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THE WORLD / GERMANY

Strange Ties: The Stasi and the Neo-Fascists

September 10, 2000|Martin A. Lee | Martin A. Lee is author of "The Beast Reawakens," a book about resurgent fascism

Yet, even as Remer made furtive overtures to the Soviet Union, many other Third Reich veterans believed that cooperating with the United States and the West was the best way for Germany to regain its national strength.

During the early years of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency recruited thousands of ex-Nazis to serve as espionage assets in the U.S.-led clandestine crusade against the Soviet Union. Ironically, some of these same CIA assets would later become leading figures in German neo-Nazis organizations that openly despised the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Consider the checkered career of Friedhelm Busse, formerly one of the youngest members of the Hitler Youth. In the early 1950s, he joined the Bund Deutscher Jugend, an elite, CIA-trained paramilitary organization composed largely of ex-Wehrmacht and SS personnel in West Germany. Busse's cadre was primed to go underground and engage in sabotage in the event of a Soviet invasion. But instead of focusing on foreign enemies, Busse's "stay behind" unit proceeded to draw up a death list that included future Chancellor Willy Brandt and other leading Social Democrats (then West Germany's main opposition party). The Bund's cover was blown in 1952, when the West German press learned U.S. intelligence was backing an ultra-right-wing death squad.

Undaunted, Busse went on to direct several West German neo-Nazi groups. A few months ago, this veteran neo-Nazi agitator was the featured speaker at a May Day rally in Berlin organized by the National Democratic Party, or NPD, the most radical of several far-right political parties in reunified Germany. Violence erupted after Busse, age 71, roused the crowd with anti-foreigner and anti-U.S. vitriol, drawing cheers from skinhead teenagers and other extremists. The German government is now debating whether to ban the NPD because of mounting neo-Nazi attacks, particularly targeting immigrants and refugees.

In the 10 years since German reunification, a chorus of public-policy analysts has been quick to blame the legacy of communism for the prevalence of neo-Nazi and ultranationalist sentiment in eastern Germany. The latest round of Stasi revelations will do little to discourage those intent on scapegoating the communist past for Germany's current problems. But they should also consider the hard evidence of CIA links to German neo-Nazis--such as with Busse of the NPD.

German officials should resist the temptation to play the blame game as they ponder appropriate measures to counter the rise of the far right, for it is not only an eastern problem. Nor are resurgent fascist movements merely pawns in an elaborate secret-service chess match. Rather, high unemployment, widespread disillusion with the democratic political process, a festering national identity crisis and other deep-rooted factors are fueling racist attitudes and a dangerous receptivity to right-wing extremism throughout the country. *

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