16. Januar 2019


Young right-wing radicals in criminal proceedings Possibilities and limitations of de-radicalization

Right-wing radicalism is a matter of great concern to the constitutional state and welfare state. It is a challenge to democratic culture and human rights. It poses an omnipresent and structural danger to groups and individuals. The question is how the constitutional state meets this challenge and ensures a low level of ideological crime while safeguarding civil liberties.

In Germany, criminal acts with a background of right-wing extremist ideology and affiliation are a significant dimension of security policy. Current trends in migration have led to a significant increase in the number, density and public danger of right-wing extremist crimes. Attacks with a terrorist methodology on people and property have become very common. By contrast, bombings since 1990 are still rare, unlike arson and assaults on persons. In addition to their criminal manifestation, right-wing extremists and their organizations also have a legal presence in public, right up to the parliamentary level. They correspond with other nationalist-ethnic concepts and sentiments. Within the framework of its constitutional mandate, the judiciary endeavours to disallow and penalize illegal, right-wing extremist acts. It has been assigned to prevent radicalization processes and curb conditions favouring them in cooperation with civil society.

Legal intervention by the government is advisable already in the early stages of right-wing radicalization, in order to stop the radicalization of persons, groups and movements, prevent (politically) criminal careers and restrain aggressive groups. Especially children, juveniles and young adults should be at the focus, due to the more effective possibilities of exerting a de-radicalizing influence here. This allows appropriate sanctions generally to have a greater impact. Low levels of radicalization can be addressed more effectively. Within the framework of legal possibilities, they should be addressed by means of non-custodial instruments designed also to de-radicalize. Criminal sanctions should be imposed swiftly and consistently by the courts. Of relevance is not just the severity, but also the expected effect on the perpetrators and the right- wing extremist scene to which they belong. Of importance is de- radicalizing accompaniment of the sanctions, an area which, though still scarcely developed in Germany, was introduced experimentally to practice already about 15 years ago. Potentially useful for this purpose are low-threshold sanctions such as obligations and directives not associated with deprivation of freedom. Such deprivation should be reserved for radical right-wing criminals whose guilt is considerable and who need to perceive a sustainability in society’s response.

In the case of radical right-wing offences, criminal law has the duty to align its social potential to as to generally prevent crime and avoid recidivism. Of relevance here are not only the offences referred to in Germany as ‚crimes against national security‘. Included are all offences based on right-wing extremist ideology, or pursuing this intention, or incidental to it, e.g. drug-related crime. Identifying such offences is not always easy in practice, because the different contexts cannot always be fully clarified. However, knowledgeable and experienced police officers, prosecutors and judges can by all means obtain conclusions on right-wing extremist relationships, establish appropriate investigative hypotheses and follow links. Of assistance here are criteria from German crime statistics which contain a number of reference points for the right-wing extremist nature of offences and the intentions of the perpetrators.

Because radical right-wing crimes exhibit different characteristics of social malignance, criminal jurisdiction must provide for different penalties. To achieve an effect, it is necessary to impose individualized sanctions, as well as conceive and implement educational measures. To be emphasized in the case of young right-wing extremists is the concept of ‚education‘ instead of ‚retribution‘, without excluding rigour or due strictness. All measures must be geared to reduce ideological and personal ties to groups and networks, and to avoid radicalizing such ties through indiscretion and disproportion.

It is especially important to establish learning paths to democratic and humanitarian values. This spectrum includes the obligations and directives of German criminal law. Presented in the following as regards the effectiveness of these legal instruments are experiences obtained during criminal jurisdiction, and evaluated by dropouts from the radical right-wing scene in terms of the effects on their own person as well as others. For this purpose, 201 public officials holding various functions in criminal proceedings were interviewed, and accrued experiences concerning the effect of the instruments as well as criteria for their application were registered nationwide. At the same time, pertinent items of usability were filtered out of 503 dropout cases from the EXIT-Germany initiative, and intensive evaluations, including a group conversation, carried out with 10 dropouts. Their experiences were evaluated from the perspective of the effectiveness of criminal sanctions, due to their more extensive overview resulting from their former functions in the context of right-wing extremism. Autobiographies by former German right-wing radicals were evaluated.

This work is not an elaborate criminological study, but a pilot research offering an introduction to the matter. The available results were used to summarize experiences and submit proposals on how to deal with criminal offences with a view to de-radicalizing effects on radical right- wing perpetrators, which problems arise in this process, and which circumstances and opportunities might be relevant. To be provided are suggestions which can help to increase the quality and effectiveness of sanctions in the practices of government institutions and non- governmental agencies. The research was initiated in 2013 by the Federal Ministry of Justice (BMJ), and extended and sponsored further in 2015 by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ).

To be highlighted is the interest of the BMSFSJ in a complex, social response to right-wing extremist tendencies and radical right-wing violence. As part of their responsibility with respect to history and the future, the democratic state and civil society see common objectives for a democratic culture which opposes all liberticidal ideologies and movements.

Besides factors related to the impact of obligations and directives, this volume discusses various criminological aspects of right-wing extremism and its intentionally liberticidal, criminal nature. Criminal sanctions are discussed from the standpoint of their de-radicalizing requirements, and proposals presented with regard to how law enforcement agencies can operate and emphasize specific aspects.

I would like to thank the team at the Centre for Democratic Culture with their EXIT-Germany initiative, as well as the two honorary researchers Anne Leiser and Kristine Tonn. Thanks also to the former right-wing extremists, all from Nazi organizations, who publicly confessed having pursued an incorrect philosophy and committed culpable crimes in the name of an ideological mission. Their insights and experiences have played a decisive role in this work. Many of them are engaged today publicly or clandestinely in AKTIONSKREIS, an action group of former extremists at EXIT-Germany against racism, right-wing extremism and national chauvinism.

Bernd Wagner (2015): Right-wing radicalism – Young right-wing radicals in criminal proceedings – Possebilities and limitations of de-radicalisation. Berlin. edition widerschein

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