This photo by Marlena Waldthausen shows Turkish German comedian and youth worker Idil Baydar.
Extreme right within German police
“Stop saluting Hitler. He is dead’
Threatening e-mails via a police computer to prominent German women with a migration background feed the long-standing suspicion that extreme right-wing networks are active within the police in Germany. Idil Baydar is one of the victims. Why does Germany seem to close its own eyes?
By Sterre Lindhout
“Honestly, Germany, what’s wrong with your police?” Jilet Ayse, self-proclaimed ghetto bride and integration nightmare, wondered a few years ago. In one of her video tirades, she lists police misconduct, often directed against people with a migrant background. “What, police are your friend and helper? You mean your executioner!” she snorts. “Wallah, I swear we are not here at Miami Vice.”
Jilet Ayse doesn’t really exist. She is a creation of cabaret performer and youth worker Idil Baydar (45), a native of Berlin with Turkish ancestors. Her slang, tracksuits, and cheap glossy lip gloss are deceiving. Jilet Ayse holds up a razor-sharp mirror to German society in her videos, making her creator loved by some and hated by others.
Idil Baydar has been threatened with death by the far right for nearly two years. The mails that the Volkskrant saw show a toxic mix of racism, contempt for women and glorification of National Socialism. They are signed with “NSU 2.0”, a reference to the terrorist group Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund that murdered ten Germans with Turkish roots at the beginning of this century.
Problematic enough that there are those who want to follow in the footsteps of this NSU, but even more alarming is that Idil Baydar’s private data comes from a police computer, as is confidential information about two other known women who received threats with the same caption, a criminal defense attorney and a left-wing politician. The leak is at the police in the state of Hesse, that much is known. But otherwise, the police and public prosecutor say they have been in the dark for two years.
The threatening e-mails fuel the long-standing suspicion that extreme right-wing networks are active within the police in Germany. It has been raining cats and dogs especially in the past year: anti-Semitic jokes in app groups, a drunk policeman who beats an asylum seeker in his spare time, and officers who do the Hitler salute at a party or in the pedestrian zone of a provincial town. According to a survey by Der Spiegel, there are currently investigations into more than four hundred incidents.
As is the case with a summer shower: the first big raindrop is just a drop, the second too, the third just barely. But after that, the connection between the drops becomes unmistakable. It rains. It is also like this with the German army, the Bundeswehr. This spring, an entire elite unit was disbanded because of abundant evidence for far-right views and glorification of the Nazis.
“This must be a group, this cannot be one person’s work,” Idil Baydar says pessimistically on a high summer afternoon in a Berlin park. The cabaret artist has taken a friend to the appointment with the Volkskrant, for safety. Because Baydar no longer walks on the street alone. Cynically: “And I don’t really need police protection now.”
She tells how she filed a complaint after the first threat. “The police tried to sweep the case under the rug again, as the police always cover up everything. She should change her mobile number, they said at the police station. “It’s almost like saying to a woman: don’t put on a mini skirt, then you’ll never be raped again. So I asked, and who tells me you won’t give that new number to Nazis?”
In Germany, the story of Baydar is one of many variations on the theme that reads: the German police cannot tolerate criticism and does too little self-reflection. The reaction of police unions to the widespread media attention on the issue of “NSU 2.0” is characteristic.
Police unions warned of “general suspicion of police” and pointed to the increasing number of violent crimes against police officers. In response to the NSU 2.0 threats, Home Secretary Horst Seehofer (CSU) recently called the police “a jewel.” He categorically denies structural problems with racism and the extreme right. It would supposely only be incidents by malicious individuals.
“That’s bold. As a minister you have to dare”, says Rafael Behr. The criminologist and sociologist from Hamburg was himself a cop for twenty years and now teaches at the academy. He obtained his doctorate on the organizational structure of the police force.
The fact that the police have a major problem with racist behavior and extreme right-wing ideas in their own ranks is beyond dispute for Behr. … “I do not see structures that enforce racism, but also no structures that recognize and counteract racism and right-wing extremists. The latter is the biggest problem.”
The silent majority that allows these things to happen is crucial, according to Behr. “In Germany, the police has traditionally been a centrally organized institution that considers itself omnipotent and flawless. Anyone who criticizes internally is regarded as a renegade. “Moreover, there is no noteworthy independent reporting point where police officers can report wrongdoing by colleagues.” …
Ministers of the Interior, certainly a conservative one like Seehofer, reinforce that culture of unconditional loyalty by demonstratively suporting “their” police at the slightest reason. They do this partly out of electoral interest – the CDU / CSU wants to prevent this conservative professional group from going over to the (extreme) right-wing AfD – and partly under pressure from the powerful police unions in Germany that have been shouting for years that the police are victims of the ‘soft’ and ‘green and left’ climate that supposedly prevails in Germany today. They believe that the police receive too little money, but above all too little respect and too much social suspicion. Questionable claims because the current government … is actually investing heavily in the police force …
Blindspot in the making
But that uniformed inferiority complex does explain why Seehofer decided earlier this summer, at the height of the international Black Lives Matter protests, to call off a long-announced nationwide investigation into ethnic profiling by German police. His explanation: ethnic profiling is prohibited by law, so the police don’t do such a thing. In other words: what is prohibited does not exist. Seehofer’s argument sounds like a guide to creating a blind spot. Coalition partner SPD spoke against it, but Chancellor Angela Merkel did not correct her minister.
Seehofer’s reasoning reminds Behr, and many other Germans, of the look-away culture that led the NSU to commit ten racist murders at the time, while the police insisted that it was a series of revenge killings in a Turkish criminal environment.
The first time the caption NSU 2.0 surfaced was in 2018 in a threatening letter to lawyer Seda Basay-Yildiz, known, eg, as an advocate for the next of kin of the victims of the NSU. Yildiz’s data appeared an hour before the mail was sent, retrieved from a police computer in Frankfurt am Main.
The 35-year-old female detective who logged on to the device denied being guilty. She explained that she always left her computer open all day so that colleagues could also work on it. Rather than regard all those present as suspects, the internal commission of inquiry and the Hessian Public Prosecution Service decided to treat them as witnesses – even after they found chats with colleagues on a confiscated phone of a detective with a picture of a gas chamber. With the comment ‘the bigger the Jew, the warmer the tent’.
That detective was not arrested and just continued to work, as was the colleague from Wiesbaden whose account was searched for Idil Baydar’s personal data a few months later. Did the Hessian police “only” serve as a conduit, or did they write the mails themselves? Two years after the first threatening emails, no one knows. The number of people threatened by NSU 2.0 has now reached 70.
It was a journalist from the Frankfurter Rundschau, a Hessian newspaper, who told Idil Baydar in July this year that her data had been viewed from a police computer in Wiesbaden. It is unclear how long the police have known this themselves. Even after the newspaper released the news, “the police apparently did not think it necessary to report to me,” she says.
Idil Baydar wonders how she can trust a police force that is stealing her data, then not really trying to find out who did it and “not taking the threats to her very seriously.” “There was lack of just one policeman saying: we hear you, we’re going after it.”
How difficult it is to bring about a change in mentality in the police force, Thomas Müller (66) knows from his own experience. Müller was a policeman in Bremen for forty years, his entire professional life. When the concept of ethnic profiling was first circulated at the beginning of this century, he says on the phone, he was just as outraged as most of his colleagues. “We didn’t feel it was like that at all, we just did our job.”
For years, Müller also believed that this work should enable making certain comments and jokes about minorities. “When we chased someone with an Arab appearance, we talked to colleagues about an “oil eye”, they also sometimes talked about “smashing up some blacks“.
That changes when he goes to study criminology alongside his job, and he hears the other side of the story for the first time: of people who are arrested time and again “because they cannot drive such an expensive car because of their skin color“. After his studies, he starts working for the police as an integration expert. He organizes seminars where police officers meet with victims of racism, to which the force management initially reacts positively. But there are also colleagues who suddenly stop greeting Müller.
And then it was finished from one day to the next in 2018. Müller is ‘promoted’ without giving reasons “to a desk job deep within the organization, without contact with the outside world” and is banned from doing interviews in the remaining year until his retirement.
Now that Müller is allowed to talk again, he works for Amnesty and Polizei Grün, a still young interest group that fights within the police for a change of mentality. In recent years, the club had about 50 members among 270,000 police officers. Since the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the number has doubled. “That’s something.”
Müller advocates developing the “soft” skills of the police. “Those people are confronted day in and day out with hatred, violence and crime. That is not talked about, because then you are weak.”
Criminologist Behr also speaks of the “practical shock” that many police officers experience when they leave the academy full of good intentions. Since there is no supervision or room for reflection for them, they entrench themselves behind authoritarian behavior and, in some cases, extremist ideas and fantasies of violence.
Idil Baydar puts it this way: “You don’t get respect with just a uniform and a weapon. It should include certain behaviour.”
And in the person of Jilet Ayse, she has a golden tip for extreme right-wing policemen in one of her videos: “Stop saluting Hitler. He is dead. It’s pointless. He doesn’t hear it.”