Nazism is a subscription to the ideology of the Nazi party – the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche
Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), or German National Socialist Worker’s Party. Neo-Nazism is belief in the same
ideology and philosophy, but is applied to anyone who believes in Nazism post-1945. Neo-Nazism is not
fascism, not exclusively, although a Venn diagram would show overlap between what could be called fascist
and what could be called neo-Nazi (see Noung on fascism for more).
At present, there are a number of neo-Nazi groups active worldwide. It is important to make the
distinction between two separate categories of neo-Nazi groups, although again there are grey areas and
overlap between the two. The first category is that of the 'new right'; legitimate political parties
operating within the law, but the policies of which are awash with neo-Nazi ideals such as xenophobia and
authoritarianism. Examples of the new right are the British National Party (BNP), the French Front
Nationale or the Australian One Nation. The second is skinhead and white power organisations, such
as the American Aryan Nations or the British Combat 18. These organisations are usually illegal,
revelling as they do in race attacks and violence.
Clearly, the most successful period for the far right in Europe was in the 1920s and 1930s. Mussolini's Fascists came to power (albeit undemocratically) in 1921. Hitler’s NSDAP became the
largest party in the German parliament, the Reichstag, in the elections of 1933. Franco's position of power was cemented with the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939. We all
know who the Nazis were. The jackbooted thugs with matching armbands and crewcuts are revived every day
in books and on television, in history lessons and in newspaper columns. Who would, in this day and age of
multicultural liberal pluralism, want to return to dictatorial interwar Europe?
But some do: the BNP received 192,850 votes in the British General Election 2005. Pauline Hanson's One
Nation was marginalised in Australia's 2001 legislative election only after incumbent Prime Minister John
Howard ran a morally and factually dubious campaign centred on immigration and asylum. More sinister were
the 1999 Combat 18 nailbomb attacks in east London. While it is true that no party realistically wishing
to achieve any meaningful level of popular support in today’s political climate can publicly label
themselves as neo-Nazi, the far right has experienced cyclical growth and decline in support and success.
The neo-Nazi underground has always had some support, but again, support and overt power have increased or
decreased dependent on several conditions.
The politics of the far right are essentially the politics of fear and anger. Lead to the dark
side they do. Several unifying policies or beliefs link most far right organisations, legal or illegal.
The differences come in the ways in which they address them. The first is that of white or Aryan
supremacy. The second, linked point, is an extreme form of nationalism. Put together, these two tenets
can lead to, amongst other things, discriminatory policies against immigrants.
Immigration and asylum is one of the most contentious issues in modern European politics. One
reason for the controversy that regularly surrounds the issue is the tone of press reporting on it.
Government policies are often reported in a biased and irrational manner by populist sections of the media.
The upshot of this is a slanted and unrepresentative impression being given to the electorate, and can
leave many open to exploitation by the extreme right parties themselves. Extreme right parties are able to
capitalise on fears and prejudices held by many people in order to increase their own support. Media
bias adds to these prejudices by playing on the most negative aspects of asylum systems, and the
disadvantages of immigration. Public perception is therefore often out of line with reality. When what
is presented as factual news reporting is closer to propaganda, it becomes that much easier for actual
propaganda to slip under the radar. Put another way, an ill-informed
electorate is likely to make ill-informed decisions.
The far right is able to play on the fear of many in Europe that immigrants will take their jobs. This
is an example of economic insecurity. Immigration was welcomed into Germany following the Second World
War. The cheap labour these migrants provided were a key factor in the reinvigoration of the west German
economy in the immediate post-war period. A large wave of immigrant workers initially came from less
developed southern Europe (Portugal and southern Italy), then, as these areas began to prosper, so
progressively Turks and north Africans began to migrate. These were economic migrations encouraged by the
German government. At this time Germany also had the most liberal asylum regime in western Europe.
Another reason for this was because so many of the officials in government had themselves had to claim
asylum in foreign countries as they fled the Third Reich.
Despite the political will of the occupying Allies, German far right parties soon began to spring up,
especially after 1947 when restrictions on the formation of political parties were lifted. As a guard against any Nazi resurgence, the new German constitution had included a clause for banning any party found to be Nazi or neo-Nazi in
character. It was not immediately invoked, however, as these newly formed parties did not fare well in the economic climate and the
atmosphere of social integration most immigrants promoted. This situation "produced a broad legitimation
of the democratic state and also made for the rapid integration of extreme right-wing parties into the
bourgeois camp." 1 So, while immigrants were perceived to be usefully employed, lots of
Germans were in work and there were no significant problems of integration, the far right was effectively
As unemployment and economic uncertainty increased, so did support for the extreme right. Germany's
economy is currently in the doldrums – technically slipping into recession in 2003 and with lacklustre
growth rates since 2000. 2 Unemployment is running at over 10%3. This is partly a
result of the structural realignment that has affected most industrialised nations over the last thirty
years, that is, that manufacturing and manual labour industry is on the wane with new growth mainly in
the tertiary service sector. These economic changes and their sometimes unclear macroeconomic causes
have created the need for those affected to find scapegoats. The extreme right's unambiguous stance on
immigrants means that they can easily provide them.
Jean-Marie le Pen's Front Nationale has explicitly made a link between immigrant workers and French
unemployment. Jörg Haider's Freedom Party has a strong appeal for those affected by such change, its
policies encompassing a mixture of protectionism, social welfare and anti-immigration rhetoric. While
Austria's economy is relatively healthy compared to its ailing western neighbour, its location on the
periphery of the EU meant that for many years it played host to not only predominantly Muslim guest
workers, as in Germany, but also a large proportion of immigrants leaving the Communist bloc. The
Freedom Party was able to make much political capital in the early 1990s as statistics showed the
proportion of immigrants employed in the workforce had reached 9.1%. Under pressure from the growth of the
Freedom Party, the Austrian government subsequently imposed a cap on this, limiting the proportion of
foreigners to 10% of the labour force. 4
Support for the far right and neo-Nazi groups is cyclical. Racial violence has become a more pervasive
problem in Europe throughout the 1990s, and, although the majority of it is likely to be unprovoked,
unorganised thuggery, neo-Nazi groups have capitalised on broader misgivings about immigration and
employment. Profiling has shown that a typical far-right voter tends to be white, male, young (under 30)
and working class – manual or semi-skilled. Proximity to areas of high immigrant population is also a
common factor, as in the electoral success of the BNP in Burnley in 2001. This profile is almost
identical to that of a member of a neo-Nazi organisation.
Violent neo-Nazi groups have been active in every developed country. Prominent groups have been the
Aryan Nations and American Nazi Party in the US; Blood and Honour and Combat 18 in the UK; the
Wiking-Jugend in Germany. Combat 18 maintains chapters in other European countries such as Italy,
Serbia, Sweden and France. Actions of such groups can be categorised as low-level terrorism or low-level
organised crime. A mix of the two is usually accurate. This low-level classification is not to
underplay the fear and intimidation a neo-Nazi campaign can instil in a particular area; merely that such
organisations tend not to have significant capabilities on a national level.
The Aryan Nations is linked to a prison gang called the Aryan Brotherhood. This gang protects white
inmates from other race-aligned (usually Hispanic or black) prison gangs, and funds its activities through
selling marijuana and amphetamines. Aryan Nations was founded by Richard Butler in 1971, based on the
teachings of Wesley Swift, a radical preacher. The organisation maintained a compound in Idaho until a
lawsuit brought by two victims shot by an Aryan Nations member resulted in the payment of $6.3m damages and
the loss of said compound. Amongst other attacks, Aryan Nations was involved in a massacre at a Los
Angeles Jewish daycare centre in 1993, and the firebombing of an Oklahoma synagogue in 1999.
Combat 18 are probably the most prominent British neo-Nazi group. Attacks attributed to them include
the 1999 nailbombs in Brixton, Soho and Brick Lane, London. One member, William Thompson, was
convicted in Northern Ireland of storing weapons for loyalist paramilitaries, giving rise to fears of
possible collaboration between loyalist and neo-Nazi terrorists both in Northern Ireland and on the
mainland. Raids in Germany led to the arrest of German members in 2003.
The problem with the far right is one that that faces many in a liberal democracy; free speech is not
only for those that you agree with, and you do not have the right not to be offended. Skinhead thugs and
supremacist terrorists are and should be watched, arrested and locked up, but those that represent them in
the political arena are usually careful to stay within the law. (Usually being the operative word, because
BNP party leader Nick Griffin is currently facing charges of inciting racial hatred.) Understandably
sensitive on this issue, Germany has passed several laws banning various forms of neo-Nazi speech, imagery
and writings. A call by the German Foreign Minister for an EU-wide ban in the wake of an incident where
Prince Harry, son of the heir to the British throne, was photographed at a fancy dress party in an SA
uniform has not made much headway. Neo-Nazis will continue to draw their support from the disaffected and angry, and their hate will continue to appeal to those who need it to sustain them.
1 Backer, S., 2000. writing in Hainsworth (ed.) The Politics of the Extreme Right, Pinter
2 According to the CIA, real economic growth in 2003 was -0.1%. CIA – The World Factbook – Germany,
Central Intelligence Agency. http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/gm.html#Econ
4 Jandl, M. and Kraler, A, 2003. Austria: A country of immigration? Migration Policy Institute,