12 February 2020

The right-wing extremism becomes a problem in the German Bundeswehr

Negoiţă Sorin

For quite some time, the German army experiences a huge scandal, due to the emergence of manifestations associated to right-wing extremism, both among military men and civilian employees. The phenomenon, widespread in almost the entire German federal Army, has also affected the elite units within the Special Forces. The intensification of right extremism cases within Bundeswehr is shocking both the political class and the German public opinion.

Image source: Mediafax

The Federal Defence Ministry structure responsible with the identification of right-wing extremism manifestations

The main responsibility in the identification, localization and tracking of individuals developing extremism attitudes within Bundeswehr, but also in the prevention and cancellation of their enlargement is handed to the Military Counterintelligence Service (der Militärischer Abschirmdienst – MAD). MAD has a central office (Bundesamt für MAD – BAMAD), located in Koln, which is led by the Federal Defence Ministry and coordinated eight territorial structures in the entire Germany. These structures that have regional responsibilities are the main connection element of this service with the units and groups coordinated by Bunderswehr. The service is coordinated by a civilian president and two vice-presidents, a military one (that is directly coordinating the territorial military structures) and a civilian one. Closely cooperating with the structures responsible with the record of human resources within the Bundeswehr units and group, MAD is, among others, limiting the activity of disturbing elements within the armed forces and, if necessary, stopping their work reports with the military structure.

MAD activity is being developed based on MAD Law, which agrees with the Law on the federal constitutional protection[1] and the Law on security checks[2], which defined the legal „limits” that a person can be considered or not as extremist. If there are real clues regarding the Bundeswehr employees, MAD collects the necessary information, processes them and establishes how can their action go against the liberal-democratic order, if they are targeting people, jobs or institutions within the Federal Ministry of Defence.

It is noteworthy that, according to MAD leadership, without reasonable suspicions, the service does not collect information, does not “randomly” track social media to identify the possible extremist statements and does not use “informers” within Bundeswehr structures without a strong reason.

Where does MAD get information from and how does identify the right extremists?

MAD gets information from many sources. The most important information comes from army’s basic structures. Based on the friendship between people within small structures, like companies, the commanders and their colleagues are the ones to often observe, the first behaviour changes of the targets. In fact, in the past years, it was remarked the constant increase of personnel’s sensitiveness within subunits for such cases.

Often, MAD got information from other structures responsible with security, such as the constitutional defence authorities (counterespionage) or the police sections. Also, an important role for information dissemination between authorities having responsibilities in the security field is on the Defence Centre against global extremism and terrorism, where MAD has also a great contribution.

Many times, MAD got information on possible right extremism manifestations from their own investigations which, starting with 2007, reached almost 5000 investigations. They also got serious information from interrogatories of possible suspects, or even from citizens.  

Over time, there has been a continuous development of extremism as a phenomenon, and MAD has tried to identify ways to recognize its occurrence and has carried out preventive actions. The conclusions are that the involved people did not deal with extremism from the beginning, but they went through a process of radicalization, promoted in particular by friends and acquaintances’ influence, but also through social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp. The evidence indicates both "single" radicalized individuals and members of right-wing groups / groups or extremist cells. Their actions are limited to extremist or xenophobic statements, participation in extremist events, listening to music with extremist tint, spreading propaganda or signs of right-wing extremist organizations.  

MAD identifies the German military as suspicious cases, when there are clear indications regarding their extremist and unconstitutional vision. When evaluating cases of right-wing extremism, MAD uses the following levels of classification, defined by colour codes:

-Red: recognized right extremist- wherefore it is foreseen the immediate dismissal;

-Orange: suspect, wherefore are available only relevant information, bellow the extremist level- acknowledgements allow the estimation and imposition of sanctions and even the prohibition of promoting that individual;

-Green: suspicion is not confirmed, therefore special measures are no longer justified.

The number of reported cases suspect for right extremism is increasing within Bundeswehr

According to its own data, MAD is currently investigating about 550 cases of suspected right extremism within the Bundeswehr. The current MAD president, Christoph Gramm, told the weekly "Welt am Sonntag" that 360 of these cases were identified only last year. Following the analyzes and evaluations, some cases were referred to justice. Thus, in 2019, 14 extremists have already been convicted, wherefrom 8 right-wing extremists. In addition, according to Gramm, MAD also identified 40 people with "lack of constitutional loyalty". Moreover, he stated that the purpose of the adopted measures is not only extremists’ removal from the Bundeswehr, but also of the people who manifest that lack of constitutional loyalty.

The recent significant extremism suspects number increase, as well as the increasing appearance of information on this case received from well-behaved soldiers triggered the increased attention of the German authorities. From another perspective, sceptics claim that MAD is only now discovering the extent of "far-right extremist thinking" within the Bundeswehr.

Following a request by Liberal Democrat Party (FDP) deputy Benjamin Strasser, in mid-January, the Federal Ministry of Defence transmitted a situation of the cases solved by MAD during the last 4 years. Thus, between January 1st, 2016 and November 29th, 2019, there were 1,256 suspected cases associated with right-wing extremism, as follows:


Suspect cases

Judicial disciplinary measures

Simple disciplinary measures





Non-commissioned officers








Civilian employees and other unknown professional categories








Sursa: https://augengeradeaus.net/2020/01/wieder-auf-der-tagesordnung-rechtsextremisten-in-der-bundeswehr/

The German politicians’ visions are divided in terms of how to approach them and the impact of these dangerous phenomena occurring within a force structure of the German state, such as the Federal Ministry of Defence. Moreover, the advanced figures are an additional reason for the opposition to criticize the federal government.

The ecologist politician (Greens’ Party) Konstantin von Notz, a member of the Commission for secret services control, speaks of a "dramatic and worrying development" of the extremist phenomenon and considers, based on German history’s precedents, such events as unacceptable. In addition, environmentalists are calling for the swift removal of the military found guilty.

The defence officer of FDP, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, called for a transparent reporting system to ensure that information from troops is not leaked and reaches the "top" of the military hierarchy directly. Also, given that the vast majority of Bundeswehr’s military is strictly committed to the Constitution, they should get under the "empire of general suspicion" just because of far-right manifestations.

The Die Linke Party (Left) speaks of a true "far-right network" within the Bundeswehr and accuses a certain culture of "denying and minimizing" the problem of extremism within the Federal Army.

Interestingly, even the representative of the far-right Party (AfD) of Bundestag Defence Commission, Rüdiger Lucassen, has stated that "The military who are demonstrating against the liberal-democratic basic order must be removed from the service of the armed forces". However, the investigations of the military secret service for discovering such people should not lead to a "large-scale mental test".

In contrast, the federal Ministry of Defence acknowledged that MAD has not taken this task seriously enough in recent years. Thus, in last year’s autumn, it was initiated a comprehensive reform within the MAD. With a new civilian vice president, Burkhard Even, a lawyer, a former employee of the Federal Protection and Counterintelligence Service (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz - BfV), MAD will, most likely, cooperate more closely with civil authorities and make a more effective exchange of information. In addition, MAD should significantly increase its workforce in the coming years and focus more on defence against extremist phenomena. To that end, Armin Schuster (CDU), chairman of the Parliamentary Control Committee in Bundestag responsible for overseeing secret services (PKGr), said that "there is an interest in a strong MAD as part of the security architecture".

Moreover, in order to make service’s activity more transparent, President Gramm announced, last month, that he will publish this year, for the first time, an official report reflecting MAD’s activity. So far, information on MAD activity has been accessible only to a small number of parliamentarians from the specialized committees and was not addressed o the general public.

Reported cases suspect of right extremism have affected even the Special Forces

The elite unit of the Special Forces (Kommando Spezialkräfte - KSK) was also seriously affected by the emergence of suspected cases of right extremist demonstrations. Currently, not less than 20 cases are registered, which is five times bigger comparing to those of other Federal Army structures.

Recently, it was reported the case of a non-commissioned officer in the Special Forces who was recognized as a right extremist and was suspended at the end of last year. The military man had many years of experience in the KSK, with missions abroad within the contingents dislocated in Afghanistan. Apart from proving his involvement in extremist actions, the MAD was mandated to investigate whether these manifestations were never observed in the non-commissioned officer, or were simply ignored over time.

The case of the non-commissioned officer is not the only one that required MAD action within the Special Forces. In February 2019, an elite unit officer, highly regarded in the Bundeswehr up to that time, was suspended because he was identified and recognized by the MAD as a supporter of the extreme right "Identity Movement". Also, last year, two other senior officers (lieutenant colonel) practiced the Hitler salute during a private ceremony. One has already been investigated and suspended, and the second is still suspect.

These cases have shook the Bundeswehr heavily, as the KSK is an elite unit of the German Federal Army, specialized in hostages’ release abroad and acts completely undercover. Thus, for the Federal Minister of Defence, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the emergence of these extremist right manifestations within this structure, where the selection is very rigorous, is a clear alarm signal that several preventive measures must be taken accordingly and applied. Moreover, as for the scandal with the non-commissioned officer, the German official recently said, during a visit to Kosovo, that "We have drawn the first conclusions from this case and we will continue to follow each other case with the same attention and consistency. (...) Each case will be taken very seriously and will be analyzed in particular if there are networks or connections behind it”.

MAD has already established, in the summer of 2019, a special group dedicated to specialized investigations within the KSK and to identify new information about alleged right-wing extremists, to reveal them. However, it is true that the research activity is somewhat difficult within the KSK, because MAD does not have representatives in the sub-units of this special military structure.


The Federal Ministry of Defence is deeply alarmed by the intensification of "far-right thinking" among Bundeswehr personnel, particularly within its elite troops, which is why it wants to increase prevention measures and strengthen cooperation with other national authorities, responsible with combating extremism and terrorism. At the same time, the ministry act in the future to exploit all the procedures and means of collecting information, as well as to monitor the communications of suspicious individuals within possible networks. To that end, elements of MAD, including the technical service, will be consolidated and financed as such.

Also, starting from the fact that such extremist orientations cases exist not only within the Bundeswehr, but also among the employees of the Ministry of Home Affairs, at the proposal of the Home Affairs Christian-Social minister, Horst Seehofer, they try, at national level, to create, probably towards the end of summer, a "Cell for clarifying right-wing extremist activities in public service" within BfV. How the German authorities will solve these situations and whether they will be eliminated in part or at large is difficult to assume, given that the Bundeswehr has expanded its military recruiting area in recent years, and currently are “soldiers employed from immigrant families or dual citizenship”.

Translated by Andreea Soare

[1] Law regulating the activity of the Federal Protection and Counterintelligence Service (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz - BfV).

[2] Law regulating the requirements, verification procedure and access to information of people entrusted with certain sensitive activities in the field of security - equivalent to the Law on the protection of classified information.