German far-right groups skirt neo-Nazi ban

Nationalist fervor, discontent fueling politics of hate

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VIERECK, Germany — At a rally of Germany’s biggest far-right party, skinheads raise fists to nationalist chants and wear T-shirts that skirt the limits of German law: “Enforce National Socialism” reads one; another proclaims the wearer to be “100 percent un-kosher.”

Some cover illegal neo-Nazi tattoos with masking tape because police are on the prowl.

But the party’s leader insists he is taking his National Democratic Party (NPD) mainstream. “My aim is to make the NPD a party firmly based in the present and looking toward the future,” Holger Apfel said in an interview at the rally.

Breaking a far-right taboo, he told the Associated Press that Nazi Germany’s record during World War II included “crimes.”

Mr. Apfel has tactical reasons for toning down his message: Authorities are considering a ban on the party.

Yet the attempt to appeal to the center has prompted anger in the country’s small but entrenched ultra-right movement, where many refuse to acknowledge that Germany under Nazism — or National Socialism — was responsible for the slaughter of 6 million Jews. Some NPD members have left; others threaten to do so.

Despite talk of change, it doesn’t take long for Mr. Apfel to show his own flashes of hard-core xenophobia, which extend to seeing a threat to the “biological basis” of the German people.

“We have to ensure that Germany again becomes the country of the Germans,” he said. “We see the growing danger that the biological basis of our people will wither away because there’s an increasing mixing.”

He frowned when asked his feelings about the success of Marcel Nguyen, a half-Vietnamese gymnast who won two silver medals for Germany at the 2012 Olympics.

“I can freely say it’s not something that causes me euphoria,” Mr. Apfel said, before hastily adding: “But you won’t see us calling for the deportation of half-breed children.”

‘Threat to the constitution’

Signs ordered reporters at the NPD’s summer festival in Viereck not to take pictures of stalls selling extremist books, CDs and pamphlets. A large poster at the entrance to the booths compared the rising number of foreigners in Germany with the shrinking number of ethnic Germans.

The government’s decision to weigh an NPD ban follows the revelation in November that a small neo-Nazi cell carried out a seven-year killing spree that left nine immigrants and a policewoman dead.

Authorities haven’t been able to prove that the cell operated with direct support from the NPD.

But key party officials have been linked to the group’s three core members, who managed to evade police for more than a decade despite being on the run for other crimes.

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