Germany bans neo-Nazi group Hammerskins

BBC News/September 19, 2023

By Michael Ertl

Germany has outlawed Hammerskins, a neo-Nazi group known for its role in organising far-right concerts and selling racist music.

The move set "a clear signal against racism and antisemitism", Germany's interior minister said.

The authorities raided the residences of 28 leading members of the group across the country.

Hammerskins, founded in the US in the late 1980s, is thought to have about 130 members in Germany.

The German authorities described the ban as "a hard blow against organised right-wing extremism" and said it was putting an end to "the inhumane actions of an internationally active neo-Nazi association".

"Right-wing extremism remains the biggest extremist threat to our democracy. That's why we continue to act very decisively," said German interior minister Nancy Faeser.

A key goal of the skinhead group was to use concerts to spread its far-right ideology, she said.

Hammerskins was heavily involved in setting up neo-Nazi music labels, selling antisemitic records and organising clandestine music events.

The group has, for example, been linked to a venue called Hate Bar in the western German state of Saarland, where police made arrests for the showcasing of banned symbols during far-right concerts as recently as April this year.

The German authorities said they had been working closely with their counterparts in the United States ahead of the ban.

Hammerskins was founded in Texas in 1988 and spread across the US and several other countries. It has a top-down structure, with the so-called Hammerskin Nation as the global umbrella of its national offshoots.

According to the German authorities, Hammerskins has been active in the country since the early 1990s and was one of the most influential far-right organisations in Europe.

It was divided into 13 regional chapters that in some cases used names referring back to Nazi Germany. The chapters operated across the country in a structure similar to biker gangs.

In another similarity to bikers, they reportedly required new members to complete several initiation steps through its supporting group Crew 38, which has also been banned.

The police raids targeted leaders of the chapters in 10 German states, aiming to seize assets belonging to the group. Several members of the group had licences to carry weapons, German media reported.

Members refer to each other as "brothers" and see themselves as the "elite of the right-wing extremist skinhead scene".

The German domestic intelligence agency previously said the group had also set up Germany's biggest far-right martial arts event, called Fight of the Nibelungs, which has been banned since 2019.

But Hammerskins continued to organise concerts that featured a range of neo-Nazi bands.

The ban is the 20th time a right-wing extremist association has been outlawed in Germany, the interior ministry said.

Hammerskins was the last major right-wing skinhead organisation in Germany after another group, Blood and Honour, had been outlawed in 2000.

Blood and Honour had close contacts to members of a neo-Nazi group that carried out 10 racially motivated murders in Germany.

In 2020, the country banned Combat 18, another neo-Nazi group involved in far-right concerts.

Germany's domestic intelligence agency estimates there are 38,800 people in the country's right-wing extremist scene, with more than a third of them considered "potentially violent".

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