Football Violence: Neo-Nazis and Hooligans Find Common Ground

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A Dortmund fan gives a Hitler salute at a game against Stuttgart Zoom
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A Dortmund fan gives a Hitler salute at a game against Stuttgart

Part 2: Trouble in the Stands

For many ultra groups, Aachen is an example of who ultimately holds the actual power in the stands -- those who are physically the strongest. The members of Eintracht Braunschweig's ultras, Ultras Braunschweig 01, are currently experiencing something similar. For weeks, they have been intimidated by their own hooligans. During the game against Borussia Mönchengladbach, there was a brawl in one stand occupied by home fans. As the stewards escorted the ultras out, the club's hooligans sang racist and homophobic songs. A few days after the incident, Eintracht punished the ultras, which shows just how powerless football clubs are against right-wing violence. In recent times, there have also been attacks by right-wing fans on left-wing ultras in Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich and Rostock.

On the outskirts of the Ruhr region, in a small café right next to a lake, a member of the security services, who prefers to remain anonymous, lays out group pictures of the GnuHonnters. Old and young people pose together, some giving the Hitler salute. The investigator moves his finger over their heads, saying their names in turn. According to him, they are right-wing extremists from Berlin, Braunschweig, Cottbus, Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Essen, Frankfurt and Munich. There are cadres from the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD), too. The agent explains how you can estimate the size of the GnuHonnters. The group appears to contain up to 300 people if you look at a photo from the last meeting.

But little can be done at the moment to combat them. The authorities need to first agree on responsibilities because the network is constantly active in different German states. In addition, the group rarely actually breaks the law -- the Nazi symbols of individual members, which are illegal in Germany, would not be enough to justify suppressing the whole organization. The investigator believes that the group will grow even larger in the coming weeks.

'Football Must Meet Its Immense Social Responsibility'

Gerd Dembowski, sociologist and fan researcher, also believes that right-wing hooligans will grow stronger. For many fans, the idea of ultras is "simply too trendy," especially for younger fans, who are increasingly turning to hooliganism.

"The hooligans are also experience-driven like ultras, but with a clearer structure," says Dembowski, who advises Bundesliga clubs in their anti-discrimination work. But he criticizes clubs for putting too much emphasis on slogans. "Eighty percent of anti-discrimination work is symbolic politics with posters and flyers," he says. "The clubs must teach their employees, appoint integration commissioners, strengthen fan projects. Football now has an immense social responsibility, which it must meet."

A few minutes before the Bundesliga game between Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart, a booklet is distributed by volunteers. The match, being played on a Friday evening under floodlights, is a big stage for Dortmund on which to confront the problem of right-wing extremism among the hooligans and ultras who follow the club. In the leaflet, there are neo-Nazi codes and how to decode them. In this way, fans can be more aware of far-right activities in the stadium.

Shortly before kickoff, a member of the far-right Dortmund hooligan group Northside climbs the fencing surrounding the immense Südtribune, one of the largest football stands in the world. He rips his T-shirt, exposing his toned body. Then, with his right arm, he gives a Hitler salute. The singers within the ultra group called "The Unity" can only look on from their spot in the stand.

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