Germany: Right-wing Extremism Within Law Enforcement

Germany: Right-wing Extremism Within Law Enforcement

German law enforcement recently revealed that agents within its ranks exchanged neo-Nazi and racist content on chat groups. The discovery affirms on-going concerns that the police are downplaying the dangers stemming from right-wing extremism, considered to be the greatest threat to Germany’s security.  

German law enforcement’s far-right problem 

A recent discovery in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia increases the suspicion of extreme right-wing networks within the police and army. In September 2020, authorities uncovered that almost 30 of its agents participated in WhatsApp groups, in which they shared racist photos, texts and neo-Nazi propaganda. Police investigations into far-right extremism have been consistently criticised in the last decade, as law enforcement officers’ involvement in right-wing extremism has been more frequent, and police have arguably ignored the threat from the far right. The recent rise of right-wing extremism, violence and terrorism in Germany, however, further complicates the issue and challenges the country’s national security. Authorities’ strategy, nonetheless, is unlikely to change as they continue to attach little importance to law enforcement’s involvement in far-right networks, against the backdrop of rising extreme right-wing tendencies and violence. 

German police and right-wing extremism

Suspicions about German law enforcement’s connections to right-wing extremist networks have been growing. In 2020, members of an elite German military unit were suspended as officers displayed the Hitler salute. This year also saw police officers being found to be providing right-wing extremists with the addresses of German refugees. In June, a detective was discovered to have misused his official position and aided the right-wing extremist group NordKreuz (Northern Cross), in compiling a lengthy “death list” of enemies of the far-right such as journalists, politicians and activists. After searching his apartment, law enforcement discovered 50,000 rounds of ammunition including grenades, body bags and quicklime. In August 2020 alone, German police uncovered 40 cases of right-wing extremism within its ranks. 

Also, German authorities have long been under scrutiny for downplaying the threat from the far right. Most notably, it took eleven years for the German police to discover the deadly Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU), which operated from 2000 and 2007. The right-wing terrorist organisation murdered 11 people – 9 immigrant business owners and two female police officers. Police focused on the victims’ families and were unsuccessful in discovering the real motive of the NSU, whose activity stopped only after two of its members took their own lives in 2011. Uncovering the NSU this late is considered to be one of the most significant failures of German intelligence and law enforcement agencies. 

Thus, the recent discovery of police officers’ involvement in right-wing extremist chat groups continues the trend of German law enforcement’s inability to tackle the issue. Currently, 14 of the police officers have been fired. Eleven of them are suspected to be the one who distributed the images, incited violence and spread right-wing propaganda. However, German authorities have failed to resolve the issue, as Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has rendered the cases “isolated” and declined to investigate the use of racial profiling in the German police. Racial profiling is used to determine whether police’s investigations, surveillance or control over citizens are based on their ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, language, religion or citizenship. 

Extreme right-wing violence on the rise

Neo-Nazi supporters infiltrating German law enforcement has coincided with an increase of far-right violence and terrorism in recent years. In 2019, The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), established to fight neo-Nazism after World War II, reported a rise in crimes, inspired by anti-Semitism, extreme-right wing ideologies and racism. Furthermore, there were 781 cases of bodily harm perpetrated by people who supported far-right ideologies, in comparison to 355 by far-left sympathisers in 2019 alone. This year the German intelligence services identified 32,000 right-wing extremists, 13,000 of which are considered to be prone to violence. This is a sharp contrast to 2018 numbers – when authorities discovered 24,000 supporters of the far-right. 

Recent terrorist attacks in Germany have targeted members of religious and ethnic minorities and also government officials. In June 2019, Walter Lübcke, a local Hesse politician from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union was shot in front of his home. Lübcke was killed due to his support for Germany’s refugee policies, marking the first political assassination in German history since WWII. In October of the same year, an armed neo-Nazi who became radicalised online tried to enter a local synagogue in Halle. Although he failed, he shot two passers-by outside of the synagogue. Another supporter of the extreme right, who also used the Internet to access far-right content and subsequently became radicalised in an online environment, attacked two shisha bars in Halle in early 2020. The attacker killed nine people from immigrant backgrounds.  


German police officers’ involvement in extreme right-wing networks and chat groups has challenged law enforcement and intelligence services’ authority in tackling the growing threat from the extreme right. Also, Interior Minister Seehofer’s decision not to initiate a racial profiling study, in contrast to the Council of Europe’s official suggestion, complicates the matter as it fails to recognise the on-going pattern. The issue is further deepened by German authorities’ challenges in tackling extreme right-wing radicalisation online. In the current unfiltered digital age, radical right-wing groups and radicalised individuals have weaponised the Internet to spread conspiracy theories, hatred, racism and neo-Nazi content. 

Another crucial aspect of the issue is that extreme violence and terrorism are occurring in environments where right-wing tendencies have significantly grown in the last five years. After the 2015 migrant crisis, right-wing grievances became popular and gave rise to the nationalistic far-right parties such as AfD, currently the third-largest party in the German Bundestag. 

Domestic intelligence and law enforcement problems are likely to persist, as the prospect of far-right violence and terrorism to continue to surge is high. Arrests and operations against organised extreme right-wing groups have significantly increased since the discovery of the NSU. Nevertheless, a significant security threat stems from failing to identify those who disseminate neo-Nazi propaganda, recruit and plan attacks online, especially those who have infiltrated Germany’s police and army.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Boryana Saragerova

Boryana Saragerova received a MA in Terrorism, Security & Society from King’s College London. She has previously attained a BA degree in International Relations from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. Boryana specialises in international affairs, and political instability and international security, namely terrorism and extremism, insurgencies, regional and global conflicts and has expertise in Public and Private International Law. She has worked on a diverse set of topics from the prevention of religion-motivated violence in Bangladesh, during the 64th International Student Conference in Tokyo, Japan to bilateral and multilateral relations in South-Eastern Europe during her internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria.