German Doomsday Preppers Harmless Stockpilers or Neo-Nazi Survivalists?
In Germany, a radical subset of doomsday preppers is hoarding food, amassing arsenals and getting ready to kill migrants, Muslims and leftists. The German government is only just waking up to the far-right threat lurking in the scene. By DER SPIEGEL Staff
At first glance, the Survival Group online forum seems innocuous enough. A bit weird maybe -- after all, who puts together packing lists for "go bags," backpacks with all the requisite emergency supplies in case Germany collapses?
The author of the six-page survival list recommends "4 corn pads," the self-adhesive kind. Plus, some fried potatoes and bacon as well as "48 tea bags," vacuum packed. And, just to be on the safe side, a pair of "Mil-Tec Lead Defender Gloves" and a stun gun with an integrated flashlight. Also important: five condoms, to be used "as a waterproof cover for wound dressings," and a hip flask with 120-proof alcohol -- as a "disinfectant and stimulant for dull moments."
Upon closer inspection, however, the internet forum where the strange emergency packing list can be found is far from harmless. The members of the Survival Group aren't simply bracing themselves for natural catastrophes or power outages. The scenario for which they are preparing is an end-of-days showdown, a civil war between Germans on one side and migrants and Muslims on the other. Or as members of the group put it, "the millions of asylum invaders."
"That a war is coming between Musels and natives should be clear to every last idiot by now," the forum's administrators write. Come "Day X," they continue, the "Muslim foreigners will turn Germans into kebab meat" -- unless, of course, they take precautionary measures.
The forum also has instructions for stockpiling munitions. One user advises applying for a hunting license or joining a shooting club in order to have legal access to firearms. Others recommend building homemade shotguns or submachine guns, like the man who attempted to storm a synagogue on Yom Kippur in the eastern German city of Halle in early October. And don't forget to "stockpile enough ammunition," the forum's administrators note, before providing tips for the "right caliber for a systemic collapse or civil war."
The Survival Group is no small posse. The forum has around 3,500 registered members.
So far, the German police and domestic intelligence have had trouble developing a strategy for people who are actively preparing for the end of the world. As long as the so-called "preppers" were merely stockpiling cans of ravioli in their basements and building bunkers in case of a meteorite impact, they were of little concern to the state.
Aberrant behavior in and of itself is not illegal. Even the German government recommends maintaining a cache of emergency supplies in case of a crisis. Three years ago, then-Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said people should have at home enough food for 10 days, plus candles, flashlights and 10 liters of water.
In recent years, though, groups of preppers have begun showing up on authorities' radar whose motives go far beyond the mere stockpiling of emergency supplies. In the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for instance, there is a far-right prepper network by the name of Nordkreuz that counts among its members police officers and reservists in the German army.
In mid-September, public prosecutors in the state filed charges against one of the group's members who once worked for a police SWAT team. The man was accused of illegally hoarding more than 55,000 rounds of ammunition and an Uzi submachine gun with a silencer, which he had allegedly procured from the German army. A federal investigation by the German Public Prosecutor General is also ongoing, looking into another police officer and a lawyer who are suspected of plotting to round up and murder leftists on "Day X." The accused deny any such plans. "For far too long, the authorities have dismissed groups like the preppers as harmless lunatics," says Konstantin von Notz, a Green Party politician. "They desperately need to improve their assessment capabilities."
Well-Armed Conspiracy Theorists
In order to shed some much-needed light on the prepper scene, Germany's security services have meanwhile prepared a number of confidential analyses. The reports list multiple seizures of weapons caches. One prepper, a senior citizen in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, had stockpiled vast quantities of neatly labeled food, a kilogram of gunpowder, an old submachine gun and multiple homemade weapons, some of which were found lying around his apartment, loaded.
In the southern German region of Allgäu, another prepper caught his neighbors' attention after conducting target practice in his backyard. When the police searched his apartment, they found two bags full of walkie-talkies and animal repellent sprays. The man said he was convinced Islam would "overrun" Germany.
In around 20 cases, domestic intelligence officials and police have identified preppers who they consider either self-proclaimed Reichsbürger, or Reich Citizens -- a far-right fringe group that still recognizes Germany's 1937 borders -- or neo-Nazis. One of the identified preppers is a member of the identitarian movement in the eastern German state of Saxony, who showed police his backpack full of survival supplies. People would soon see what's in store for Germany, he said.
Neo-Nazis groups are increasingly holding training sessions on "crisis preparedness." In one manual, the far-right group Der III. Weg, or The Third Path, said people "should start preparing as soon as possible," while everything was still "freely available."
Meanwhile, the authorities have not changed their assessment of the prepper subculture. The heterogenous prepper scene is not hostile to the German state per se, security officials say -- it's just a small portion that has become radicalized.
White Supremacy, 'Black Prepper'
A commission of experts in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania reportedly suggested using the portmanteau "RadiPre" to refer to the violence-prone subsection of doomsday conspiracy theorists. Other suggestions, such as "Prepper Plus," "Doomers" and "Black Prepper," were rejected.
While the authorities debate over terminology, radical preppers are amassing arsenals and organizing themselves into groups, many of which are still unknown to security officials. Their stealth can be partially attributed to the fact that they communicate via channels hosted by online providers abroad.
The Survival Group forum, for instance, is hosted by the social network VK. The Russian site has long been a meeting point for German conspiracy theorists and far-right extremists and is a trove of limitless agitation.
Many of the group's members use fake names, but some don't. These include a personnel consultant from the state of Brandenburg, a blacksmith from Germany's Swabia region, a trained metal worker from the state of Hesse and someone who claims to be a reservist in the German army.
Forum participants exchange ideas about the best way to disinfect drinking water and share book recommendations about the impending apocalypse. "Countdown to the End of the World," an easy-to-read, illustrated guide to biblical prophecies, is one favorite. A few layers deeper in the forum, users express fantasies of murder. Germans must prepare for "guerilla warfare," one administrator wrote, going so far as to advocate "ambush attacks." Another user rhapsodized about building his own flamethrower so he could "torch a horde of n******s and goat fuckers."
Who is 'Karl Martell?'
One man, who proudly showed off a precision crossbow with a rifle scope in the forum in 2018, lives in a white terraced house near the city of Darmstadt. When he's not perusing extremist forums, he's the co-owner of a company that sells tools.
The man admits to being a member of the Survival Group, but says he "has never really participated." At first he says he was just curious, but then he noticed what kind of people the forum attracted. For him, it was too radical. "I think they're all Nazis," he says.
It's not entirely clear who's behind the Survival Group. One of the forum's administrators calls himself Karl Martell, after the early Germanic military leader who defeated an Arab army in the year 732.
Another trail leads to a small town in Saxony that boasts a medieval marketplace. It's already dark on a recent Tuesday evening when DER SPIEGEL approaches an older man standing on his balcony. He seems shy, but after some hesitation he comes into the building's inner courtyard and answers some questions. The name Karl Martell doesn't mean anything to him, he says. He also denies posting anything in internet forums. But prepping? Sure, he says, he's all about that.
A blackout is imminent, he says, pointing to the surrounding houses. Soon the lights will go out everywhere, he says. A "battle of everyone against everyone" will break out. People won't even be able to boil noodles, he says. Oh, and the toilets won't flush anymore.
Then the man excuses himself, very politely.
By Maik Baumgärtner, Felix Bohr, Roman Höfner, Roman Lehberger, Timo Lehmann and Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt