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Violent German Soccer Nazis Have United Against Radical Muslims

At a Sunday gathering of the Hooligans Against Salafists, fans overturned a riot van and 44 police officers were injured in the ensuing violence.

Photo via VICE Germany

A strange thing is happening within the Bundesliga, the German soccer league that has some of the highest average stadium attendance in the world: Far-right hooligans affiliated to various clubs are putting their differences aside to unite against Islamic fundamentalists.

Sunday saw the biggest gathering yet, when, outside Cologne Cathedral, between 2,000 and 4,000 people turned up to preach hate against Salafists attack police. What’s startling about this is that the previous gathering in Dortmund only drew 400 people. Forty-four police officers were injured, a riot van was overturned, pro-Nazi slogans were shouted, and a loaded hand gun and machetes were confiscated from the crowd. Though a counter-protest of 500 was held peacefully nearby, one policeman told Die Welt newspaper that the police were now facing an unprecedented level of political extremism within soccer hooliganism.


Currently known as Hooligans Against Salafists (or HoGeSa for short) and organized over Facebook (as of writing, at least two of their accounts have been active for a couple of days, already gathering around 2,000 likes each), these groups are indicative of the general growth of far-right extremism not just within football, but inside Germany as a whole.

HoGeSa is a frightening group because they have the power to unite old rivals against a common enemy. At the moment, this is Islamic extremism—the number of Salafist groups in Germany is small but growing, and German domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen expressed concern Saturday that such groups may be inspiring German residents to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State.

But what happens if the target of the mob's ire shifts? One slogan boasts that HoGeSa brings together “sworn enemies from various [soccer] clubs,” which by my estimation is about 17. It would constitute "a new phenomenon,” police union chairman Arnold Plickert said, “if previously warring hooligans develop a common structure."

In the context of the last few years, it seems at first a strange thing for German soccer to be associated with. The league system has been rightly and repeatedly praised for getting many things right: ticket pricing, safe standing areas within stadiums, anti-tika taka tactics (try saying that one while drunk), and Shinji Kagawa. Let us not forget, this is the soccer hipster league of choice.


Borussia Dortmund is particularly relevant here; the team is both the poster-boys of cool Bundesliga and one of its most prominent links to extremism. HoGeSa are partly organized by Dortmund fan and neo-Nazi Siegfried Borchardt, who set up hooligan coalition Borussenfront in the 1980s. Although officially banned from the Westfalenstadion stadium, the group has been active again since 2006 and is known to recruit younger fans after matches. During Dortmund’s run to the Champions League final last year, two of their right-wing fans were attacked in Donetsk after reportedly shouting “Sieg Hiel!” and pissing on a statue of Lenin.

Photo via VICE Germany

This dichotomy extends far beyond Borussia Dortmund. As a nation, Germany has been riding the crest of a PR wave for some time now. In 2013, it was voted the world's favorite country. The national team went on to win this year’s World Cup, without its best player. The country is both economically powerful and socially mobile. Twenty percent of its population was born abroad. It basically runs Europe. But internally, the past few years have seen Germany undergo a shift towards right-wing disillusion. With inequality continuing to widen, the German Economic Institute this year argued that the country had the largest wealth gap in the whole of Europe. With an open immigration policy and increased poverty comes far-right extremists: nationalists who blame their situation on people who are almost certainly in a worse position than themselves.

Unsurprisingly, tensions surrounding Islam in Germany are being fed by events abroad. A couple of weeks back, roughly 1,300 police officers were deployed in Hamburg after a peaceful Kurdish protest against the Islamic State’s attacks on the Kobani border was disrupted by Islamic State supporters. Daniel Abdin, imam of Hamburg’s Al-Nour Mosque, described the city as “Hamburgistan.” The same week, a reported 100 people fought in Celle, Lower Saxony, over similar differences.

It’s a perfectly terrible storm. Germany’s support of Kurds in northern Iraq causes tension between Kurds and certain radical Islamic groups in major German cities, and this tension is then manipulated by extreme right-wingers who cite it as evidence of the country's Islamification. Without the presence of the far-right groups, it's doubtful whether or not things would have blown up to this extent—Germany is home to at least 4 million Muslims, a quarter of whom are Kurds, and only 5,500 of whom are Salafists. But insidious far-right organizations like the National Democratic Party know how to infiltrate other causes to draw in supporters—be it soccer, anti-corporate movements, or even Christmas markets. German soccer is just another carrier of the movement, an artificial insemination designed to provide Nazi shitheads with borrowed legitimacy.

Follow David Whelan on Twitter.