Right-Extremism in Germany: Recruitment of New Members

By Braunthal, Gerard | German Politics and Society, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Right-Extremism in Germany: Recruitment of New Members


Braunthal, Gerard, German Politics and Society


Abstract

Much has been written about German right-extremist groups, regardless of whether they are neo-Nazi political parties or skinheads, but little has been published about their recruitment of new members and sympathizers. As is true of any group, the rightist movement needs constantly TO replenish its ranks in order not to shrink. Thus, they seek recruits in the high school and university student populations. In the latter, they have wooed members of conservative fraternities especially. Moreover, they have sought to win over recruits and officer trainees in the German armed forces. This article assesses their degree of success and raises the questions whether the recruitment by rightist groups differs from democratic groups and whether the rightist groups pose a threat to the existing democratic system.

Keywords

Bundeswehr; fraternities; universities; high schools; membership recruitment; right-wing extremism; youth culture

Introduction

Recently, there has been a worrying rise in xenophobic attitudes and right-wing extremism in the Federal Republic of Germany. To understand the influence that the right-wing has in the twenty-first century German polity, one must dissect its efforts to win over high school and university students, especially males, to the rightist cause. Equally important is the attempt to win over youth that are serving in the armed forces. Several questions must orient an analysis of such recruitment efforts. What methods do rightists use to inculcate their views on the sizable group of young people who are still malleable to antidemocratic propaganda? How effective have the use of new technologies, such as electronic media and CDs, been as tools of recruitment? Conversely, how successful are the forces in democratic civil society, such as youth and party groups, the police, and judges that attempt to limit such rightist propaganda? Are there significant differences between Eastern and Western Germany in terms of rightist successes at the polls and violence on the streets? Do such successes and acts of violence mean that the existence of the democratic system is endangered?

In seeking answers to these questions, one must recall that on a number of economic and social issues, the rightists feed on much of the population's dissatisfaction with the status quo. Numerous scholars point out that there is a frustration among low-income individuals with economic modernization processes that have left them behind. Such "losers" are ready to support rightist groups. For instance, Wilhelm Heitmeyer of the Bielefeld Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Conflict and Force contends that right extremism has emerged from the fulcrum of a society that produces an increasing number of broken homes, single mothers, and divorces. As a consequence of these and other factors, individuals with a bent for authoritarianism and xenophobia join rightist groups or internalize their prejudices. Some social scientists even echo Theodor W. Adorno's warning from the 1950s about the persistent residues of National Socialism still posing a threat to the democratic system. Nevertheless, many other scholars are more optimistic and view the German democratic system as stable, but subject to challenges, especially from the right. (1) This article looks at these rightist challenges to the German political system by groups of high school and university students as well as soldiers and officers in the armed forces.

High Schools

Rightist youths in Germany have seen their fellow high school students as one of the primary targets for indoctrination and membership recruitment, especially since German unification in 1990. Rightist youths have sought to win over to their cause especially the students who already had latent xenophobic and antisemitic Weltanschauungen or those who could find little support in the schools and at home. How successful were the rightist students, backed by the three major rightist parties-the Republikaner, the German People's Union (Deutsche Volksunion), and the National Democratic Party of Germany (Nationale Demokratische Partei Deutschland, NPD)--in this recruitment effort?

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