a back entrance of a building they are searching in connection to suspected right-wing extremists. (Photo by Martin Wichmann TV/picture alliance via Getty Images).
In the early morning hours on Tuesday, German police raided the homes of 50 alleged neo-Nazi extremists from three different groups—including 10 suspected members of the U.S.-founded Atomwaffen Division (AWD).
“Based on concrete findings by (federal prosecutors), investigations have been conducted since September 2019 against members of the Atomwaffen Division (AWD),” said a release provided to VICE News by the German federal prosecutor’s office, noting that the operation was done with the help of federal police and military counterintelligence units.
“Supporters of AWD are openly racist, antisemitic and national socialist and extremely violent,” said the release. “Their aim is to ignite a ‘race war’ from which the ‘white population’ should emerge victorious.”
Along with raiding the homes of AWD members, the operation, which called in 800 police officers from 11 German states, also targeted Combat 18, a global neo-Nazi collective, and Knockout 51, a neo-Nazi gang based in the Germany. All of the groups have been banned in the country. Over 61 properties were targeted during the raid.
Four suspects were arrested and authorities say one of them was in the Germany military.
The four men are members of Knockout 51, a “right-wing extremist martial arts group” that, under the guise of joint physical training, attracts young, nationalist-minded men, deliberately indoctrinates them with extremist ideas and trains them for street fights.” Street fighting-focused extreme-right groups are rapidly growing across the world.
Prosecutors alleged that the group attempted to set up a “so-called ‘Nazi neighborhood’ and to establish themselves there as a determining force for order” in an eastern German city. The group operated from January 2021 to February 2022, and in that time frame prosecutors alleged they assaulted multiple people. The group would also attend anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests in the hopes of getting into violent clashes with police or leftist counter protestors.
Leon R, who prosecutors alleged lead Knockout 51, disbanded the group in November to join the youth group of the National Democratic Party of Germany, a far-right political party.
AWD has been linked to five murders in the U.S. with several members serving jail sentences on terrorism related-charges after a multi-year, nationwide FBI counterterrorism probe focused on the group. It rebranded in the summer of 2020 and narrowly avoided being officially sanctioned as a terrorist organization in the U.S., but was subsequently designated by other countries. Police are also investigating members connected to a German offshoot of AWD, which was dubbed “Sonderkommando 1418.”
In 2018, pamphlets and online posts appeared in Germany advertising the founding of a chapter of AWD, which is when the group is believed to have established itself in the country. (“Atomwaffen” means atomic weapons in German and initially a nod to the Third Reich and Nazi Germany, which the group reveres.)
Combat 18 has been around since the 1990s. It arose from the British skinhead street-fighting scene into an international organization with cells across the world. Responsible for multiple murders, the group has been banned in several countries such as the U.K., Canada, and Germany. Prosecutors say they are investigating 21 members connected to the group, who they say kept the afloat after it was banned in the country in 2020.