Dealing with right-wing extremist infrastructure

A major part of right-wing extremist scenes is located beyond formal right-wing extremist organizations and parties. Regular bar nights, tattoo studios, band rehearsal spaces and concert venues, stores and snack bars are vital components of structures and subcultures which are right-wing extremist or oriented towards it.

As those spaces function as meeting places for right-wing extremist scenes, they contribute to the formation of social spaces in which right-wing extremist structures can be established; which has an influence on the transformation of social space, as central activists of those scenes live there, stores and bars are frequented by right-wing extremists, the behavior in elections changes, etc. A subtle change towards a dominance of a right-wing extremist lifestyle (clothing, music, speech, behavior) occurs.

The establishment of meeting points can occur spontaneously and seemingly by chance, or it can be the result of the right-wing extremists scene’s strategy of taking space. The aim of this strategy is to expand new spaces to dwell and act by an initially unobtrusive behaviour.

Contrary to temporary meeting places, which sometimes depend on the seasons, as in parks or public spaces, bars, stores, and tatoo studios present a stable basis. They are hence more important to the functioning and expansion of right-wing extremist structures. These places constitute the continuation of the right-wing extremist scene via their personal, financial, and organizational manner.

It is important in dealing with right-wing extremist infrastructure to acknowledge the importance of the municipalities, and thus the importance of political means of action on the communal level. Three steps are vital to a decided counter action.

  1. First, possibilities and means of action in dealing with right-wing extremist infrastructure have to be known.
  2. Second, it needs to be asked how these possibilities and means of action can be mobilized and effectively brought into action.
  3. Third, a (re)vitalization and occupation of communal spaces in a democratic manner has to be an essential goal.

The two most central actors are the civic society in all its forms as well as the communal politicians and administration.

Strategies of action in dealing with right-wing extremist infrastructure on the communal level

Faced with the nation-wide increasing establishment of Thor Steinar clothing stores as well as right-wing extremist infrastructure in public space, MBR has been collaborating with engaged individuals in several districts in Berlin to develop effective strategies of action for years.

The experience of MBR shows that it is on the communal level where the success or failure of right-wing extremist’s strategies of taking space is decided. A concerted collaboration of real-estate owners, civic society, and politicians and administration as well as a decided alienation of these democratic forces towards the right-wing extremist scenes proof to be important criteria for success.

Spaces of action of right-wing extremists can be diminished when real-estate owners and landlords exhaust all judicial possibilities available. The termination of a lease, the eviction, for example for fraud regarding the range of product offered, can be important steps of action. Judicial disputes however are oftentimes time-consuming, not always guarantee immediate success, and should thus not replace the political debate. Another possibility are pre-emptive means of action in leasing contracts. An area-wide agreement to bind commercial renters to refrain from selling goods associated publicly with right=wing extrmist scenes presents such a possibility.

The same holds true for renters of bars, where events with right-wing extremist, racist, or anti-Semitic content are prohibited. Thus, right-wing extremist can be prevented from holding regular bar nights. Politicians and administration should work towards establishing this as the common practice Berlin-wide.

In this process, politicians and administration can set signals and encourage citizens to take a firm stand. Politicians and administration can address letters to real-estate owners and landlords, invite to round table discussions on the topic, take patronage for celebrations and events and thus support projects of civic society in a non-buereaucratic manner.

Furthermore, with regards to protecting potential victims of violence, it is recommended to involve the police in communicating specific local issues, which can lead to practical agreements of security.

Last but not least, actors of civic society on site motivate to become engaged and raise awareness on the topic with public protest such as demonstrations, information containers, or by distributing brochures. The engagement of civic society can thus become an essential tool in the democratic occupation of public social space.

Information material such as a model leasing contract Muster-Raumnutzungsvertrag zur Anmietung privater oder öffentlich-rechtlicher Räume (German only) and specific agreements for commercial leasing or rental contracts spezielle Klauseln für Gewerbemietverträge (German only).

Further reading material (German only)

Hintergrundpapier: Rechtsextreme Erlebniswelten und Infrastruktur in Berlin. Kommunale Handlungsstrategien im Umgang mit rechtsextremen Raumgreifungsstrategien

Hintergrundpapier: Handlungs-Räume. Kommunale Handlungsstrategien im Umgang mit rechtsextremen Anmietungsversuchen öffentlich-rechtlicher Räume