Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies

By Jeremy Varon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
“Democratic Intolerance”
The Red Army Faction and the West German State

For the government of the Federal Republic, the RAF was an intolerable threat and had to be eliminated at all costs. This entailed laws that made support for terrorist organizations illegal and that prohibited speech thought to encourage violence; mobilization of great numbers of police; surveillance on a vast scale; harsh treatment of those suspected or convicted of violent acts; and restrictions on the RAF's legal defense. These measures and the fierce antiterrorist rhetoric of politicians and the media created a climate of intense suspicion of dissidents in West Germany in the 1970s. What people remember about the era is typically not only the pervasive fear of terrorist violence but also the tremendous constriction of thought and feeling caused by heightened demands for loyalty to the state, enforced, in part, by repression.

From a practical standpoint, the antiterrorist measures both succeeded and failed. Police captured the RAF's founders relatively quickly, putting an end to an initial wave of violence. Those remaining in or joining the underground had to devote a large share of their energy simply to avoiding arrest. The state's antiterrorist campaign, in short, limited the scope of the RAF's violence. Yet attempts to eliminate terrorism also helped to bring about new rounds of violence. Virtually all the major acts of left-wing violence in the mid 1970s sought the release of prisoners or revenge against judges, prosecutors, and police. Had the state's reaction been less severe, the RAF's armed struggle might neither have endured so long nor become so brutal.

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