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Neo-Nazis In Germany Use Music To Attract Followers


Given its dark history, Germany prohibits, in its constitution, Nazi glorification. And forbidden speech includes neo-Nazi songs. The government is tracking more than 180 right-wing bands, an underground scene they say helps recruit young people to extremist groups.

But officials say censoring neo-Nazi music to protect young Germans is not as easy as it once was. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has the story from Berlin.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Felix Benneckenstein spent 10 years writing and performing neo-Nazi songs, but not the kind you might think.


NELSON: Like this ballad called "Desire for Freedom." Benneckenstein, whose stage name was Flex, sings all people are entitled to freedom. He says he's ready to rise up against whatever stands in his way, and has the right to start a revolution.


NELSON: His lyrics are subtle. They aren't openly racist nor do they glorify violence, as is often the case with neo-Nazi songs.


NELSON: Like this one called "Hunting Season," by the group Burning Hate. It talks about beating one's victim bloody and senseless.

Benneckenstein says there's a good reason to be more mainstream: to lure people who would never go near the hard-core stuff, much of which is banned in Germany. Benneckenstein left the neo-Nazi music scene three years ago after what he describes as an epiphany during a brief jail stint. The 27-year-old Munich resident now spends his days warning German youth about the danger of far-right music.

: (German spoken)

NELSON: He says a growing number of extremist songs sound harmless, with messages that appeal to teens.


NELSON: Some songwriters linked to the far right, like Dee Ex, use styles of music actually opposed by the neo-Nazi movement, including rap.


NELSON: Daniel Koehler, who heads research at the Institute for the Study of Radical Movements, says neo-Nazi musicians are using a growing number of music styles.

DANIEL KOEHLER: And this is just simple matter of demand, really. If you find out that this is something the kids like, then you do it.

NELSON: Koehler says given the German ban on hate speech, a lot of recording of extremist music is done abroad in Sweden, Poland and even the United States. The researcher says music is key to radicalizing German youth and getting them to join far-right movements.

KOEHLER: That is very important to understand - that music is not just a recruitment tool, but also a very important tool for financing infrastructure, networks; and to buy guns and to buy explosives, and to sustain militant groups.

NELSON: He adds one group that benefited financially from extremist music is the National Socialist Underground. Its sole surviving member is on trial in Munich in connection with the murder of 10 people, most of them ethnically Turkish. German authorities try to fight back by banning records and groups deemed dangerous.

Elke Monssen-Engberding, who heads the government agency that monitors fascist music, says there are more than 1,250 songs on the ban list.


NELSON: She says there would be more neo-Nazi songs on that list, except that so many of the lyrics these days are mainstream. That ties authorities' hands because they can't ban something that doesn't violate German law.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.