Music has long been a key factor in spreading neo-Nazi ideology, serving both as a tool to attract (young) people and to reproduce identities of those already part of the scene/movement. Indeed, it is through music that the extreme right has voiced its ideas, including racism and xenophobia, othering of ‘internal enemies’, antisemitism as well as historical revisionism, and it has long helped to convey knowledge about what it is to be a neo-Nazi. Much more, music is not simply a site of political agitation, but a lifestyle element which addresses its audience via an affective component.
Consequently, it is no surprise that claims such as that by the lead singer of the popular German neo-Nazi band FLAK, that ‘music is the best leaflet’, have circulated at least since Ian Stuart Donaldson and his band Skrewdriver became popular in the 1980s. Back then, the West German extreme-right music scene was rather small, but since the 1990s, it has grown substantially. It is especially since the 1990s that white power music has evolved, a change particularly associated with the band Landser. Landser was ultimately forbidden in 2003/05 (it became a ‘criminal association’), but has become a collective point of reference – and its well-known singer, Michael Regener, is still active with Die Lunikoff Verschwörung. And Die Lunikoff Verschwörung is in no way alone. While there is also, for example, neo-Nazi versions of rap and black metal, neo-Nazi rock has largely dominated in Germany, including acts such as Confident of Victory, Die Lunikoff Verschwörung, FLAK, Frontalkraft, Sleipnir and Stahlgewitter. Indeed, white power rock (Rechtsrock) has helped German neo-Nazis to claim attractiveness, even vis-à-vis other extreme-right actors such as the Identitarian movement.
Yet, it is not only recordings which are relevant: concerts too have proliferated, offering opportunities to live and enjoy neo-Nazism, but also to network and to earn money. In a previous contribution to CARR, Rob May carved out the transnational dimension of white power music in particular. In this latest CARR blog, I will follow up on this, focusing on some recent developments concerning neo-Nazi concerts in Germany.
The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution counted 199 music-related events in 2015, 223 in 2016 and 259 in 2017 – though numbers are likely to be higher. And they keep rising: during the first half of 2018, 131 relevant events have been reported, attracting more than 13,000 visitors. While most of these concerts are rather small, major events with more than 1,000 people have become increasingly common. Of course, concerts which attract thousands of visitors have also happened outside Germany. For example, in Switzerland in 2016, an event saw about 5,000 neo-Nazis attending. However, it is the wave of big events, especially, in the German state of Thuringia, which has made nation-wide headlines over recent years.
In 2017, for example, Rock für Deutschland (Rock for Germany), Rock für Identität (Rock for identity) and Rock gegen Links (Rock against the left) attracted about 1,000 visitors each. Standing out is the concert series Rock gegen Überfremdung (Rock against over-foreignization) which started in 2016 (with about 500 visitors) and grew into one of the biggest neo-Nazi events in Europe for a long time with about 6,000 neo-Nazis meeting on 15. July 2017. Organised by Tommy Frenck (amongst many things, owner of a restaurant which currently offers a Schnitzelburger for € 18.88), it has, like many of these events, visitors from across Europe. The next event in the series was scheduled for August 2018 (with allegedly about 5,000 tickets already sold), but was forbidden – with organizers having to reschedule it for October 2018. In 2018, big events have so far included Schild & Schwert Festival (Shield & Sword, about 1,000 visitors; it is supposed to take place again later this year) and Tage der nationalen Bewegung (Days of the national movement, more than 2,000 visitors).
As mentioned above, these events facilitate not only the exchange of ideas and networking, but they also generate considerable income. The latter is particularly visible in the case of movement entrepreneurs such as the above mentioned Frenck and Patrick Schröder. For example, Frenck’s Rock gegen Überfremdung II reportedly resulted in a net profit of up to €200.000. This, however, has also led to criticism from within. Following Rock gegen Überfremdung II, one of the three German neo-Nazi parties currently making headlines (Der III. Weg, The III. Way), more precisely: one of its Stützpunkte (bases), issued a statement in which the gathering of ‘consumption- and scene-zombies’ is harshly condemned. The authors feel ashamed that ‘these people [i.e. the revellers] place themselves on the same level with our upright ancestors’ and, consequently, call for a separation of scene from political movement.
Others, for example those from the neo-Nazi party Die Rechte (The Right), have a more positive perception of such events and acknowledge music’s significance for the ‘pre-political space’. In the party’s review of Tage der nationalen Bewegung, Die Rechte acknowledges that ‘certainly not everyone present was primarily politically interested but maybe simply wanted to spend a nice evening with his [sic] favourite music’. Given the benefits these events carry for the extreme right and the fact that opportunities for such events arise from democracy’s very core, that is, the right to assembly (these events are registered as political rallies, featuring speeches by activists as well as bands playing their music), concerts and entire festivals are unlikely to stop being organised in the face of protests by purists. Given that civil society too faces difficulties in being mobilised in small towns like Themar, as well as the entire region, it is rather through legal means (for example to protect breeding animals and due to a lack of approval by all owners of the respective area) that events, for example in the case of the aforementioned Rock gegen Überfremdung III, can be prevented. Suggestions to restrict the right to assembly itself have been rejected.
Those who have not just listened to music but have experienced it live know of the impact this can have, and Rechtsrock events are not different. It is through such events, that those not yet part of the scene/movement can get in contact with those inside by simply buying a ticket. In fact, these occasions provide significant sites for experiencing community, covering a range of subcultural and lifestyle aspects, such as, besides music, Mixed-Martial-Arts events, vegan cuisine and tattoo conventions. Given the increased professionalization of these events and their organisers, therefore, these events are unlikely to lose steam by themselves and are therefore likely to inculcate more potential recruits into the German right-wing extremist fold in the years to come.
Dr Bernhard Forchtner is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and a Lecturer in Media and Communication at the University of Leicester. See his profile here.
© Bernhard Forchtner. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
 The latter has been organiser of, for example, the aforementioned Rock für Identität, is a prolific YouTuber and owner of the fashion label Ansgar Aryan.