A suspected right-wing extremist German soldier has been arrested with a cache of illegal weapons, police said Monday, amid growing concerns about hidden far-right radicals in the country’s armed forces.
Police special forces in the central state of Hesse arrested the soldier during a raid in the Hochtaunus district Sunday, seizing ammunition and weapons, including firearms, knives, knuckledusters, a hand grenade and a tomahawk.
Police said an accomplice, who was not a member of the military, was also arrested during the raid, before another suspect, also non-military, turned himself in on Sunday evening. The men, aged 21, 63 and 20, have been charged with illegal weapons possession and expressing right-wing extremist sentiment, according to a police statement.
Unlike in similar recent cases, the weapons did not appear to have been taken from defence force arsenals, according to reports. Police said they could not provide further information about the case, as the investigation was ongoing.
The arrest is just the latest extremism scandal connected to the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, amid growing concern about hidden far-right sympathies in the ranks following a string of high-profile scandals in recent years.
In a recent report, the Federal Ministry of Defence reported a significant increase in suspected extremism cases in the Bundeswehr, from 743 in 2019 to 1016 in 2020. The vast majority of the suspected extremist cases – nearly 83 percent – were for far-right beliefs, with a smaller number of suspected Islamist radicals (78) and members of Germany’s conspiracy-tinged “sovereign citizen” movement, the Reichsbürgers (53).
Experts say that while the hundreds of recorded cases represented only a tiny proportion of the Bundeswehr’s 183,000 active-duty personnel, the figures were nonetheless extremely concerning because of the soldiers’ specialist military training, and access to weapons. Moreover, the number of recorded suspected cases likely represents only a fraction of the true scale of the problem.
“It’s very alarming and worrying,” Nicholas Potter, a researcher at German anti-racist group Amadeu Antonio Foundation told VICE World News.
“These are … soldiers – you don’t need a huge number of them to pose a threat to democracy.”
The problem is not a new one – there have been concerns about far-right sympathisers in the ranks of the German military for decades. One former recruit told VICE World News in 2017 that when he had served in the Bundeswehr a decade previously, some of his training officers had idealised the military’s Nazi-era forebear, the Wehrmacht, and would listen to right-wing extremist bands when working out.
But in recent years, said Potter, there appeared to be a renewed resolve among Germany’s political class to root out the problem, and a growing number of military personnel prepared to blow the whistle on extremists in their midst.
Nevertheless, they have some way to go to rid the forces of extremism, judging by a series of sensational scandals in recent years.
Last year, the Defence Ministry officially dismantled an entire company of the elite Special Commando Forces (KSK), and warned the KSK as a whole could be dissolved if the problems continued. The move followed reports that KSK soldiers attended a farewell party for a commander in 2017 where they played with pig heads, gave Nazi salutes and listened to extreme-right rock music. Last year, police raided the home of a KSK commando and uncovered a stash of explosives and ammunition.
The head of Germany’s Military Counterintelligence Service said in June last year that his organisation was aware of 30 suspected right-wing extremist cases in the KSK – a figure that was remarkably high for a force with only about 300 soldiers, Potter said. Meanwhile, in November, Defence Ministry officials revealed that 26 soldiers from one training brigade were under investigation for allegedly sharing right-wing extremist messages in a chat group.
The issue of extremism in the armed forces is set to gain even greater attention later this year, when a 32-year-old military officer goes on trial charged over a sensational plot to kill German politicians, and frame a Syrian asylum seeker for the attacks.
Prosecutors say that the officer, identified only as 1st Lt. Franco A. in line with German privacy laws, successfully created a fake identity as a Syrian refugee – an identity under which he intended to carry out an attack on prominent German politicians and spark a backlash against migrants in response.
According to the charges, he had hoarded four firearms including an assault rifle, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and more than 50 explosive devices, some stolen from army stockpiles. His trial, for planning a serious act of violence among other offences, is due to begin in May.