Far-right rally had welcome for Irish No activist

Brown shirts and skinheads, elderly Nazi heroes with memories of the good old days..

Brown shirts and skinheads, elderly Nazi heroes with memories of the good old days... and Justin Barrett, honoured guest from Ireland. Derek Scally reports from Berlin on the German extreme right group and the No to Nice campaigner

The video of the rally leaves little room for doubt as to what Germany's extreme right-wing National Democratic Party stands for.

Anti-semitic speeches are peppered with quotes from Adolf Hitler. There are claims that "Germany was the biggest victim of the second World War". Hundreds of skinheads give standing ovations to elderly Nazis.

Mr Justin Barrett, chief spokesman for the No to Nice Campaign and a leading light in Youth Defence, the anti-abortion group, is a guest of honour.

The conference opens with a fanfare as a group of brown-shirted men walk through the hall bearing the red, white and black NPD party flag.

Mr Udo Voigt, the NPD leader, makes his way through the cheering crowd, over 6,000 members from young skinheads to pensioners, while the stirring music of Vangelis plays over the sound system. On the walls hang banners with party slogans: "Against the System and Capital - Our Struggle is National" and "Solidarity is a Weapon".

The rally, the largest to date staged by the NPD, was held in Passau, Bavaria, on May 27th, 2000, and was described by the party as a "day of national resistance".

What took place, and the video record of it (a copy of which has been obtained by The Irish Times), confirms the belief of Mr Otto Schily, the German Interior Minister, that the NPD "clearly seeks in words, colours and programme to resemble" the Nazis.

The poorly-edited video is a long way from the Nazi propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, but it is still a chilling document of the extreme right in Germany and its international allies.

Asked this week about the NPD, Mr Barrett refused to comment on the claim that he was at the rally, but said: "I am not going at this stage in a referendum campaign to argue the toss about this.

"I don't know what the ideology of this party is. What has it got to do with anything? I am not going to be drawn into it. Clearly it is the last throw of the Yes campaign."

The NPD, founded in 1964, describes itself as a "real party of opposition". Though politically insignificant - it is not represented in the Bundestag and has less than 7,000 members - it has established an expansive national network of local parties, youth groups and initiatives.

The NPD opposes a multicultural German society, what it calls "foreign infiltration", and seeks an immediate end to immigration and the immediate expulsion of non-Germans. Germans should have exclusive access to the social welfare system and first choice of jobs.

The NPD does not recognise the current German borders but rather those of pre-war 1937.

Mr Voigt used his speech in Passau to argue a key policy point: the NPD's opposition to European integration.

"The political parties cannot wait to liquidate Germany into an EU central state," he says. He urges party members to fight European integration and to "show the world that not all Germans lost their spine and their pride in 1945".

Besides speeches, the so-called day of national resistance gave party members a chance to take part in a discussion forum, listen to readings and meet the NPD leading light Mr Horst Mahler.

Mr Mahler was a co-founder of the left-wing terrorist group the Red Army Faction (RAF). When he went on trial for terrorist activities in 1970, he was represented in court by the present Interior Minister, Mr Schily.

Now Mr Mahler has gone over to the other side to join the NPD and, in a twist of fate, is now one of two NPD lawyers fighting Mr Schily's application to ban the party in Germany's constitutional court.

At the Passau conference, Mr Mahler whips up the crowd into a frenzy by breathing new life into Nazi clichés and reciting huge chunks of Hitler speeches from memory.

"That Germany started two world wars is a discredited lie," he says to cheers from the delegates. Germans have been robbed of their self-confidence by "the Jewish spirit", he says, adding that accusations of anti-semitism in the NPD is a plot "to let the Jewish spirit rule us forever".

"Our goal is to take the people. We can only do this when we conquer their minds," he shouts.

Mr Mahler is followed by other well-known faces from Germany's extreme right scene. One mimics the bug-eyed, screaming delivery of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

Mr Sascha Rossmüller, leader of the Young National Democrats (JN), the NPD youth group, speaks in a more demagogic style, an obvious homage to Hitler.

The JN is the recruiting ground for the NPD. According to its own documents, the group models itself "singularly and solely on the Wehrmacht and the soldiers of the Waffen-SS".

Mr Rossmüller, a trained gardener, was elected JN leader in 1999, and his election "underlines the neo-Nazi orientation of the JN", according to German authorities. Mr Rossmüller says he has been in contact with Mr Barrett for "several years".

He invited Mr Barrett to attended two conferences organised by the JN in October 1999 and 2000. The conferences, "held in the German Reich", according to a JN report, were attended by a who's who of extreme-right leaders.

The JN report on the 1999 conference says: "Of particular attraction was the participation of... the leader of the National Alliance from the USA, Dr William Pierce and, last but not least, the leader of a noteworthy Irish anti-abortion group, Justin Barret (sic) from Youth Defense (sic)."

Until his death in July, Dr William Pierce was one of the leading neo-Nazis in the US. He founded the American Nazi Party in 1965 and is author of The Turner Diaries, required reading for all neo-Nazis and the book the FBI believes inspired the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Mr Barrett gave a speech on "totalitarianism" at one of the JN conferences, according to Mr Rossmüller, but he didn't speak at the Passau conference.

However, one of the guests of honour in Passau who did speak was Mr Roberto Fiore. He is the leader of the Italian extremist group Fuerza Nuova, which brings together fascists, anti-abortion clerics and skinheads.

He told the Passau delegates that the NPD and the foreign groups represented at the conference needed to fight together to achieve one common goal.

"The reason we are all together is because we are witnessing a huge attack at the moment from the hidden powers of capitalism and Marxism," he said.

At the end of the conference, the 6,000 delegates get to their feet to sing, loud and proud, the German national anthem. Unusually, they start with the first verse, which has been illegal to sing in public since the 1950s: "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt" - Germany, Germany above everything in the world.

The verse refers to Germany's borders stretching to the Memel river in Lithuania, which suggests that Germany, or the NPD at least, still considers former East Prussia to be part of its territory.

Events like the day of national resistance are the reason the NPD is under constant surveillance by Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a body which monitors extremist groups felt to pose a threat to national security. Information gathered by the office is central to the government's application to the constitutional court to ban the NPD.

The application was lodged two years ago, after a summer of high-profile extreme right-wing attacks on foreigners. The process, however, has been delayed by the revelation that at least 30 leading NPD members were paid informers.

The NPD claims the spies were agents provocateurs, paid by the government to stir up trouble and steer the party direction. The fate of the government's case hangs on its ability to prove otherwise.

"Tomorrow belongs to the youth - the future belongs to the young nationalist movement," says the video cover of the Passau conference.

The party calls the day of national resistance a key moment in NPD history, "a display of unity with the entire emerging national movement".

Building up an international network of contacts is one of three key pillars of the NPD's work internationally and guests like Mr Barrett are a key part of this network building.

Mr Barrett and Youth Defence are "an important part of our international network", said Mr Rossmüller. He says Germany's leading extreme right organisation "shares many important interests" with Mr Barrett and Youth Defence. German authorities agree.

Mr Barrett's attendance at the conference in Passau, on the Bavarian border with Austria, attracted the attention of officials from Bavaria's Constitutional Protection Office, who were monitoring the event and confirmed to The Irish Times that Mr Barrett attended it.

Mr Robert Bihler, spokesman for the Bavarian Constitution Protection Office, said: "The NPD is an extreme right (wing) xenophobic party. Mr Barrett must share some of their ideology otherwise why else would he come to their conferences?"