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German Chancellor Angela Merkel considers the NPD “anti-democratic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and therefore, also a threat to the constitution,” her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters.

But a previous attempt to outlaw the party was rebuffed by the country’s top court in 2003, and officials are treading carefully before deciding later this year whether to launch a new bid to have the party banned.

Autonomous Nationalists

Mr. Apfel’s appeal to mainstream voters runs parallel to the emergence of several new German ultranationalist fringe groups on both sides of the NPD.

One calls itself “the Immortals.” It has staged apparently spontaneous nighttime marches in small towns, protesting what it regards as an excessive influx of foreigners threatening the racial purity of the German nation.

Chilling videos showing dozens of people wearing white masks and carrying burning torches have been uploaded to YouTube.

Despite their sophisticated online presence, the Immortals play a minor role compared with the so-called Autonomous Nationalists, according to Toralf Staud, a German journalist who has written extensively about the far right.

In August, more than 900 police officers raided homes and clubhouses belonging to Autonomous Nationalist groups in western Germany. They seized computer hard drives, weapons and far-right propaganda material — including 1,000 election posters for the NPD.

A top official in Germany’s most populous state said this proves that the NPD is allied with the new far-right groups.

“This shows the close links between this right-extremist party and the neo-Nazi scene in North Rhine-Westphalia,” said Ralf Jaeger, the state’s interior minister.

Meanwhile, the “Pro Germany” movement represents a newer strand of ultranationalism capitalizing on German fears of Islamic extremism.

Some of its chapters have gained seats in local assemblies in recent years by advocating a ban on the construction of mosques.

But unlike most far-right groups, Pro Germany publicly disavows anti-Semitism.

There are no reliable estimates for the number of members these new fringe groups have. Authorities estimate that they number in the several thousands, with many more who sympathize with the cause but aren’t actively involved.

Uptick in violent extremists

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