Right Wing Violence and Self Defense: Thanks, Antifa

Invoking the slogan “no violence“ in the fight against the right is a betrayal of the victims of neo-Nazis and does nothing to stop the violence they experience.

Peaceful protest: 2,000 people block a neo-Nazi demonstration in Leipzig (fall 2009) Foto: dpa

On October 25, 2010, Kamal K. was murdered across from the main train station in Leipzig. He was approached by two neo-Nazis who then shoved a knife into his stomach. Marcus E., the main perpetrator, had been released from prison just ten days earlier: he had been sentenced for three counts of rape, five counts of aggravated battery, and two counts of assault. The prosecution said that he had the word “Rassenhass“ [racial hatred] and pictures of Hitler tattooed on his body. He was sentenced to thirteen years in prison for murder.

The state’s monopoly on violence did not help Kamal K. that day. And anyone whose only response to the many appeals to violence from the AfD or other right wing groups is to say “no violence“ and talk about principles of justice fails to recognize that those principles mean nothing to Kamal K.’s murderer or that their violence toward other people is very real. Given that there are a lot of people in Germany today who ideologically advocate and perpetrate violence, “no violence“ is a naïve slogan. [AfD is an abbreviation of Alternative für Deutschland, a far right German political party that has made significant electoral advances since it was founded in 2013 by trafficking in anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric. -Tr.]

There are certainly countless other stories like Kamal K.’s. I have chosen to tell his, because it could have been mine. When Kamal K. was murdered, I was studying in Leipzig and commuted there from Berlin regularly to attend seminars. I could have been Kamal K.: a victim of a stabbing outside the main train station. When I got on the tram to go home one day and a tall, beefy man followed me repeating a racial slur over and over, I thought, “This is it.“ But he just wanted to put an NPD sticker on my window. [The Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands is a white supremacist German party that the German government's Office for the Protection of the Constitution identifies as a neo-Nazi organization. -Tr.]

At the time, the NPD held sway in the right-wing scene in the city of Leipzig and the state of Saxony. They are insignificant now, but their successor, the AfD, is even more influential than the NPD ever was. AfD politicians have advocated shooting people at the border (Beatrix von Storch, chair of the AfD caucus in the Bundestag), “hunting“ politicians (Alexander Gauland, AfD party chairman), “slaying“ Angela Merkel (Nicolaus Fest), “disposing of“ people in other countries (Alexander Gauland), putting journalists up against a wall (Holger Arppe, AfD state leader for Schleswig-Holstein), and throwing political opponents from helicopters (Thorben Schwarz). They have also expressed their desire for terror attacks (Arvid Samtleben). For several years, the AfD has propagated a rhetoric of violence that is at least as noxious as the NPD’s was.

When Violence is a Constant Possibility

At the time, I inwardly prepared myself for my death at the hands of neo-Nazis. “No violence ever“ might sound like a reasonable position to other people. To me, it does not. Kamal K. and the neo-Nazi from the tram were not the first times I braced myself for far-right violence. “No violence“ is therefore an absurd slogan: I had to deal with violence again and again. It was always there, at least as a possible fate.

I lived in the eastern part of Leipzig, where the far right organization Freie Kräfte Leipzig was making trouble. They painted a large swastika on our somewhat rundown building at an intersection. Leftists promptly painted over it with the words “Nie wieder Deutschland“ [Never again Germany, an antifascist slogan]. The neo-Nazis then escalated their threatening behavior: their next march went past our building and they planned their rally right outside. When we raised objections with the city, officials said that there was no proof that the people who applied for the demo permit were the ones who painted the swastika.

That is when the building got organized. When the neo-Nazis marched on the intersection outside, it was to the sound of loud circus music; when they tried to speak, they heard a playlist of antifascist rock bands. The Nazi organization was only able to hold its rally after the police broke into our basement and destroyed the fuses (despite our reports, the police never prosecuted for the property damage). The Nazis’ revenge came swiftly. They broke into the building one night and tried to assault a woman who lived on the ground floor. She and a friend who was visiting braced themselves against the door, saving themselves from bodily injury.

The police were unable to do anything for our safety, but the Leipzig antifa scene was something else entirely: 300 people attended a demonstration outside our building and shouted the old slogan “Alerta, alerta, antifascista“ in the neighborhood. At night, men dressed in black kept watch in the hall of our building with truncheons and I was able to sleep. We heard rumors that the leaders of the Nazi organization had been attacked and given a good thrashing, that their phones had been stolen and analyzed. I do not know if that is true, but they never visited our building again.

“No violence“ did not protect us. My neighbor on the ground floor was traumatized and moved out. I got in touch with my martial arts teacher and asked him to teach me full-contact street fighting techniques. Over the months that followed, I allowed myself to be beaten up by martial artists: once by a 6’5“, 265 lb. giant, another time by an advanced black belt in my weight class. We wore hand protection, but otherwise nothing was off limits. I had to survive for two minutes without leaving a yellow square on the mat. I never made it past thirty seconds.

First Priority: Safety!

My teacher summarized the lessons this way: when Nazis attack you, run away. When you are cornered, run away. If you have to fight, run away at the first opportunity. If none of that works, finish with your attacker within thirty seconds. A neighbor who focused on nonviolent conflict resolution agreed with him, saying, “The first priority is always to leave an unclear situation and get out of harm’s way.“

I bought pepper spray. “Trouble with right-wingers?“ the clerk asked. “Not yet,“ I answered. It was only years later that I realized I had been living in a state of exception for a long time.

The state, which watches out for its monopoly on violence, could not prevent or punish the violence against us. It abandoned my neighbor and me. “No violence“ did not mean that we did not experience any violence. It only meant that we were responsible for our own protection. The state only acted after violence was done to us.

But even when the state acts, there are the countless examples of the far right infiltrating the authorities, of the police being blind to right wing terror, or of the judiciary delaying trials and downplaying right wing violence.

What helped in Leipzig back then was violence: first, the threat of violence by antifascists who, from then on, came to eastern Leipzig more often and opened a collective store and, secondly, the actual violence that they exercised against organized right wing extremists. I took care of the remaining risk by intensively training for violent situations.

I and, presumably, the antifascists would have preferred it, if they did not have to use force and if the state, which has at least rhetorically dissociated itself from fascism since its inception, had found the means to break up neo-Nazi structures itself. Would Marcus E. have listened to someone yelling “no violence“ at the central Leipzig train station that day? Unlikely. He was already too far gone for that; the monopoly on violence and the justice system did not render him harmless.

What would have happened if an antifa hooligans had paid him a visit every day after he was released from prison? Would Kamal K. still be alive? Would it have been worthwhile to exchange his life for Marcus E.’s physical safety? And can emergency aid be preemptive?

A Party that Ideologically Justifies Violence

AfD politician Frank Magnitz has posted several images that endorse violence on Facebook. One of them depicts German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a black eye. Another shows a shapeless, flesh-colored mass on the ground: Magnitz’s caption reads, “Did Merkel fall down?“ Both images have a certain poetry. Last week, Magnitz similarly lay on the ground after being attacked. He had a similar black eye, which spread throughout the media.

Even if Magnitz is not physically violent himself, as a member of a party that endorses political violence and ideologically justifies it, he contributes to the fact that Germany has become a more dangerous place for many people over the past several years.

Just as I slept soundly because an antifascist was willing to stand guard and use violence, Magnitz and his fellow party members also have their proxies, like Marcus E., who are willing to transform threats of violence into action. And they are willing to accept the state’s penalties for that violence. “No violence“ is not a slogan that they will listen to.

(Translation by Joe Keady. The original German story is here.)

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