Thugs for Hire: Extremist Security Guards Pose Growing Risk
The number of employees at German security firms with ties to neo-Nazis is on the rise, posing a risk to public safety. For the time being, background checks on applicants in the sector are woefully inadequate. But calls for tighter controls are getting louder.
As Borussia Dortmund and Schalke, two teams that are part of Germany's Bundesliga professional soccer league, survived a crucial derby in the landmark Signal Iduna Park unscathed last fall, a fan of the traditional club from the Ruhr region was less fortunate and ended up in hospital with a concussion, broken ribs and a bruised jaw.
The Schalke supporter sustained his injuries in a scuffle in the stadium toilets. Police believe his assailant was a Dortmund stadium marshal thought to have posted far-right content on the Internet.
The suspect denies the assault, and the toilets happen to be one of the few areas of the stadium without surveillance cameras. It is therefore his word against the victim's, and ultimately it will be up to a court to determine guilt.
Given that the arena in Dortmund has now been overshadowed by rumors that its security team includes far-right extremists for a number of years, reigning Bundesliga champion Borussia saw no other option after the attack on the Schalke fan but to run checks for a second time on its stadium marshals' police clearance certificates.
But the incident in Dortmund is symptomatic of a wider problem besetting Germany's security services. Uniforms, male camaraderie and the opportunity to wield power tend to exert a magical pull on neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists. Moreover, it is all too easy to get hired in a sector which is in fact a highly sensitive one. Industry authorities make hiring decisions, and Germany's domestic intelligence agencies -- the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which operates with branches at the federal and state levels and is responsible for monitoring extremist activity -- are not generally expected to run any kind of security checks.
A Fraught Situation
There is, after all, a demand for muscle. The security sector is booming, with security guards patrolling sports events, concerts, shopping malls, amusement arcades and nightclubs. These days, there are almost as many private security guards as there are police officers. According to the German Association of Private Security Services (BDSW), the sector employs some 180,000 people, while turnover in the industry has more than doubled since the mid-1990s to approximately 5 million ($6.55 million).
Best positioned to gauge how many security guards have far-right affiliations are the domestic intelligence agencies. According to one report, secret services in the eastern German state of Brandenburg observed that "people with ties to the far-right scene are increasingly likely to seek employment or set up their own companies in the security sector."
The situation is becoming fraught. The same report published by Brandenburg's intelligence services also addressed the "significant potential for conflict" generated by the presence of neo-Nazi security guards in places such as hostels for asylum seekers. Even the owners of certain security firms have gained notoriety. The city of Walsrode, for example, fined the company GAB security over 1,200 after its staff became aggressive at a football game where they were hired to keep the peace. The company's owners include former Hells Angels and brothel operators.
In Wetterau in the western state of Hessen, meanwhile, two security guards at the opening of a new museum of Celtic culture were identified as former officials with the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). Then, last December, online retailer Amazon hired security guards with the company Hensel European Security Services (H.E.S.S) who appeared at work wearing clothes made by the label Thor Steinar, a brand that is popular within the neo-Nazi scene. Patrick Hensel, the head of H.E.S.S, maintained it had never occurred to him that his business shared a name with Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, and announced he would be changing it.
In a further incident, security guards at a university campus party in Dresden in 2012 were identified as right-wing extremists. It transpired that a well-known neo-Nazi who ran the Internet portal Aryan Brotherhood had been advertising for security services -- despite the fact that Saxony is the only state in Germany where intelligence actually does generally run checks on applicants for jobs in the security industry.
"Since 2008, we have established ties to right-extremism in some 50 of over 6,000 applicants," said Frank Wend, spokesman for Saxony's Interior Ministry.
A Need for Reform
But all the trade regulations require from applicants for the security industry is information provided by the Federal Central Criminal Register. More comprehensive regulations only apply to specific jobs such as security at airports and nuclear reactors.
In the light of recent developments, a number of politicians are calling for reform. "Either trade licensing authorities need to boost their cooperation with domestic security agencies under existing legal frameworks or we need to change the law and transfer responsibility to the Interior Ministry," says Hans-Peter Uhl, spokesman for domestic policy for the convervative Christian Democrat group in the federal parliament, the Bundestag.
Michael Hartmann, the center-left Social Democrats' expert on domestic policy, also believes that a "rigorous review of security guards' integrity" is necessary given how closely they work with police at major events.
Not even the German Association of Private Security Services has any objection to tighter controls.
"Careful checks on the part of licensing authorities is the only way extremist applicants can be filtered out from the start," says BDSW's Oliver Arning.
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