By David Crossland in Berlin
"There's no force in society that is seriously challenging the scene," Wagner continued. "Not the domestic intelligence service, not the police, not the more than 3,000 'projects' funded by the various regional governments."
Wagner said violent neo-Nazis were growing increasingly disenchanted with the NPD's lack of success in nationwide elections. The party scored just 1.8 percent in the 2005 general election, and is usually well below 1 percent. "I have the impression the militant ones have lost faith. That's why they're becoming more uninhibited in their violence. It's a very dangerous trend," said Wagner.
Wolves in Sheep's Clothing
The NPD, which remains a legitimate political party, has in recent months looked intent on destroying itself. In addition to its financial problems, its leadership looks hopelessly divided, and Voigt is expected to be ousted at a party congress in April.
There's a bitter dispute over who is to succeed him. One contender, Andreas Molau, withdrew his candidacy after the deputy chairman, Jürgen Rieger, accused him of being "one-eighth Jew." Rieger, a lawyer, is himself is in trouble after a vintage Wehrmacht assault rifle was found in a police search of his private home last month.
The NPD has been trying to broaden its appeal by presenting a moderate public image. Its spokesmen tend to avoid the look that makes neo-Nazis identifiable on the street -- shaven heads or Hitler Youth-style haircuts, combat boots and far-right symbols on their clothing. "It may seem surprising but the strategy of pretending to be moderate actually works with many voters, even if it's a lie that conceals a brutal vision of a Fourth Reich," said Funke.
Recent comments by a former senior NPD member gave a glimpse of its true face. Hitler salutes are commonplace at closed-door meetings and members talk about sending their opponents off in "freight trains," in reference to the trains that took Jews to the concentration camps, said Uwe Luthardt, who belonged to the regional NPD leadership in the eastern city of Jena, in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE.
"The aim is the restoration of the Reich in which a new SA takes revenge on anyone who disagrees with them," Luthardt said. SA refers to Sturmabteilung, the Nazi party's para-military brown shirts.
Luthardt, who said he quit the party in disgust after just three months on its board, said the Nazi anthem was regularly sung at meetings and that the NPD often received donations from old Nazis in South America.
Ban of NPD Unlikely Anytime Soon
Few politicians doubt that the NPD warrants banning. But there's a dispute about whether to launch another bid to outlaw it after a previous attempt failed in 2003. The case was thrown out by Germany's highest court because several NPD officials called to testify turned out to be informants for the intelligence service, and their testimony was deemed invalid.
That failure gave the party a boost in subsequent elections, and conservative politicians now argue that any new attempt to outlaw the NPD must be absolutely watertight. "I don't think there'll be a new attempt to ban the NPD in the near future," said Funke.
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