This article originally appeared on VICE US.
An elite German police commando unit was a hotbed of far-right ideology in which 8 of its 12 members were linked to a doomsday “prepper” network, according to a report.
The report, written by a three-member independent commission appointed by the state government of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, was the result of a four-month investigation into a police special task force unit.
The investigation was launched after raids of a former commando’s home found a submachine gun, more than 55,000 rounds of ammunition, and several explosives. The former commando, known due to German privacy laws as Marko G., went on trial last week. He is charged with illegally hoarding and stealing weapons from the German military, offenses that carry a prison sentence of up to five years.
Prosecutors allege that Marko G. was a key figure in a 30-person network of far-right “preppers” — extremists who are preparing for the imminent collapse of society. They claim he created a chat group named Nordkreuz on the encrypted messaging app Telegram ("Northern Cross") that was used by members of the group, most of whom had links to the police or military.
Three more commandos from the unit are alleged to have stolen police-issue ammunition for the network, while eight members of the unit are alleged to have made xenophobic and right-wing extremist comments in online chats.
Authorities say the investigations into the network are ongoing, but the details that have emerged so far have caused alarm in Germany. The country is grappling with a growing and increasingly violent far-right fringe in the wake of a large influx of refugees in 2015.
Concerns have grown in recent years in Germany over the potential radicalization of members of the police and military, whose access to weapons and tactical training makes them a more pressing security concern as the country grapples with a surge in far-right sentiment. In September, a confidential report by the European Union’s police agency, Europol, warned that far-right groups across the bloc were increasingly recruiting from the army and police in a bid to boost their access to weapons and capacity for violence.
In June, German newspapers, citing intelligence sources, reported that Nordkreuz had used data from police computers to draw up a hit list of 25,000 political opponents to target, including their addresses, and had ordered 200 body bags and quicklime in preparation for the violent collapse of society.
The Nordkreuz network was initially detected during an investigation in a German military lieutenant known as Franco A., who is accused of plotting a "false flag" terrorist attack that he'd carry out under a fake identity, that of a Syrian refugee. The prosecution against him was dismissed for lack of evidence earlier this year, but that decision was overturned last week, meaning the case will continue to trial.
Presenting their report Tuesday, the authors noted their concerns about the way the police had responded to the growing subculture of right-wing extremism in the unit. One of the authors, Manfred Murck, the former head of the state’s domestic intelligence agency, said that colleagues had noticed extremist sentiments in some unit members as early as 2009, but that they had done nothing to act on their observations.
Peter Ritter, spokesman for the Left party in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s state parliament, told VICE News that he was also concerned by the revelations that Marko G. had apparently held far-right views before he joined the unit. “That doesn’t shine a good light on their hiring practices,” he said.
Cover: Robert Kain (l-r), defense attorney, the defendant, a former member of the Special Operations Command (SEK), and Ullrich Knye, defense attorney, are waiting in the courtroom for the trial to begin. Photo by: Bernd W'stneck/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images