Analysis of the Group
Almost since its inception in the 1960s, the NPD was widely discussed in the German and at times international media. Described by the German Intelligence service as “racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist” and staunchly opposed by the German political establishment, media reports of the party have been quick to point out its xenophobic and anti-democratic character.Michelle Martin, “German party accused of neo-Nazi traits set for EU parliament,” Reuters, May 21, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/21/us-eu-election-germany-neonazis-idUSBREA4K0DY20140521. Given the extreme views propagated by the party and against the backdrop of Germany’s World War II legacy, the NPD’s electoral success has been received by the media with shock and consternation. While the NPD’s views and actions were universally rejected by media outlets, opinion varied on the most effective way to deal with the challenge the party posed to Germany’s young democracy. Given the current collapse of approval for the NPD among its former supporters and the financial difficulties the party faces, recent media reports have concluded that the NPD has failed to modernize and is likely to become increasingly more extreme.Frank Jansen, “Verfassungsschutz: ‘NPD wird eng mit Neonazis kooperieren,’” Der Tagesspiegel, September 15, 2014, http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/rechtsextreme-nach-den-wahlen-verfassungsschutz-npd-wird-eng-mit-neonazis-kooperieren/10703248.html.
The discovery in 2011 of the neo-Nazi terrorist cell National Socialist Underground (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund or NSU), which murdered at least 10 people, mostly of Turkish origin, between 2000 and 2007, sent shockwaves through the German political system. The failure of German police and intelligence agencies to uncover the activities of the group for so long, and the scale of the group’s crimes, led to a new debate on the threat of right-wing extremism in Germany. During the investigation into the NSU’s activities, an overlap between NSU members and the NPD were uncovered. While direct links between the NSU and NPD have been hard to prove, newspapers pointed to the ideological role that the NPD had played in establishing an environment where violent right-wing extremist ideas could flourish. The left-wing TAZ argued in this context that “The NSU could only survive 14 years in the underground because they could rely on a legal operating network…” and held the NPD responsible for a “mental brutalization.”Andreas Fanizadeh, “Der Ober- und Untergrund,” taz.de, November 19, 2011, http://www.taz.de/!82179/.
Attempts by Germany’s constitutional bodies to ban the NPD have been widely discussed in the press. Some viewed the second attempt by the Federal Council to ban the party as an insufficient way to deal with the challenges that the NPD poses. The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argued that “[A] ban, which can only target the organization and not the views that are associated with it, will ultimately strengthen the forces, which view the current system as sordid and un-democratic.”Reinhard Mueller, “Stumpfe Waffe,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December 3, 2013, http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/npd-verbot-stumpfe-waffe-12693531.html. The newspaper went on to ask, “[W]here is the debate around [the issue of xenophobia]? Why does no one dare to tell the sad supporters of raciology that they are not at all nationally disposed (...)?“Reinhard Mueller, “Stumpfe Waffe,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December 3, 2013, http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/npd-verbot-stumpfe-waffe-12693531.html. The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), on the other hand, strongly supports banning the party, arguing that “the NPD (...) is anti-constitutional to its bones because it believes in an ethnically defined concept of humanity, which denies immigrants fundamental human rights.”Wolfgang Janisch, “Verfassungsfeindlich bis in die Knochen,” Sueddeutsche Zeitung, December 2, 2013, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/npd-verbotsverfahren-verfassungsfeindlich-bis-in-die-knochen-1.1833652. While the SZ does not view the NPD as a direct threat to Germany’s democracy, it argues that the party should be banned “because the lessons from the Hitler regime include a firm defence of the dignity of human beings.”Wolfgang Janisch, “Verfassungsfeindlich bis in die Knochen,” Sueddeutsche Zeitung, December 2, 2013, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/npd-verbotsverfahren-verfassungsfeindlich-bis-in-die-knochen-1.1833652.
In January 2017, the Federal Constitutional Court rejected the proposed ban on the NPD due to the party’s lack of political weight to pose an actual threat to Germany’s democratic system. However, the court noted that the NPD resembles the Nazi party and that its objectives were unconstitutional.“Germany’s top court rules against ban on far-right NDP,” Guardian, January 17, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/17/germany-s-top-court-rules-against-ban-on-far-right-ndp; Ben Knight “A guide to Germany’s farright groups,” Deutsche Welle, June 17, 2017, http://www.dw.com/en/a-guide-to-germanys-far-right-groups/a-39124629. The NPD criticized the ruling but did not alter its ideological positions and, instead, reaffirmed its nationalist stance.“Brief summary, 2017 Report on the Protection of the Constitution, Facts and Trends,” Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, accessed April 1, 2019, https://www.verfassungsschutz.de/embed/annual-report-2017-summary.pdf.
Although the NPD has not changed its ideological core values, the party has tried to rebrand and improve its image since Frank Franz assumed the chairmanship in 2014. Instead of combat boots, 88 tattoos, and t-shirts carrying Germanic deities, the NPD alongside other far-right groups have tried to appeal to younger generations by being less overtly aggressive. As chairman, Franz mixes pop culture with nationalism on social media. He is often photographed wearing trendy tailored suits and his style aesthetics serve to attract young people in the hipster scene.Elizabeth Schumacher, “The 'Nipsters': NPD and neo-Nazis change their style,” Deutsche Welle, December 8, 2015, https://www.dw.com/en/the-nipsters-npd-and-neo-nazis-change-their-style/a-18902369; Jan Karon, “Hashtags, Memes und Selfies – Wie der NPD-Chef auf Instagram um Follower buhlt,” Vice, September 25, 2015, https://www.vice.com/de/article/qbmmjp/wie-der-npd-chef-auf-instagram-nach-followern-buhlt-frank-franz-308.