German journalists are calling on the government to do more to protect them from right-wing extremists, after reporters’ names have turned up on neo-Nazis' “enemy lists.”
German police raids on domestic far-right terror networks in recent years have uncovered lists containing more than 35,000 names of politicians, activists, and journalists deemed to be “enemies” of their cause. The lists have names such as “We will get you all”; some have featured the targets’ phone numbers and home addresses.
The groups named by the right-wing extremists say the authorities have failed to take the threat against them seriously enough. Many people were informed that their names were on an “enemy” list not by the police but by third parties such as antifa groups. Others complain that the police informed them but failed to provide any protection in response.
In June, a right-wing extremist assassinated a German politician who was also named on an enemy list. In response, a group of six German journalist organizations have sent an open letter to Interior Minister Horst Seehofer demanding the government do more to guarantee journalists’ safety.
“Our concern is that there are death lists out there, made by different far-right groups, that have featured the names of journalists,” said Sheila Mysorekar, chair of the New German Media Professionals group, which wrote the letter.
The recent history of far-right political violence in Germany had shown that “it’s not as if this is something harmless and nothing will come of this,” she told VICE News.
Germany has seen a rising tide of right-wing extremism since Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed about a million asylum seekers, most of them Muslims, into the country during the height of the European migrant crisis.
The backlash to that decision has fueled the rise of right-wing populist political parties like the Alternative for Germany party. It has also resulted in an explosion of far-right political violence, with extremists stabbing politicians and carrying out acts of terrorism, such as a bombing campaign in the town of Freital.
In June, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Thomas Haldenwang, said there were 12,700 German right-wing extremists prepared to use violence, “and it’s difficult to have an eye on them all.”
Sebastian Huld, spokesman for the German Federation of Journalists, told VICE News that, along with politicians and left-wing activists, journalists have emerged as a prime target for right-wing extremists, who have revived the Nazi-era term “Lügenpresse” (lying press) as a routine term of abuse against the media.
“They think there’s a conspiracy between the establishment politicians and the establishment media,” he said.
“We’re also a threat to them because we write about the truth — we write about their hidden activities and hidden goals,” Huld said, adding that journalists were sounding the alarm about the dangers of the rising far-right long before the authorities started taking notice.
Huld said German journalists face a much more dangerous working environment due to threats from far-right extremists, with some reporters routinely hiring private security to report on nationalist demonstrations. Abuse and threats — including death threats — have become a routine part of their professional existence.
Yet journalists say the response from authorities has been piecemeal and inadequate, with reporters largely kept in the dark about the potential threat against them. While in the state of Bavaria, individuals were swiftly informed that they had appeared on the enemy lists, in other parts of the country, authorities have refused to confirm whether individuals appeared on the lists, citing that the matter was still under investigation.
Interior Minister Seehofer has yet to respond to the open letter, but the federal police say that simply being named on one of the lists does not mean officers will treat the matter as a threat. To journalists, that’s unsatisfactory, given the now deadly violence being levelled at those on the lists.
“In one case, where a journalist was informed he was on a list, police advised him to ‘keep a low profile’,” said Huld.
“That’s a huge concern — keeping a low profile is exactly the opposite of what we do as journalists. We’re pretty exposed in our daily work.”
Journalists aren’t the only group to have voiced concern about the police approach to the enemy lists. Last year, German MP Martina Renner, a lawmaker for the left-wing Die Linke party, said it was “completely absurd” that only a small number of the thousands on the lists had been notified that they were potential targets. Her office told VICE News it was a sign that the authorities did not take the threat of far-right terrorism seriously enough.
Anti-racism organization the Amadeu Antonio Foundation was underwhelmed by the police’s response when it was informed that its Berlin headquarters, and a member of its board, had been identified as potential targets when police uncovered a far-right terror cell in the German military in 2017.
“The information was basically, ‘You are on that list,’ full stop,” foundation spokeswoman Sofia Vester told VICE News last year. “It wasn’t very productive and wasn’t linked to any security measures we should be taking. We were offered no additional assistance.”
Cover: Picture taken June 18, 2019 shows people attending a protest rally in Berlin, Germany, against far right violence. Slogan reads 'Stop Far Right Violence' (Christoph Soeder/dpa via AP)