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US neo-Nazi jailed for four years

Spitting defiance at the German judiciary, the American neo-Nazi leader Gary Lauck marched out of a Hamburg courtroom yesterday to begin a four- year prison sentence for exporting racist propaganda.

"The struggle goes on," he shouted in German as he was led away. "Neither the National Socialists nor the Communists dared to kidnap an American citizen," he screamed.

Those were the first meaningful words he uttered during the three-month trial, contesting to the end the German court's jurisdiction over his activities. Lauck, 43, had built a neo-Nazi publishing empire at his home town of Lincoln, Nebraska, sheltered from prosecution by the US constitution.

A man who cultivated a fake German accent and adopted Hitler's hair style and moustache, Lauck has led the National Socialist German Workers' Party - Overseas Organisation, for more than a decade, and distributes the NS-Battle Cry newsletter, as well as other Nazi propaganda material banned in Germany.

He was arrested on an international warrant from Germany when he attended a convention of neo-Nazis in Denmark in March 1995. In September last year he was extradited to Germany on the basis of a little-used Danish law that bans racist statements. Whilst Lauck himself remained silent during the trial, his lawyer tried to argue that the man dubbed by the US press as the "farm-belt Fuhrer" had committed no crime under his own country's laws.

"I am a Nazi, but this isn't about my views, it's about the constitution," Lauck told the Dallas Morning Post last week. "Here I am, a newspaper publisher, and I was kidnapped abroad and taken to a third country and thrown in jail for something that is totally legal in the United States."

But the German authorities traced much of the flood of Nazi propaganda to Lauck's home base, and the court accepted that Lauck had been personally involved in smuggling the literature into Germany.

"Lauck turned many young people against democracy," said the prosecutor, Bernd Mauruschat, in his closing argument. The prosecution said that, for two decades, Lauck has been German extremists' main supplier of brochures, Nazi and neo-Nazi stickers, arm-bands, banners and signs. Many of the Nazi seminal works were also translated into other languages, feeding the new extremist movements that have risen out of the ashes of Communism in Eastern Europe.

Despite his obsessive interests in the Third Reich, Lauck had no German background, though he tried to adopt a German persona. He had read Hitler's Mein Kampf (My Struggle) at the age of 13, and spent his teenage years forging a neo-Nazi movement in the US.

Since his arrest, the flood of Nazi propaganda reaching Germany has turned into a trickle, and is expected to dry up while he is serving his sentence. Having spent 15 months under arrest, his prison term expires in just over two-and-a-half years, by which time the German authorities hope the audience for his kind of enlightenment will have shrunk to insignificance.