Right-wing extremist terrorists killed a regional politician on his veranda near downtown Kassel, attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle and shot nine people with a migration background in the western city of Hanau.

That summer, the government took the drastic step of disbanding an entire military company in the special forces after explosives, a machine gun and SS paraphernalia were found on the property of a sergeant major in the East Saxon countryside. A disproportionately large number – around half – of those suspected of right-wing extremism within this unit, the KSK, came from the former East, the commandant said.

Nationalism and xenophobia are more deeply rooted in the former East, where the grueling history of World War II has never been as deeply confronted on a social level as in the former West. The AfD’s share of the vote is twice as high in the eastern states, where the number of right-wing extremist hate crimes is higher than in the western states.

Officially, there were no Nazis in old East Germany. The regime defined itself in the tradition of the communists who opposed fascism and led to a state doctrine of memory that effectively freed it from the atrocities during the war. Right-wing extremist mobs who beat up foreign workers from other socialist countries such as Cuba or Angola were classified as “rowdies” who were misled by Western propaganda.

But a strong neo-Nazi movement grew underground. In 1987, Bernd Wagner, a young police officer in East Berlin, estimated that there were 15,000 “local” violent neo-Nazis, 1,000 of whom were repeat offenders. His report was quickly locked away.

Two years later, when tens of thousands took to the streets in anti-communist protests that ultimately overthrew the regime, pro-democracy activists weren’t the only protesters.

“The skinheads marched too,” recalled Mr. Wagner.

The battle cry of these anti-communist protests – “We are the people” – later became the battle cry of the extreme right in anti-Muslim Pegida marches during the refugee crisis in 2015, the right-wing extremist unrest in Chemnitz in 2018 and again in the current anti-coronavirus protests .

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