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Heil Hipster: The Young Neo-Nazis Trying to Put a Stylish Face on Hate

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Coincidentally or not, the emergence of the nipster has taken place at the same time as the rise of a new far-right political scene in Europe: In this May's European elections, the National Front — the anti-immigrant party headed by Marine Le Pen — won the biggest voting share of parties in the French elections, and the British United Kingdom Independence Party won 27.5 percent of the vote in the U.K. Many people link these parties' success to their ability to package themselves as a friendlier, less-threatening far right. Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde has argued that these parties largely swept into power by linking the euro crisis "to their core ideological features: nativism, authoritarianism and populism." 

The current German wave of, for instance, hip, vegan neo-Nazis functions in a similar way. Rafael says they attempt to slide into debates where young people wouldn't expect them, and then sell their politics as a palatable outlet. "They use subjects like globalization and animal protection as entry points, and then offer a very simple worldview that makes complex subjects very easy to understand," says Rafael. "Of course, in the end, it's always about racism and anti-Semitism and nationalism."  The danger — in both cases — is that extreme-right positions might quietly shift into the mainstream.

Over the past two years, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, an associate professor at American University in Washington, D.C., has been conducting research with young people in Berlin schools who are on the periphery of the extreme-right. She says that, if anything, the change in neo-Nazi fashion has made it more difficult to step in when young people are being embroiled in the scene. "If you were a teacher," she says, "you used to be able to identify a skinhead in your class and you could think of ways to intervene. But now it's harder to mainstream society to understand who these young people are and to engage with them."

Miller-Idriss suggests that for a generation raised on Facebook and Twitter, it may no longer feel ridiculous to, say, love Rihanna in real life but disparage black people on Facebook. "The social media space allows young people to have different expressions of their identities in different places," she says. "This generation of youth likes the idea of having more control over their own identity. They've realized your style doesn't have to be connected to your ideology. You can dress however you want to and still be a neo-Nazi."

With this in mind, Koehler thinks there is a need in Germany for a new, broader educational campaign on how to identify members of the extreme right. "A short while ago we did a study with judges and lawyers, who thought they weren't encountering neo-Nazis because they weren't seeing any skinheads," he says, "but they have no idea anymore what a neo-Nazi looks like."

The stakes in the fight against extremism, of course, are more than just semantic. Several weeks ago, after Dortmund's local elections, a group of about 20 neo-Nazis appeared outside city hall to protest the recent banning of an extreme-right group. They yelled "Germany for the Germans" and "foreigners out" and began singing the national anthem before attacking people outside the building with pepper spray and broken bottles, injuring ten. Dortmund city councilors have been meeting under police protection ever since. 

Patrick Schroeder at annual Live H8 concert in Germany.

Back in Bavaria, Patrick Schroeder is driving around downtown Weiden with his former co-host, Martin, a clean-cut 27-year-old computer programmer. Martin is not his real name, but he's already lost his job twice because of his politics, and is worried about jeopardizing his newest position. Both men are complaining about the repression they face on the job market as neo-Nazis — since finishing his training as a salesman, Schroeder has only worked for companies tied to the scene. "We're the new Jews in Germany," he says, "except we don't wear stars." 

They pull into the parking lot of a local Ernest Hemingway-themed restaurant and walk into a room crowded with people watching a soccer game. Heads turn. Schroeder is wearing a T-shirt of an extreme-right band called Terrorsphaera ("Terrorsphere") with blood-like paint splatters. Martin, on the other hand, is dressed in gingham shirt, and looks like a character on Silicon Valley. The waitresses are all blonde and wearing "We love Germany" T-shirts, in honor of the upcoming World Cup, and as he sits down, the multiple men in the room give him dirty looks.

Although Schroeder is excited about the new wave of Internet activism, it appears that he's worried that today's young people are only interested in sitting at home and watching YouTube clips instead of going into the streets. "It's a long road from listening to music to actually doing something," he complains, while sipping a beer. And although there are no figures to back this up, others, like the Balaclava Kueche guys, suggest that such indolence represents the fickleness of the Internet generation. Some might also see that behavior as a sign of the movement's slackening appeal.

That's why Schroeder trying his best to mobilize his online following. He organizes an annual Live H8 concert, a gathering of neo-Nazi bands that he hopes will "help the mainstreaming of our music" and become "the most extreme Nazi concert" around. But he's angry that people have been trying to pressure the venue owner to cancel the concert. "In this country, if you've got the wrong opinion, everything is against you," he sighs. Such is life as a nipster these days. (This year's concert was banned from taking place by authorities at the last minute.)

Schroeder also seems aware that the concepts of Germany and Europe — and, for that matter, America — are becoming increasingly theoretical. In the background, a soccer game is playing on the bar's big screens, and it helps launch him on a tortured metaphor explaining why Asian immigrants don't qualify as Germans. "It's like if the Chinese bought 22 Brazilians and gave them Chinese passports and used them to win the World Cup," he mopes. "If everybody's the same, then what's the point?"

Then he remembers that professional soccer, which is currently on the TV at the restaurant, operates on just that concept — and that the region's most successful team, FC Bayern Munich, is partly made up of non-German players. "I still watch it," Schroeder admits, "because there's nothing else." A few moments later, a goal is scored, and the bar erupts in cheers. Schroeder smiles at the TV, then catches himself and looks away. 

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