President Donald J. Trump meets informally with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Argentine President Mauricio Macri Tuesday, September 24, 2019, as he prepares to leave the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

PERSPECTIVE: Did Germany Drop the Ball on Right-Wing Extremism?

It is interesting how Germany’s reputation on the world stage has ebbed and flowed over the past century. That nation was of course the one that started not one, but two, world wars that led to the deaths of tens of millions. In the wake of the end of WWII, however, Germany has transformed into a stalwart member of the Western alliance and an economic powerhouse.

Still, we would not have had the evil of Nazism without Germany. And while that hateful ideology was ‘defeated’ in 1945 it has alas not disappeared totally. We now speak of ‘neo-Nazi’ individuals and movements not only in Germany proper but around the world.

Over the last few years we are hearing more and more about how many Germans espouse these ideas. There are reports that the German military in particular is concerned: the head of the military intelligence service confirmed in January that 550 new investigations into soldiers with extremist right-wing leanings were underway, with the elite special forces unit a ‘hotbed.’

It gets worse. The government has said that there are over 32,000 right-wing extremists in the country, over 1,000 of whom are considered to be ‘primed for violence.’ Even political parties may be infiltrated: the domestic security service BfV has begun monitoring some members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) right-wing group. Last week the government banned two clubs linked to an anti-Semitic movement that refuses to recognize the modern German state.

These figures are alarming and beg the question: how did it get this bad? After all, which nation is in a better position to detect this type of violent extremism? If was after all the official line of the state in the 1930s and 1940s. Have Germany’s law enforcement and security intelligence services been ‘asleep at the switch’?

Not necessarily.

Lest we forget, the mastermind of 9/11, Mohamed Atta, spent time in Hamburg where he created a cell that played a critical role in that horrendous attack. In addition, there have been several Islamist extremist attacks in Germany since that time: Berlin truck attack (2016), Hamburg knife attack (2017) and many smaller ones. So no, the Islamist extremism threat has not vanished.

Is it thus accurate to state, as the Justice Minister did in the wake of the Hanau shootings last month, that “far-right terror is the biggest threat to our democracy right now”? I am in no position to question the minister as he knows his nation much better than I ever will.

But it is important to remember that Germany, like virtually every other Western nation, faces violent extremist threats from multiple directions simultaneously. The services tasked with monitoring these threats, and preventing acts from succeeding, are only as good as their last failure. Foiled plots don’t get nearly as much attention as ones that lead to death and injury. Publics are unforgiving when their protectors don’t do what we ask them to do.

There is no question that neo-Nazism and other forms of far-right violent extremism are of significant concern to Germany and will continue to be so for the indefinite future. Things may actually get much worse, demanding more attention from agencies such as the BfV. But that organization and others have to juggle many tasks without letting any one fall. It is best to keep that in perspective.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. (www.borealisthreatandrisk.com) and Programme Director for the Security, Economics and Technology (SET) hub at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). He worked as a senior strategic analyst at CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) from 2001-2015, specializing in violent Islamist-inspired homegrown terrorism and radicalisation. From 1983 to 2001 he was employed as a senior multilingual analyst at Communications Security Establishment (CSE – Canada’s signals intelligence agency), specialising in the Middle East. He also served as senior special advisor in the National Security Directorate at Public Safety Canada from 2013, focusing on community outreach and training on radicalisation to violence, until his retirement from the civil service in May 2015, and as consultant for the Ontario Provincial Police’s Anti-Terrorism Section (PATS) from May to October 2015. He was the Director of Security and Intelligence at the SecDev Group from June 2018 to July 2019. Mr. Gurski has presented on violent Islamist-inspired and other forms of terrorism and radicalisation across Canada and around the world. He is the author of “The Threat from Within: Recognizing Al Qaeda-inspired Radicalization and Terrorism in the West” (Rowman and Littlefield 2015) “Western Foreign Fighters: the threat to homeland and international security” (Rowman and Littlefield 2017), The Lesser Jihads: taking the Islamist fight to the world (Rowman and Littlefield 2017), An end to the ‘war on terrorism ’ and When religion kills: how extremist justify violence through faith (Lynne Rienner 2019). He regularly blogs and podcasts (An Intelligent Look at Terrorism – available on his Web site), and tweets (@borealissaves) on terrorism. He is an associate fellow at the International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT) in the Netherlands, a digital fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies at Concordia University, a member of the board at the National Capital Branch of the CIC (Canadian International Council) and an affiliate of the Canadian network for research on Terrorism Security and Society (TSAS). Mr. Gurski is a regular commentator on terrorism and radicalisation for a wide variety of Canadian and international media. He writes at www.borealisthreatandrisk.com.

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