight people. Russian newspapers noted that the young man had been reading a book about the Jews betraying Russia.
In a 2005 report for the International Bureau of Human Rights, Semyon Charny estimated that there were more than 50,000 neo-Nazi skinheads in Russia and more than a dozen neo-Nazi organizations there.
In Scandinavia a number of groups emerged that oscillated between national socialist electoral activity and neo-Nazi activism: in Denmark, Danmarks Nationalsocialistiske Bevegelse (National Socialist Movement of Denmark); in Finland, Blood and Honour; in Norway, Norges Nasjonalsosialistiske Bevegelse (National Socialist Movement of Norway), Blood and Honour, and Vigrid (a branch of the National Alliance); in Sweden, Nationalsocialistisk Front (National Socialist Front), Svenska Motståndsrörelsen (Swedish Resistance Movement), Vitt Ariskt Motstånd (White Aryan Resistance), Riksfronten (Reich Front), Ariska Brödraskapet (Aryan Brotherhood), and a branch of the U.S.-based Creativity Movement.
In Sweden, the number of active neo-Nazis has fluctuated between 100 and 1,000, with at least ten times as many supporters. There were violent acts, such as the murder of John Hron in 1995 by neo-Nazi skinheads. In Norway, a small national socialist skinhead movement has flourished.
It appears that neo-Nazism has become a permanent fixture on the global political scene. Limiting the growth of neo-Nazi movements in the West is the historical memory of Hitler and his SS, who spread war and genocide across Europe. The main forms of postwar neo-Nazism are xenophobic nationalism and National Socialism, but increasingly there are hybrids similar to the interwar clerical fascism. These theocratic forms of fascism have already produced several neo-Nazi movements. It is possible that if militant religious fundamentalism, especially within Islam, continues to expand, there will more intersections with fascist and Nazi ideas, a process that is already producing lethal threats to societies around the world. Whether these could ever approach or surpass the destruction of Hitler's Nazi movement cannot be predicted.
[Chip Berlet and
Jack Nusan Porter (2nd ed.)]
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