When it comes to product loyalty, neo-Nazis, despite their professed anti-capitalism, have never been ones to disappoint. Boots are boots, but there was a time when a self-respecting skinhead had to have tall, leather, thick-soled black boots. For the more athletic-minded among them, New Balance shoes were a must, that large "N" on the side proving irresistible as shorthand for "Nazi."
And when it came to Nazi fall fashion, a Lonsdale T-shirt under a half-unzipped bomber jacket was all the rage -- if you arranged your jacket just so, only the letters NSDA would appear, tricking unwary observers into thinking you were a walking billboard for the NSDAP, Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party.
These days, of course, neo-Nazis are a bit more incognito, with clearly identifiable labels no longer de rigueur. One brand, though, continues to enjoy popularity among young German fascists. Thor Steinar, founded in 2002 in the eastern German town of Königs Wusterhausen, was an immediate hit in the right-wing scene due in part to its deliberate connection to Nordic mythology, an important element in Nazi ideas on racial purity.
But even that label has now become suspect. In March, the company which founded the Thor Steinar brand, Mediatex GmbH, sold the label to International Brands General Trading, a company based in Dubai -- which is a long way from the German Reich, not to mention Norway. And this week, a neo-Nazi group in the western German city of Essen is calling on its like-minded comrades to boycott the label.
"We, as national socialists, clearly reject Mediatex GmbH and their label Thor Steinar," reads a statement posted on the Web site of the neo-Nazi group "Action Group Essen." "We are of the opinion that our complex worldview cannot be printed on a T-shirt which costs €32.95 and which is produced by an Arab."
Mediatex vehemently denied that it was targeting neo-Nazis. But for Germans, the label has long been synonymous with neo-Nazis and shops selling Thor Steinar clothing remain a favorite target for anti-fascist activists.
The Essen neo-Nazi group, though, likewise blasts Thor Steinar for being overpriced. The group confusingly complains that Thor Steinar is to blame for the fact that numerous "young comrades are forced to go into debt in order to fit in to the 'right-wing lifestyle'" -- a lifestyle which apparently includes wearing the appropriate labels.
It remains unclear what effect the boycott might have on Thor Steinar's bottom line. But the right-wing scene seems recently to have been moving away from such labels anyway. Increasingly, young neo-Nazis have shown a preference for black hoodies, a lot like the left-wingers who they profess to hate.
Indeed, when it comes to group organization, the Action Group Essen seems to have taken a page out of the radical leftist handbook. Following a recent trend in Germany's far west, the group has modelled itself on anti-fascist anarchist groups. It seems that Springer boots may be passé, but if you don't have a black balaclava, you're nobody.