New figures from the security authorities: more armed right-wing extremists

Around 1,200 right-wing extremists in Germany legally own rifles or pistols, according to authorities. The number thus increased by just under 35% since 2019.

The number of known right-wing extremists with legal firearms rose significantly in 2020 Photo: Ute Grabowsky/photothek.net/imago

The number of right-wing extremists known to the authorities with gun permits has increased significantly in 2020. According to the German government in a response to a minor inquiry by the Left Party, security authorities had around 1,200 actual or suspected right-wing extremists on their radar nationwide at the end of December who legally possessed weapons – an increase of almost 35 percent compared to the end of 2019.

"The increase proves the growing threat posed by neo-Nazis and racists," said Martina Renner (Left Party), a member of the Bundestag. "As expected, the involvement of the intelligence service has not proved to be an effective measure against the arming of the right-wing scene," added the interior politician, who has herself received threats from right-wing extremists on several occasions. From the point of view of the security authorities, on the other hand, the increase can also be attributed to the recent amendment to the weapons law and to the fact that the officers are looking even more closely.

The number of so-called "Reichsburger" and self-governing citizens in possession of weapons remained unchanged year-on-year. As of December 28, 2020, 528 people from this group of people held a weapons permit, according to the response, which is available to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. "Reich citizens" do not recognize the state and German laws and refuse to pay taxes, social security contributions and fines.

Since 2016, security authorities have been working to revoke gun permits from members of the scene. Within three years, they succeeded in 790 cases. However, the proceedings often drag on for longer because those affected are defending themselves legally.

More right-wing extremists also because of wing classification

At the beginning of December, a sports marksman who worked for the German Armed Forces Procurement Office in Ulm had shot himself with a firearm. Shortly before, it had become known that the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) was investigating the man and several employees of the regional office for quality management because of possible affiliation with the so-called Reich citizens.

Last October, the Federal Ministry of the Interior had stated in an answer to a written question by Renner that the increase was probably "partly due to the increased potential of persons in the phenomenon area of right-wing extremism." In the 2019 report for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the potential number of right-wing extremists is given as 32,080.

At the beginning of 2019, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution had classified the AfD’s "wing" and the AfD’s upstart organization Junge Alternative as suspected cases in each case. Since March 2020, the "wing" founded in 2015 by Thuringia’s AfD state leader Bjorn Hocke has no longer been classified by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a suspected case, but as a secured right-wing extremist effort against the free democratic basic order. It formally disbanded last year under pressure from the AfD’s federal executive committee. Unofficially, however, the network probably continues to exist.

The "Tagesspiegel" had reported that the right-wing extremist potential had now grown to 33,300 people in 2020, 13,300 of whom were estimated to be violence-oriented.

What does the weapons law say?

There are two types of firearms legal permits: If you are a hunter and have a gun ownership card, you may buy a firearm to use for hunting. Sport shooters can also apply for a weapons possession card and may use the weapons they have purchased themselves at the shooting range and also transport them there. The weapons license entitles the holder to carry a weapon in public, for example for self-protection, because someone works as a bodyguard or accompanies transports of valuables on a professional basis.

The new weapons law has been in force for about a year. It stipulates that when applying for a permit and every three years thereafter, a check is carried out to determine whether a person has the necessary "reliability and personal suitability" – and that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution is automatically asked whether the gun owner has attracted attention as an extremist.

Conversely, it has also become easier for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution to determine whether someone who has landed on its radar has a weapons permit by making an inquiry in the National Weapons Register. However, it is not legally permissible to automatically compare all actual and suspected extremists with the weapons register.

The revocation of a weapons permit must be justified on a case-by-case basis. This is relatively simple only if someone can be proven to be a member of a banned organization or party.

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