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Germany’s military has a problem of far-right infiltration

On 3 July, The New York Times published a lengthy essay concerning Germany’s newly revealed far-right problem. Just as Germany had started slowly emerging from its COVID-19 lockdown in May, police commandos raided the house of a sergeant major in the country’s special forces called the Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK), described as “the country’s most highly trained and secretive military unit.”

The sergeant major, also known as his nickname ‘Little Sheep’, was suspected of being a neo-Nazi. As it turned out, Germany’s military has more than one extremist who somehow infiltrated its ranks—this is a large scale problem. How did this happen, and how is the country’s government dealing with its high ranking soldiers pursuing far-right ideologies?

For years, politicians in Germany refused to even admit the possibility that the far-right was infiltrating its security services. When extremists were caught red-handed, the key term used in most occurrences was ‘individual cases’, which allowed political figures to brush the problem aside instead of facing and dealing with it. Individual cases meant that there wasn’t any network of fascist ideology behind. Meanwhile, guns, ammunition and explosives continued to disappear from military stockpiles with no real investigations following up on these cases.

Now that these disappearances have “multiplied alarmingly” as stated by The New York Times, Germany seems to finally be waking up. The nation’s top intelligence officials and senior military commanders are confronting an issue that has become so dangerous it would be stupid to ignore it.

In May, when commandos raided Little Sheep’s house, not only did they find, buried in his garden, stolen explosives, a detonator, a fuse, an AK-47, a silencer, two knives, a crossbow and thousands of rounds of ammunition, but they also ended up discovering a hidden stash which contained Nazi memorabilia such as an SS songbook and 14 editions of a magazine for former members of the Waffen SS. Suddenly, things felt very real, and very worrying.

The problem—although it had started appearing previously—only deepened with the emergence of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) founded in 2013, which used the arrival of migrants in 2015 in Germany as a legitimation for the promotion of a far-right ideology.

Germany’s extremists appear to be concentrated in the KSK, the military unit supposed to be the most dedicated to the German state. Last week, Germany’s defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer disbanded a fighting company in the KSK which was considered to be “infested with extremists.” Little Sheep was part of it. Kramp-Karrenbauer revealed that around 48,000 rounds of ammunition and 62 kilograms (about 137 pounds) of explosives had disappeared from the KSK altogether.

In response to this new information, which can lead most of us to imagine frightening dystopian outcomes, Germany’s military counterintelligence agency is now investigating more than 600 soldiers for far-right extremism, out of 184,000 in the military. Around 20 of them are in the KSK, a high percentage in comparison to other units.

For those of you who, like me, just finished binge-watching Hunters on Amazon Prime, neo-nazism making a resurgence in Germany, especially throughout its most valuable military unit, is straight-up blood-chilling. But if you thought that wasn’t worrying enough, German authorities seem to be concerned that the problem we’re looking at now may only be the tip of the iceberg. 

After all, other security institutions have previously been infiltrated as well. “Over the past 13 months, far-right terrorists have assassinated a politician, attacked a synagogue and shot dead nine immigrants and German descendants of immigrants,” states The New York Times. Soldiers and police officers with ties to the far-right could actually be part of a much wider network, one that could become Germany’s biggest problem.

Day X, which is the term used by far-right members to describe the day when Germany’s democratic order will collapse, seems to be both a pretext for inciting hate and preparing for whatever is ‘next’. As more links between the German military forces and the far-right come out in the open, many remember the disgraced former KSK commander General Reinhard Günzel, who was dismissed after he wrote a letter in support of an anti-Semitic speech by a conservative lawmaker in 2003. Günzel went on to become a prominent ideologue of the New Right.

As Black Lives Matter protesters carry on fighting against systemic racism around the world, Germany’s problem looks like another overwhelming and deeply-rooted obstacle that will take time to overcome. The violence conducted by extremists against minorities and immigrants and the rapid political rise of the AfD appear to be just two of the many issues faced by Germany, making the country more vulnerable to far-right threats than other European countries. Is Germany’s post-war wariness already a thing of the past?

Reddit bans The Donald subreddit and other far right forums. Why?

For those of you who’ve never heard of it, Reddit is an online forum and social news platform with an impressive network of communities based on people’s interests, which are separated into different pages called ‘subreddits’. The platform is also infamous for giving freedom of speech free reign, sometimes leading to some pretty shocking statements on there.

But on Monday, Reddit kicked off a surprising day of bans against Trump and the far right. It started by banning the subreddit r/The_Donald, a pro-Trump forum, known for repeated ‘rule-breaking’. As the platform banned more and more subreddits, many wondered why it was doing so only now. Here’s why.

Although The Donald was considered as the most important ban, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman announced that it was just one of 2,000 subreddits banned by the site as it was on a mission to institute rule changes designed to make the platform less accommodating to hateful and abusive communities. As it later turned out, The Donald had been close to inactive for months and most of the other banned subreddits were small or inactive too.

Only a few others were notable, including the subreddit r/ChapoTrapHouse, which was associated with the left-wing podcast of the same name. Another subreddit called Gendercritical, which regularly promoted transphobic views was also banned.

This day of bans reminded many of the similar sequence of bans that took place in August 2018, when conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was banned from many social media platforms in only a few days.

Later in the day on Monday 29 June, the live-streaming video service Twitch announced that it had temporarily suspended Trump’s account for rebroadcasting comments about Mexican immigrants that broke its “hateful conduct and harassment policies.” Could these new bans be specifically aimed at Trump?

YouTube also followed by banning several far-right and racist creators from its video-sharing platform, including white supremacists David Duke, Richard Spencer, and Stefan Molyneux. While these actions should definitely be appreciated, it should also be noted that all three seemed to have been taken a bit too late.

These bans were all preceded by policy changes at Facebook and Twitter, which both shifted how the platforms handle rule-breaking behaviour by accounts linked to the president as well as the far right. The subreddit The Donald once played an important part in the pro-Trump internet community and its organisation. Over the years, it had managed to bring extremist content in front of big audiences.

In 2016, Huffman had limited the reach of the subreddit after it figured out how to get the site’s algorithms to promote pro-Trump content. Members were spreading the Pizzagate conspiracy theory while volunteer moderators had asked Huffman to do something in order to fight the abuse and harassment communities faced from The Donald members.

Some would agree that Reddit’s bans came too late; but then again, better late than never, no? These policy updates come three weeks after Black Lives Matter protests led many Reddit forums to ‘go dark’ in protest of the company’s lax policies around hosting (and therefore promoting) conservative and racist content. Reddit’s change of approach towards free expression on its platform proves that things might finally start to change.