It's hard to get the timing for the intro "just right," he explains, and once the graphics stop playing, he strides into frame and raises his arm, curling his hand into a fist and wishing his viewers, a few hundred members of Germany's extreme right, a lovely evening. He calls this gesture his "professional wrestling entrance move," which he claims was inspired by WWE-style theatrics, though it also, not inconveniently, looks a bit like a heil Hitler Nazi salute.
Schroeder is 30 years old, about six feet tall, with the boxy musculature of an MMA fighter, his blond hair shaved except for a jaunty strip along the top of his head. He's dressed all in black, wearing armbands slightly reminiscent of those favored by vintage Avril Lavigne and speaks quickly and loudly, with a strong Bavarian lilt. When he laughs, his upper right lip rises up, making him look both threatening and insecure. "If the Third Reich was so bad, it would have been toppled," he argues, before the filming begins. "Every half-intelligent person knows there is no system where everything was bad."
He won't elaborate, for legal reasons, but he'll happily share his topline thoughts about everything from Obama (whom he grossly describes as America's "neger president") to why black people don't belong in Germany ("It's against nature — there's a reason we're not walking around in the sun, in Ghana, with our skin color"), to why American neo-Nazis are "primitive" ("It's like they're always dressing up for a costume party") and — because, just like many other Germans, he loves American TV — his strong feelings about the series finale of How I Met Your Mother ("The mother dying was a good reminder that the world isn't a great place").
Inane rhetoric notwithstanding, Schroeder comes across first and foremost as a dedicated self-promoter, and he clearly enjoys putting on a show: For the next two hours, he sits at the computer and chats with his remote co-host about the latest Nazi news — recently banned groups, European elections — and riffs on pop culture. He peppers his statements with self-deprecating asides and eye-rolls, and he occasionally interrupts the chatter to play Rechstrock, neo-Nazi rock songs.
Over the past year, partly because of leaders like Schroeder and partly because of the unstoppable globalization of youth culture, the hipsterification of the German neo-Nazi scene has begun to gain steam. This winter, the German media came up with a new term, "nipster," to describe the trend of people dressing like Brooklyn hipsters at Nazi events. Experts have noted that the German neo-Nazi presence on Tumblr and other social networking sites has become sleeker and more sophisticated. Neo-Nazi clothing has become more stylish and difficult to recognize. There's even a vegan Nazi cooking show. "If the definition of the nipster is someone who can live in the mainstream," Schroeder explains, "then I see it as the future of the movement."
At the same time, Germany and German culture have become more porous and international than ever: A federal survey found that nearly 20 percent of Germans have an immigrant background, and another new study found that immigrants and Germans are becoming increasingly similar. German TV broadcasts The Real Housewives, the Top 20 pop charts include songs by Calvin Harris, Coldplay and Pitbull and thanks to the Internet, teenagers can pirate the latest episode of Girls a few hours after it airs in America. And now another American export has arrived: In 2012, the daily Welt heralded the "hipster" as Germany's "new object of hate" and just this February, the country's biggest tabloid, Bild, offered a guide to "hipster types" for its readers. (Example: "The fixed-gear fanatic never goes anywhere without his bike.")
For people like Andy Knape, the rise of the German hipster presents both an opportunity and a dilemma. For the past two years, the 28-year-old Knape has been the head of the Junge Nationaldemokraten (JN), the youth wing of the NPD. His office is located in the state parliament of Saxony, in the eastern part of Germany, and overlooks the city's majestic opera house, which largely burnt down after the city's firebombing and was rebuilt after the war. A poster of an elderly woman with a shotgun and the words "drastic security measures" hangs on the wall, next to a photo of several steely-eyed white people smiling.
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As head of the JN, Knape's job is to make the NPD, and its extreme-right politics, appealing to young people (one of his biggest goals, he explains, is to "preserve German culture") and he's a good salesman — 5'8", fit and dressed in a grey T-shirt and Converse-style sneakers, he wouldn't look out of place on an American college campus. He first entered the scene when he was 13, in Magdeburg, because his brother was also "right-wing oriented" and he "started to ask himself lots of questions." Eventually, he says, he began going to NPD demonstrations, and got more involved. Although his eyes betray a palpable aggressiveness and many of his talking points seem clearly rehearsed, for a man in charge of an organization being monitored by theBundesverfassungsschutz — Germany's domestic security agency — he is surprisingly soft-spoken. When he speaks he tends to curl up in his chair.
Like Schroeder, whom he sees as an acolyte, Knape wants to give "nationalism" a friendlier, cooler face (in the NPD, and many other extreme-right organizations, "nationalist" often functions as a politically acceptable euphemism for "Nazi"). For Knape, who grew up with American pop culture, the idea of policing what young members of the scene watch or listen to is silly — he'd much rather hijack it, and use it to bring young people into the fold. Michael Schaefer, the JN's excitable 31-year-old press person, chimes in: "We've taken over the nipster," he says, giddily, before catching himself. "I mean nationalist hipster, not Nazi hipster."
The term hipster has, of course, always been notoriously slippery. Back in his 2010 book What Was the Hipster?, Mark Greif described the term as meaning a "consumer" who "aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class and thus opens up a poisonous conduit between the two." But in Germany, as elsewhere, the newly discovered hipster is often reduced to its more superficial component parts: "skinny jeans, a bushy beard, bright sunglasses" (Welt), "strange, nerdy and somehow different," (Sueddeutsche Zeitung), "self-important culture snobs" (Tagesspiegel). Here, the hipster is simultaneously a uniform, a cooler-than-thou weltanschauung and signpost of globalized American youth culture and consumerism.
"We don't want to cut ourselves off," Knape says, about hipster culture. "I see rap and hip-hop, for example, as a way of transporting our message." In recent years, a number of extreme-right hip-hop acts have emerged in Germany — with names like Makss Damage and Dee Ex. Despite the awkward politics of using hip-hop to preach the virtues of German identity, they've amassed a small, but significant presence within the scene. Dee Ex, for example, has over 7,000 likes on Facebook and posts photos of herself in a revealing outfit on her blog. There is now neo-Nazi techno (biggest act: DJ Adolf) and neo-Nazi reggae.
Knape, on his end, has also gotten increasingly invested in online culture: "The Internet allows us to reach people we can't reach on the street." Now young people can get in touch with him over Facebook or e-mail without their parents, or anybody else, finding out. "They don't need to out themselves immediately," he says. Knape is especially proud of his viral-video outreach: last year, his group filmed a "Harlem Shake" video. In the JN video, people in masks bounce around junked cars while one of them holds up a sign saying "Have more sex with Nazis, unprotected." It has over 17,000 hits on YouTube. ("New, modern, but not decadent," Knape says about the video, which you can watch below.)
In their latest 2013 report, the Bundesverfassungschutz concluded that there are approximately 22,000 members of the extreme right in Germany, including 9,600 who are "willing to engage in violence." According to official statistics,they committed 473 violent crimes against foreigners last year — a shocking 20 percent rise over the previous year.
In September, for example, three suspected neo-Nazis brutally beat a 15-year-old in Saxony, allegedly because the boy was half Taiwanese. The same month, a Turkish immigrant was nearly beaten to death by a group of nine alleged neo-Nazis in a train station in Saxony-Anhalt and this February, a group of more than a dozen neo-Nazis walked into a community center in the town of Ballstaedt, in the state of Thuringia, and began assaulting the attendees at a party, sending two of them to the hospital.
The NPD's main platform is anti-immigration: A 2009 document sent out by the Berlin party head, for example, advocates banning "foreigners" from owning property in Germany. A 2012 investigation by Spiegel, Germany's leading news magazine, found — surprise — widespread anti-Semitism within the party. In 2011, a Vice reporter photographed a barbecue stamped with "Happy Holocaust" outside an NPD office, and the same year, one NPD campaign poster featured a candidate on a motorcycle above the words "Give gas." It was posted, among many other places, in front of Berlin's Jewish Museum.
Although the extreme right has existed in Germany, in various forms, since World War II, the neo-Nazi scene as it exists today largely took shape in the 1980s, and spread dramatically after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Especially in the post-reunification East, where young people were suddenly robbed of the Communist strictures and institutions they had grown up with, extreme-right politics provided an easy outside explanation for their economic and cultural alienation: multiculturalism, asylum seekers, American "imperialism," Israel and global big business.
In the 1990s, the skinhead became the embodiment of the neo-Nazi ethos — masculine, angry, violence-prone — and the news was awash with images of bullish, shaved-headed men with steel-toed combat boots and bomber jackets. During the neo-Nazi crime-waves of that decade, the German public learned to watch out for the brands favored by the extreme right: Fred Perry, which was worn because of its laurel wreath-logo, New Balance, chosen because "N" could stand for "Nazi" and, most prominently Lonsdale, the British sportswear brand. Although Lonsdale had always been popular in the left-wing British skinhead scene, it also offered German neo-Nazis the option of spelling out most of "NSDAP," the German acronym for the Nazi party, under a half-open bomber jacket.
Today, Lonsdale is a popular sporting label in the United States, but in Germany it is still, despite its best efforts, widely seen as a Nazi brand. Geurt Schotsman, the politically-progressive owner of the brand's German license, has been trying to rid himself of the neo-Nazi association for over a decade — with a campaign called "Lonsdale Loves All Colours," a sponsorship of the Cologne Gay Pride parade and, this spring, official support of two left-wing German football clubs, Leipzig Roter Stern and SV Babelsberg. "If we had a huge budget, we would make a billboard campaign, and maybe that would solve the problem," Schotsman says, "but we don't have a huge budget." In 1999, Schotsman underwent the drastic measure of blacklisting stores with extreme-right associations, causing Lonsdale's German business to drop 35 percent — a tumble from which it is still recovering.
Around the turn of the 21st century, the skinhead look waned and the scene underwent another philosophical and aesthetic transformation. "Society had started to react against the extreme right, and it became less attractive for young people to stigmatize themselves," says Simone Rafael, the editor-in-chief of Netz Gegen Nazis, a blog that monitors the extreme right. As a result, a new extreme-right group, the Autonomous Nationalists (AN), began aping the look of the extreme left — black hoodies, black pants and even Che Guevara T-shirts (with the words "Not only Che would be with us") — and incorporating traditionally progressive issues like environmentalism and animal rights into neo-Nazi ideology. "Once [neo-Nazi leaders] saw it was successful, it was taken up by the scene," says Rafael.
Almost simultaneously, in 2002, a Brandenburg-based clothing brand called Thor Steinar began to sell stylish-looking clothes, reminiscent of Aeropostale, with Germanic runes and emblazoned with provocative, ambiguously extreme-right slogans, like "Ski Heil." Thor Steinar was brought to court for its logo, which looked like a banned neo-Nazi symbol, but it later rebranded and in 2009 was sold to a company based in Dubai. It has registered its trademark in the United States — this spring it opened up its first British store in the North Finchley neighborhood in London — and in recent years, a slew of imitator brands have popped up, with names like Erik And Sons and Ansgar Aryan (the latter currently employs Patrick Schroeder in the sales department), allowing members of the extreme-right to surreptitiously identify each other in public.
These developments helped spur the notion, now championed by Knape and Schroeder, that young neo-Nazis should be allowed to dress however they want, as long as they have the "right" anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic ideas. This newly relaxed approach allows neo-Nazi leaders to attract young people from different subcultures and makes neo-Nazis more difficult for their opponents to identify. "Now the neo-Nazi youth culture is really broad," says Christoph Schulze, one of several left-wing activists who assemble the annual Versteckspiel ("Hide and seek"), a glossary of symbols used by members of the extreme-right to surreptitiously identify one another.
Those aforementioned symbols include everything from number codes (the most obvious: "88" to replace "Heil Hitler" — because "H" is the eighth letter in the alphabet) to logos (an eagle catching a Christian ichthys — a symbol of Germanic strength over "degenerates") to sayings ("14 words," which stands for a quote by American white nationalist David Lane). "The movement is always changing," Schulze says. "One thing goes out of fashion and there's already something new. This year it's the hipster."
Daniel Koehler, director of research at the Institute for the Study of Radical Movements in Berlin, says the nipster is less new than many people think — he's been seeing them at extreme-right rallies for the past two or three years. "When we first saw it, it was something weird," he says, "but now it's pretty normal."
"It's a pretty new phenomenon," Rafael says, noting that it marks a departure from the "manly" culture usually favored by the neo-Nazis. "It's a good example of how this kind of thing is used very strategically," she explains, echoing Schroeder. She has also noticed the emergence of a much hipper online neo-Nazi presence: "It's a way of bringing the ideology into other circles, of finding entry points into hipster culture — blogs, selfies, Tumblr and so forth."
She points to neo-Nazi Tumblrs, like Kindstattgross, which post stylized images of Nazi rallies and other heavily filtered extreme-right imagery. "I clicked on one of these Tumblr blogs, and suddenly discovered that there were tons and tons of them, where you wouldn't recognize the message, and they are becoming more subtle and confusing people who aren't part of the extreme right scene," explains Rafael. (It's also worth noting that neo-Nazis have started using the #nipster on Instagram.)
In recent years, a growing number of neo-Nazi groups have staged savvy viral campaigns, including one where they dressed up as the Sesame Street Cookie Monster and distributed pamphlets to schoolchildren, and another involving a man in a bear costume calling himself the "deportation bear" and posing in front of Hanover Turkish shops. "They can easily produce something that has the appearance of looking hip," says Koehler. "These aren't just dumb East German youth — they understand how to package their political ideology."
Tim and Kevin, two 21-year-old self-proclaimed "nationalists and socialists" ("but anyone who reads this will know we're Nazis") from Hanover — who did not want to give their real names — say they have also noticed more people in the scene dressing like "hipsters," with skinny pants and tote bags. "It's noticeable," Tim says, over the phone, and explains that everything that emerges in German mainstream culture ends up in the [neo-Nazi] scene, just with a delay. "We don't walk around the city center with our eyes closed," he says, "we see what people are wearing on TV." He also agrees that the Nazi Tumblr style has gotten "more youthful" and "looser."
In February, Tim and Kevin started Balaclava Kueche, Germany's first Nazi vegan cooking show. In each episode, the two chatty, fast-talking men wear facemasks and earnestly explain to viewers how to make an array of vegan dishes (the first episode: mixed salad, tofu scramble). "The left-wing doesn't have a prior claim to veganism," says Tim. "Industrial meat production is incompatible with our nationalist and socialist world views."
Both Tim and Kevin claim to live a straight-edge lifestyle — no alcohol, no drugs — and got involved in the scene in their late teens. "There was an election and I read up on all of the parties, and I wound up getting interested in the NPD," says Kevin. "Hitler isn't part of our era, but he's part of our ideology and that time, in terms of aesthetics and discipline and brotherhood, was a model for today," Tim adds. He also argues that the Allies carry the blame for the outbreak of World War II and that if people are going to dwell on the Holocaust they should also dwell more on Stalin's crimes.
They started Balaclava Kueche as a fun project, to both encourage other people to stop eating animal products and portray their politics in a fun, sympathetic light. Early on, they attended NPD rallies, but were repelled by what they saw. "I don't think the rallies make much sense," Kevin says. "Most of the people there would scare people away with the way they look, and with their shitty sayings." They see viral campaigns, like the "deportation bear" as a highly effective way of reaching out to people.
And then there are the Identitaeren, a two-year-old group with origins in France that has gotten widespread attention for its use of stylish viral videos to promote anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment. Although claiming to be anti-Nazi, they, like many members of the extreme right, espouse a concept called ethnopluralism, which argues that ethnic groups should only live in their respective home countries. Nils Altmieks, the movement's boyish, 27-year-old current leader, argues that Europe should be for Europeans — and not, for example, Africans — and cites the United States as an example of the dangers of embracing heterogeneity. "Multiculturalism isn't a contribution to cultural understanding, it's a cornerstone for conflict," he says, over Skype. He becomes wishy-washy when pressed about the exact borders of Europe ("Some might view Russia as European") and can't account for countries, like Canada, with high immigration and low crime.
German extremism researcher Alexander Haeusler has warned that the Identitaeren are insidiously attempting to make "racism modern and hip." Last year, group members filmed themselves disrupting a multiculturalism conference with a blaring boombox and they also have a dedicated video blogger — a stylish-looking young man who often wears thick plastic glasses frames and a hoodie and whose most recent dispatch is about the moral peril of eating ethnic food. In other videos they've dumped rubble in front of the office of a Green Party politician and posed with silly-looking 300-inspired shields in front of the Brandenburg Gate. "We aren't consciously a hipster movement, but today's young people grew up with this background," says Altmieks. "This is part of society." His favorite movie, he says, is Braveheart.
Coincidentally or not, the emergence of the nipster has taken place at the same time as the rise of a new far-right political scene in Europe: In this May's European elections, the National Front — the anti-immigrant party headed by Marine Le Pen — won the biggest voting share of parties in the French elections, and the British United Kingdom Independence Party won 27.5 percent of the vote in the U.K. Many people link these parties' success to their ability to package themselves as a friendlier, less-threatening far right. Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde has argued that these parties largely swept into power by linking the euro crisis "to their core ideological features: nativism, authoritarianism and populism."
The current German wave of, for instance, hip, vegan neo-Nazis functions in a similar way. Rafael says they attempt to slide into debates where young people wouldn't expect them, and then sell their politics as a palatable outlet. "They use subjects like globalization and animal protection as entry points, and then offer a very simple worldview that makes complex subjects very easy to understand," says Rafael. "Of course, in the end, it's always about racism and anti-Semitism and nationalism." The danger — in both cases — is that extreme-right positions might quietly shift into the mainstream.
Over the past two years, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, an associate professor at American University in Washington, D.C., has been conducting research with young people in Berlin schools who are on the periphery of the extreme-right. She says that, if anything, the change in neo-Nazi fashion has made it more difficult to step in when young people are being embroiled in the scene. "If you were a teacher," she says, "you used to be able to identify a skinhead in your class and you could think of ways to intervene. But now it's harder to mainstream society to understand who these young people are and to engage with them."
Miller-Idriss suggests that for a generation raised on Facebook and Twitter, it may no longer feel ridiculous to, say, love Rihanna in real life but disparage black people on Facebook. "The social media space allows young people to have different expressions of their identities in different places," she says. "This generation of youth likes the idea of having more control over their own identity. They've realized your style doesn't have to be connected to your ideology. You can dress however you want to and still be a neo-Nazi."
With this in mind, Koehler thinks there is a need in Germany for a new, broader educational campaign on how to identify members of the extreme right. "A short while ago we did a study with judges and lawyers, who thought they weren't encountering neo-Nazis because they weren't seeing any skinheads," he says, "but they have no idea anymore what a neo-Nazi looks like."
The stakes in the fight against extremism, of course, are more than just semantic. Several weeks ago, after Dortmund's local elections, a group of about 20 neo-Nazis appeared outside city hall to protest the recent banning of an extreme-right group. They yelled "Germany for the Germans" and "foreigners out" and began singing the national anthem before attacking people outside the building with pepper spray and broken bottles, injuring ten. Dortmund city councilors have been meeting under police protection ever since.
They pull into the parking lot of a local Ernest Hemingway-themed restaurant and walk into a room crowded with people watching a soccer game. Heads turn. Schroeder is wearing a T-shirt of an extreme-right band called Terrorsphaera ("Terrorsphere") with blood-like paint splatters. Martin, on the other hand, is dressed in gingham shirt, and looks like a character on Silicon Valley. The waitresses are all blonde and wearing "We love Germany" T-shirts, in honor of the upcoming World Cup, and as he sits down, the multiple men in the room give him dirty looks.
Although Schroeder is excited about the new wave of Internet activism, it appears that he's worried that today's young people are only interested in sitting at home and watching YouTube clips instead of going into the streets. "It's a long road from listening to music to actually doing something," he complains, while sipping a beer. And although there are no figures to back this up, others, like the Balaclava Kueche guys, suggest that such indolence represents the fickleness of the Internet generation. Some might also see that behavior as a sign of the movement's slackening appeal.
That's why Schroeder trying his best to mobilize his online following. He organizes an annual Live H8 concert, a gathering of neo-Nazi bands that he hopes will "help the mainstreaming of our music" and become "the most extreme Nazi concert" around. But he's angry that people have been trying to pressure the venue owner to cancel the concert. "In this country, if you've got the wrong opinion, everything is against you," he sighs. Such is life as a nipster these days. (This year's concert was banned from taking place by authorities at the last minute.)
Schroeder also seems aware that the concepts of Germany and Europe — and, for that matter, America — are becoming increasingly theoretical. In the background, a soccer game is playing on the bar's big screens, and it helps launch him on a tortured metaphor explaining why Asian immigrants don't qualify as Germans. "It's like if the Chinese bought 22 Brazilians and gave them Chinese passports and used them to win the World Cup," he mopes. "If everybody's the same, then what's the point?"
Then he remembers that professional soccer, which is currently on the TV at the restaurant, operates on just that concept — and that the region's most successful team, FC Bayern Munich, is partly made up of non-German players. "I still watch it," Schroeder admits, "because there's nothing else." A few moments later, a goal is scored, and the bar erupts in cheers. Schroeder smiles at the TV, then catches himself and looks away.
source: rollingstone.com By THOMAS ROGERS