Neo-Nazis are still active on Facebook — and they’re making money – National

It’s the premier martial arts group in Europe for right-wing extremists. German authorities have twice banned their signature event. However Kampf der Nibelungen, or Battle of the Nibelungs, nonetheless thrives on Fb, the place organizers preserve a number of pages, in addition to on Instagram and YouTube, which they use to unfold their ideology, attract recruits and become profitable via ticket gross sales and branded merchandise.

The Battle of the Nibelungs — a reference to a basic heroic epic a lot cherished by the Nazis — is considered one of dozens of far-right teams that proceed to leverage mainstream social media for revenue, regardless of Fb’s and different platforms’ repeated pledges to purge themselves of extremism.

All informed, there are at the least 54 Fb profiles belonging to 39 entities that the German authorities and civil society teams have flagged as extremist, in line with analysis shared with The Related Press by the Counter Extremism Undertaking, a non-profit coverage and advocacy group fashioned to fight extremism. The teams have almost 268,000 subscribers and pals on Fb alone.

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CEP additionally discovered 39 associated Instagram profiles, 16 Twitter profiles and 34 YouTube channels, which have gotten over 9.5 million views. Almost 60 per cent of the profiles had been explicitly aimed toward making a living, displaying distinguished hyperlinks to on-line outlets or photographs selling merchandise.

Click on on the massive blue “view store” button on the Erik & Sons Fb web page and you should buy a T-shirt that claims, “My favorite color is white,” for 20 euros ($23). Deutsches Warenhaus presents “Refugees not welcome” stickers for simply 2.50 euros ($3) and Aryan Brotherhood tube scarves with cranium faces for five.88 euros ($7). The Fb feed of OPOS Information promotes new music and merchandise, together with “True Aggression,” “Satisfaction & Dignity,” and “One Household” T-shirts. The model, which stands for “One Folks One Wrestle,” additionally hyperlinks to its on-line store from Twitter and Instagram.

The individuals and organizations in CEP’s dataset are a who’s who of Germany’s far-right music and fight sports activities scenes. “They’re those who construct the infrastructure the place individuals meet, become profitable, take pleasure in music and recruit,” mentioned Alexander Ritzmann, the lead researcher on the mission. “It’s most probably not the blokes I’ve highlighted who will commit violent crimes. They’re too good. They construct the narratives and foster the actions of this milieu the place violence then seems.”

CEP mentioned it centered on teams that need to overthrow liberal democratic establishments and norms comparable to freedom of the press, safety of minorities and common human dignity, and consider that the white race is underneath siege and must be preserved, with violence if mandatory. None has been banned, however virtually all have been described in German intelligence experiences as extremist, CEP mentioned.

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On Fb the teams appear innocent. They keep away from blatant violations of platform guidelines, comparable to utilizing hate speech or posting swastikas, which is usually unlawful in Germany.

By rigorously toeing the road of propriety, these key architects of Germany’s far-right use the ability of mainstream social media to advertise festivals, trend manufacturers, music labels and blended martial arts tournaments that may generate hundreds of thousands in gross sales and join like-minded thinkers from around the globe.

However merely chopping off such teams might have unintended, damaging penalties.

“We don’t need to head down a path the place we’re telling websites they need to take away individuals primarily based on who they’re however not what they do on the positioning,” mentioned David Greene, civil liberties director on the Digital Frontier Basis in San Francisco.

Giving platforms extensive latitude to sanction organizations deemed undesirable might give repressive governments leverage to get rid of their critics. “That may have actually critical human rights issues,” he mentioned. “The historical past of content material moderation has proven us that it’s virtually at all times to the drawback of marginalized and powerless individuals.”

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German authorities banned the Battle of the Nibelungs occasion in 2019, on the grounds that it was not truly about sports activities, however as a substitute was grooming fighters with fight expertise for political wrestle.

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In 2020, because the coronavirus raged, organizers deliberate to stream the occasion on-line — utilizing Instagram, amongst different locations, to advertise the webcast. A number of weeks earlier than the deliberate occasion, nonetheless, over 100 black-clad police in balaclavas broke up a gathering at a motorbike membership in Magdeburg, the place fights had been being filmed for the published, and hauled off the boxing ring, in line with native media experiences.

The Battle of the Nibelungs is a “central level of contact” for right-wing extremists, in line with German authorities intelligence experiences. The group has been specific about its political objectives — specifically to struggle towards the “rotting” liberal democratic order — and has drawn adherents from throughout Europe in addition to the US.

Members of a California white supremacist road preventing membership referred to as the Rise Above Motion, and its founder, Robert Rundo, have attended the Nibelungs event. In 2018 at the least 4 Rise Above members had been arrested on rioting expenses for taking their fight coaching to the streets on the Unite the Proper rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Numerous Battle of Nibelungs alums have landed in jail, together with for manslaughter, assault and assaults on migrants.

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Nationwide Socialism Immediately, which describes itself as a “journal by nationalists for nationalists” has praised Battle of the Nibelungs and different teams for fostering a will to struggle and motivating “activists to enhance their readiness for fight.”

However there aren’t any references to professionalized, anti-government violence on the group’s social media feeds. As an alternative, it’s positioned as a health-conscious way of life model, which sells branded tea mugs and shoulder luggage.

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“Exploring nature. Having fun with residence!” gushes one Fb publish above a photograph of a musclebound man on a mountaintop sporting Resistend-branded sportswear, one of many Nibelung event’s sponsors. All the lads within the photographs are pumped and white, and they’re portrayed having fun with healthful actions comparable to lengthy runs and alpine treks.

Elsewhere on Fb, Thorsten Heise — who has been convicted of incitement to hatred and referred to as “one of the distinguished German neo-Nazis” by the Workplace for the Safety of the Structure within the German state of Thuringia — additionally maintains a number of pages.

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Frank Kraemer, who the German authorities has described as a “right-wing extremist musician,” makes use of his Fb web page to direct individuals to his weblog and his Sonnenkreuz on-line retailer, which sells white nationalist and coronavirus conspiracy books in addition to sports activities vitamin merchandise and “vaccine insurgent” T-shirts for ladies.

Battle of the Nibelungs declined to remark. Resistend, Heise and Kraemer didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Fb informed AP it employs 350 individuals whose main job is to counter terrorism and arranged hate, and that it’s investigating the pages and accounts flagged on this reporting.

“We ban organizations and people that proclaim a violent mission, or are engaged in violence,” mentioned an organization spokesperson, who added that Fb had banned greater than 250 white supremacist organizations, together with teams and people in Germany. The spokesperson mentioned the corporate had eliminated over 6 million items of content material tied to organized hate globally between April and June and is working to maneuver even quicker.

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Google mentioned it has no real interest in giving visibility to hateful content material on YouTube and was wanting into the accounts recognized on this reporting. The corporate mentioned it labored with dozens of consultants to replace its insurance policies on supremacist content material in 2019, leading to a five-fold spike within the variety of channels and movies eliminated.

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Twitter says it’s dedicated to making sure that public dialog is “protected and wholesome” on its platform and that it doesn’t tolerate violent extremist teams. “Threatening or selling violent extremism is towards our guidelines,” a spokesperson informed AP, however didn’t touch upon the particular accounts flagged on this reporting.

Robert Claus, who wrote a e book on the intense proper martial arts scene, mentioned that the sports activities manufacturers in CEP’s knowledge set are “all rooted within the militant far-right neo-Nazi scene in Germany and Europe.” One of many founders of the Battle of the Nibelungs, for instance, is a part of the violent Hammerskin community and one other early supporter, the Russian neo-Nazi Denis Kapustin, often known as Denis Nikitin, has been barred from coming into the European Union for ten years, he mentioned.

Banning such teams from Fb and different main platforms would probably restrict their entry to new audiences, however it might additionally drive them deeper underground, making it tougher to watch their actions, he mentioned.

“It’s harmful as a result of they’ll recruit individuals,” he mentioned. “Prohibiting these accounts would interrupt their contact with their viewers, however the important thing figures and their ideology gained’t be gone.”

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Thorsten Hindrichs, an professional in Germany’s far-right music scene who teaches on the Johannes Gutenberg College of Mainz, mentioned there’s a hazard that the apparently innocent look of Germany’s right-wing music heavyweights on Fb and Twitter, which they largely use to advertise their manufacturers, might assist normalize the picture of extremists.

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Excessive proper concert events in Germany had been drawing round 2 million euros ($2.3 million) a 12 months in income earlier than the coronavirus pandemic, he estimated, not counting gross sales of CDs and branded merchandise. He mentioned kicking extremist music teams off Fb is unlikely to hit gross sales too exhausting, as there are different platforms they’ll flip to, like Telegram and Gab, to achieve their followers. “Proper-wing extremists aren’t silly. They’ll at all times discover methods to advertise their stuff,” he mentioned.

None of those teams’ exercise on mainstream platforms is clearly unlawful, although it could violate Fb pointers that bar “harmful people and organizations” that advocate or interact in violence on-line or offline. Fb says it doesn’t permit reward or help of Nazism, white supremacy, white nationalism or white separatism and bars individuals and teams that adhere to such “hate ideologies.”

Final week, Fb eliminated virtually 150 accounts and pages linked to the German anti-lockdown Querdenken motion, underneath a brand new “social hurt” coverage, which targets teams that unfold misinformation or incite violence however didn’t match into the platform’s current classes of dangerous actors.

However how these evolving guidelines shall be utilized stays murky and contested.

“For those who do one thing unsuitable on the platform, it’s simpler for a platform to justify an account suspension than to simply throw somebody out due to their ideology. That may be tougher with respect to human rights,” mentioned?Daniel Holznagel, a Berlin choose who used to work for the German federal authorities on hate speech points and likewise contributed to CEP’s report.“It’s a basis of our Western society and human rights that our authorized regimes don’t sanction an concept, an ideology, a thought.”

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Within the meantime, there’s information from the parents on the Battle of the Nibelungs. “Beginning in the present day you may as well gown your smallest ones with us,” reads a June publish on their Fb feed. The brand new line of children put on features a shell-pink T-shirt for ladies, priced at 13.90 euros ($16). A toddler pictured sporting the boy model, in black, already has boxing gloves on.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is a part of a collaboration between The Related Press and the PBS sequence FRONTLINE that examines challenges to the concepts and establishments of conventional U.S. and European democracy.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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