Skinhead group is outlawed in neo-Nazi crackdown

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The Independent Online

Germany's crackdown on neo-Nazis gathered momentum yesterday when the government outlawed Blood and Honour, a skinhead group founded in Britain.

Germany's crackdown on neo-Nazis gathered momentum yesterday when the government outlawed Blood and Honour, a skinhead group founded in Britain.

Explaining the ban, the Interior Minister, Otto Schilly, said the group had violated the constitution by inciting hatred through the music it sponsored and through its websites. After an overnight raid on 30 homes and clubs of leading members, the police confiscated neo-Nazi propaganda material, CDs and savings books containing "five-figure sums".

Germany is the first country in the world to outlaw Blood and Honour and its youth wing White Youth. Founded in the Eighties by Ian Stuart Donaldson, singer of the British neo-Nazi band Skrewdriver, the movement now has branches in most European countries, as well as in America, Australia and South Africa.

The German section, which was established in 1994 in Berlin, is estimated to have 300 members. Mr Schilly said the German branch of Blood and Honour drew its inspiration from the 1924 programme of Hitler's National Socialist Party.

"In the fight against rightwing extremism, we must counter the poisoning of minds and hearts," he said. "They adopted the goal of spreading Nazi ideology. Such things create a certain atmosphere or disposition that then makes them more prone to violence."

Blood and Honour is the biggest organiser of neo-Nazi concerts in Germany, drawing on a repertoire of about 100 bands. The group has extensive contacts abroad, especially in Britain and Scandinavia.

Up to 2,000 people attend Blood and Honour's concerts, held mostly in secret to evade the police and prevent reprisals from leftists. Fired up by the racist lyrics of the musicians, participants usually round off their night by giving a Hitler salute, and sometimes worse. On several occasions, youths arrested for attacking foreigners have confessed that they had got the idea at the concert they had just attended.

Where Blood and Honour fits into the broader picture of neo-Nazi violence is still being investigated. Skinhead groups preaching racism have been mushrooming in Germany, especially in the past three years. Sometimes they have no more than a dozen members, who cannot be held to blame for every foreigner being beaten up in the country.

But Mr Schilly said they help form a mindset, creating an environment that tolerates attacks on foreigners. The poisoning of the minds extends well beyond the hardcore concert-goers. Neo-Nazi rock is trendy, especially in eastern Germany, where all party-goers will come across the works of bands such as Die Harte - The Hardness. Black uniforms are chic, neo-Nazi CDs are openly swapped at school.

Sociologists estimate that about one-third of east German youths identify with the musical sub-culture of the far right. They may not subscribe to all the racist lyrics, but are certainly not offended by them. Singing songs about torching immigrant homes is seen as harmless fun.

As computer literacy spreads, more and more youths come across websites propagating Nazi ideology. The German Interior Ministry estimates Blood and Honour has up to 350 websites, mostly based in America. Mr Schilly has opened discussions with the FBI about a co-ordinated attack on neo-Nazi activities on the internet.

Meanwhile, there are some more pressing matters at home. As neo-Nazi violence spreads, the government is trying to wind up not just the core activists but also their frontorganisations.

The banning of Blood and Honour promises to be the first step along this route, which is likely to lead to moves to outlaw a political party for the first time in nearly four decades. Yesterday Mr Schilly accused the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) of secret links to Blood and Honour and another skinhead group under close scrutiny, Hammerskins.

The NPD, with some 6,000 members, is blamed for organising xenophobic violence through its youth wing, with the help of loosely affiliated skinhead groups. But while an outfit such as Blood and Honour can be outlawed in a day, a party cannot be banned without the agreement of the constitutional court. That can take up to three years.