Racists forge links across the world: Robert Block examines the spreading web of groups which stir up hatred and xenophobia

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The Independent Online
THE COVER of the latest issue of W A R magazine - the US neo-Nazi newsletter of Tom Metzger's White Aryan Resistance movement - shows an exaggeratedly 'Jewish-looking' Dracula holding the body of a limp woman alongside the words: 'It's Aryan versus Semite.'

While it is easy to dismiss this caricature as cliche - infantile neo-Nazi propaganda - one should never judge a racist magazine by cover alone. There is interesting and worrying stuff inside.

Towards the back of the magazine, in what can best be described as a classified hate section, there is a heading for 'International Addresses and Fax Centres'. What follows are contacts for some of the most virulent racist groups in Canada and Europe.

Under the London listing there is a post office box number for the skinhead group Blood and Honour. The Bewegung, an umbrella organisation of groups responsible for 75 per cent of all attacks against immigrants in Germany, is listed. So too is a contact address for VAM, a Swedish terrorist group whose aim is to overthrow the 'Zionist Occupation Government' in Stockholm.

Extreme racist activities now transcend national boundaries, with growing links between groups that promote racial hatred and xenophobia.

'Today's racists like to see themselves as a true international movement, just like the Nazis did in the Thirties before the war,' said Irwin Suall, the fact-finding director of the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith in New York. According to Mr Suall and other veteran observers, neo-Nazi groups talk to each other; they learn from each other; they distribute each other's propaganda and they give each other shelter.

VAM - sought for armed bank robberies and raids on military installations and suspected to be behind the murders of a dozen immigrants - has not only copied the language and modus operandi of the US terrorist group The Order, but according to Stig Larson, author of the Swedish book The Extreme Right, VAM corresponds with jailed members of the movement for advice.

Many neo-Nazis look to British skinheads for inspiration, and the Union Flag has become a popular symbol among many nationalities of racists. The success of German skinheads has won them friends across the ocean. US neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members have made recruiting trips to Germany since 1991.

These links are not new. What is novel though, according to Rahul Patel, a spokesman for the Anti-Nazi League in Britain, is the current economic and political climate which has enabled them to operate more openly. 'They smell that the terrain has opened up for them. They are more active and they are offering solidarity to each other whenever they need it.'

Part of the reason for this seachange is the economic malaise in Europe which provides fertile ground for frustrated youths who are only too willing to find scapegoats for their predicament. Another reason is that many governments have failed to confront right-wing extremism forcibly and, in some cases, have been openly courting nationalism at home.

'Right-wing violence has got out of control because of the failure of political leadership,' said David Cesarani of the Wiener Library in London. 'In Britain, France and Germany, centrist politicians are so afraid of losing votes that they are afraid to confront the right. Indeed, European governments have been messing around with the forces of chauvinism since after Maastricht.'

The level of extremist violence has grown to such an extent in Germany that defining and analysing the problem has become a leading pastime of the media, sociologists and politicians. Many of the fire-bombings, beatings and killings have been carried out by young people who seem to be normal products of normal homes.

Citing that, the tabloid Bild offered a 'Checklist for all parents' on how to tell if a child has been drawn to Germany's most disturbing social development since the rise of the Nazis. Prominent on the list are records by groups such as Stoerkraft, a well- known skinhead rock band, playing a sound known as 'Oi music'. With its explosive message of anti- Semitism, Nazi ideology, street- fighting and xenophobia, the music has become a powerful focal point for far-right groups.

A derivative of punk with flashes of heavy metal, Oi music was pioneered by the British band Skrewdriver, which is linked to Blood and Honour and attacks on immigrants. Little has been done to curb the spread of the music, but not for lack of trying.

For almost three years the Anti- Defamation League has sought to close Rock-O-Rama, the Bruhl- based company that is the world's largest distributor of Oi music compact discs, records and cassettes, on the grounds that it violates Germany's anti-Nazi laws by promoting music with lyrics such as 'Raise the red flag with the swastika on it'. The matter has been pursued from Chancellor Helmut Kohl down through the municipal levels of German bureaucracy. Last week the Cologne prosecutor's office announced it was dropping the investigation due to lack of evidence. 'It is totally absurd,' Mr Suall said. 'The evidence is a mile-high.'

Oi music, however, is not the only form of communication that has served to shore up links between extremists from one country to the next. Television has also had a profound effect. Hours after the first images of German neo- Nazis attacking immigrants in Rostock appeared on British television screens, a mosque in south London was firebombed and a Sikh temple was attacked. News footage, said Dr Cesarani, has had 'a homogenising and disturbing effect' on right-wing groups across the world.

Still, these extremist groups for the most part are small, tightly knit minorities. Skinheads are never going to take over in France, Germany or England. But it is more likely that a coalition of the more mainstream right-wing leaders, such as Jean-Marie Le Pen of France, Austria's Jorg Haider and Franz Schonhuber of Germany might. Extremist violence serves their cause more than they are willing to admit publicly. Although they never endorse this unrest, it has boosted their calls for clampdowns on immigration and asylum laws.

'Far-right politicians are feeding off the violence and using it. And the thugs on the street know that every time they burn down a hostel it helps the far right. That is the most worrying link of all,' said Dr Cesarani.