Across Germany, the far-right is not as recognizable as it used to be. Most neo-Nazis no longer shave their heads or dress in bomber jackets and big black boots, so they are harder to spot. They blend into the community; their leaders are eloquent and more careful not to break German laws.
This new way of blending in comes with a change in tactics. Police surveillance of public places may push activism into other areas and encourage dynamic tactics of internet-savvy agitators who take their hard-core xenophobia to the internet rather than the streets.
Police chief Lange has experienced the aggression first hand: “There have been threats against me personally. But right-wing extremism has been a problem in Dortmund for decades and people have been suffering, so I have made it my personal mission to fight it — and attacks against my person do nothing more than strengthen my resolve. But we also have to see that the success we’ve had here in Dortmund should not make us complacent, and we should not make the mistake to ignore that racism and anti-Semitism are a real danger in this country and we have to stay vigilant.”
Activist Jutta Reiter believes the real challenge of the future is not pushing back right-wing extremists — it is the right-wing populists that are gaining ground, also in Dortmund. In the 2019 European Parliament elections, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) garnered 9% of the vote. Now all eyes are on the city council elections in September to see whether Dortmund has successfully pushed back against the far-right.
“People here are susceptible to right-wing populism. They tend to oppose violence and reject the historical fascism of the Nazi era. But now we see new forms of racism and nationalism. That will be the challenge of the future to make people understand that that really is a path our society must not venture down.”