US neo-Nazi maintains a silent defence

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The world's "strongest voice for White Power" was resting his vocal chords yesterday. In an effort to impress the German judges, Gary Lauck, the American neo-Nazi leader, had even changed his appearance. In prison the famous little brush moustache has sprouted into a drooping bush, while the combat fatigues he normally wears have given way to a neat blue suit.

Lauck, a convicted racist, has been advised that he needs to be on his best behaviour. On trial at Hamburg's high court for distributing anti- Semitic literature in Germany, he faces a long jail sentence if found guilty of inciting racial hatred.

Whether he is convicted or not, Lauck's incarceration has already dealt a crippling blow to the neo-Nazi network. Only now can the extent of his talents be gauged, as the literature that fed the xenophobia of a continent dries up.

That he was at the head of the US-based organisation responsible for disseminating the bulk of Nazi propaganda in Germany is beyond dispute. But the prosecution must demonstrate that Lauck was personally responsible for ordering the export of these materials into the former Third Reich.

The defence clearly has no intention to help prove the case. "I have asked him to keep quiet," was how Lauck's lawyer, Hans Otto Sieg, summed up his strategy. So when the chief judge asked Lauck to confirm that he had been born in Milwaukee, the man dubbed in the US as the "farm-belt Fuhrer" said he could not remember.

"Are you married?" the judge inquired. "I am not actually sure," came the reply in fluent German, tinged with only a faint English accent. A motley crowd of 60 onlookers watched this dialogue in bemused silence behind bullet-proof glass.

It was while studying German and philosophy at Nebraska University that Lauck wrote his first Nazi treatise. In 1972, still at the tender age of 19, he founded the overseas branch of Hitler's National Socialist Party at his home town in Lincoln, Nebraska.

That outfit has since mushroomed into the biggest supplier of Nazi material in the world. Books such as Jewish Ritual Murder and SS Race Theory and Mate Selection Guidelines, have been smuggled back to their land of origin, nurturing the neo-Nazi movement that was to explode into anti-immigrant violence after German reunification. Propaganda materials were also translated into 10 European languages and carried by Lauck and his comrades to the fledgling democracies of Eastern Europe, as well as western destinations, such as France, Spain and Italy.

But, as the defence pointed out at yesterday's trial, he continued to transport Nazi literature to Germany even after he was caught and briefly jailed in 1976, and he evaded capture until last year, when he was seized at a rally in Denmark. A lengthy legal battle ensued before the Danish authorities agreed to his extradition in September.

The manner of his dispatch to Germany remains the prosecution's Achilles' heel. "I think that at the moment the case cannot go ahead because he was not extradited for the crimes which are now listed on the charge sheets," Mr Sieg said. Yesterday, his motion for immediate dismissal was rejected, but the defence argument will have to be examined again before the end of the trial.

Without Lauck's publishing empire, his American brethren now have to ply their trade on the Internet.