Martin Lichtmesz, 9/11 Truthers, and the “Horseshoe Theory”

Martin Lichtmesz is one of the more readable writers for the German New Right, a loose grouping of nationalist-conservative/reactionary/white supremacist (pick your term) writers and publicists who, according to their own self-image, are not at right-wing extremists at all, merely patriots trying to recover a wholesome and natural sense of identity, tradition, and pride among German-speaking peoples. To this end, they oppose immigration, the EU, innovations in gender ideology, and what they call the “cult of guilt” in Germany concerning the Holocaust. Their opponents — who are legion — consider their ideas little more than watered-down, repackaged National Socialism. The “German New Right” is considered too radioactive to be treated normally by German mainstream media — they get plenty of attention, but it’s always wrapped in a package of editorial disapproval.

Their brand is an updated form of Spenglerian cultural pessimism, tricked out with signals of culture and distinction, such as Greek tags and references to Cicero. They want you to know that they have nothing in common with knuckle-dragging skinheads, although they generally decline to distance themselves from the more vomit-drenched precincts of the German right-wing scene. For example, the main organ of the New Right, the publishing house Antaios, publishes (g) the Der Stürmer-esque diatribes of Akif Pirinçci, a German novelist of Turkish heritage who began his career with books about crime-solving cats (admit it, the idea is a work of genius) before turning to book-length attacks on — to use the sort of language you’ll find in his writings — limp-wristed faggots, hairy-legged lesbians, and shiftless, filthy immigrants who should all be shipped back where they came from.

Lichtmesz, an Austrian, is not in that grimy basement league. He avoids open racism, sexism or anti-Semitism, and I have no direct, conclusive evidence that he endorses any of those positions. Name-calling isn’t what I’m all about. It also helps that Lichtmesz has interests other than reactionary tub-thumping, such as film reviewing and more general cultural critiques. He avoids the white-knuckle tone typical of the far right (and, of course, the far left). Most of his tweets are harmless, some thought-provoking, and his prose is often nicely-drawn. Lichtmesz also has a keen eye for the self-delusions, double standards, and lack of self-awareness which you often find within the filter bubble of the European urban center-left. A book he co-authored in 2017, Mit Linken Leben (Living with the Left) (g) even attracted some cautious praise from mainstream critics. Especially during the 2015 wave of migration to Germany, Lichtmesz and his cohort often sounded quite a bit more reasonable than mainstream journalists, who — as many of them have ruefully conceded (g) — jumped onto the bandwagon of the centrist German ruling elite and propagandized openly for open borders (or something very much like it). The German New Right also makes legitimate arguments against excessive delegations of sovereign authority to the European Union. These are legitimate complaints, shared by many conservatives and even others. Yet Lichtmesz is still considered persona non grata in mainstream circles. Why? He surely doesn’t consider himself an extremist, only a man who’s not afraid to stare reality manfully in the face and report what he sees.

But then sometimes the mask slips; you see the glitch in the matrix. The first glitch is Lichtmesz’ ties to white supremacists. Lichtmesz is a close ally of Martin Sellner, the head of the Austrian branch of the “Identitarian Movement“, a white-supremacist organization whose American offshoot was present in full force at the notorious 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” March, during which participants chanted “Jews will not Replace Us“. Sellner himself was formerly an open neo-Nazi, and was sentenced in 2006 for putting a Swastika sticker on a synagogue. He claims he’s reformed since, but then again, he would, wouldn’t he? He is also engaged to Brittany Pettibone, a US conspiracy nutcase who considers herself a foremost expert on the insane “pizzagate” conspiracy theory:

Until recently, Brittany Pettibone was best known as one of the “leading authorities” on Pizzagate — the debunked conspiracy theory that went viral in 2016 claiming that high-profile Democrats were running a satanic child sex trafficking ring out of — yes — a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve become known for [being] one of the many people investigating Pizzagate,” Pettibone, then 24, told an alt-right podcast host in late 2016. “Many people have a reason to believe that [the pizza shop] is potentially a front for a child trafficking pedophile ring.”

“High-profile Democrats running a satanic child sex trafficking ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.” Just let that sink in.

Now of course you could call this all guilt by association, which it is. But still, some associations are more damning than others. So let’s go to Lichtmesz in his own words, giving a speech to the American Renaissance Conference, a white-nationalist organization:

What sort of publication is American Renaissance? I think its tag cloud taken directly from its website should give you a pretty good idea:

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Spicy stuff! American Renaissance and the New Century Foundation are run by Jared Taylor, author of a book called “White Identity: Racial Consciousness in the 21st Century“, who believes this, in his own words: “The ultimate goal is to have at least a portion of the United States where whites are the recognized majority and in which their culture is recognized as the dominant culture and where they can live free from the embrace of people unlike themselves.” He claims he wants all of this to happen without coercion. Quite the humanitarian. In any event, American Renaissance and all its works and deeds are considered absolutely, 100% off-limits in the USA, even by absolute rock-solid nationalist conservatives and right-wingers. They’re permitted to spread their message, which is right and proper as a matter of free speech. But the only people who voluntarily associate with them on a deep and sustained basis are obsessives driven by racial resentment.

And Lichtmesz not only retweets AmRen posts, he’s also written an entire book (in German) called “Racism: The American Nightmare“, which draws heavily on American Renaissance stories and statistics. The theme of the book, in the words of the publisher Antaios, is as follows: “Lichtmesz is certain: We will be made into racists to the extent that we deny [racial] differences.” Well, that’s certainly…interesting. But let’s take a charitable view of Lichtmesz. The stiff corset of political correctness and woke ideology is a problem, and American race relations do indeed leave much to be desired. European and German immigration policy is a disaster, as I have argued here and elsewhere (g). Perhaps Lichtmesz is just delivering a much blunter version of these arguments. Sure, he sometimes crosses the line into irrationality and resentment, but perhaps he’s still worthy of being taken seriously. Although his English is good, perhaps he doesn’t quite understand what American Renaissance is all about, or perhaps he believes in speaking to groups whose ideas he disagrees with.

Maybe, just maybe. Until you learn that Lichtmesz is a 9/11 truther! Yes, you read that right, 9/11 truthing is apparently still a Thing, 19 years after the fact. I learned this when I saw Lichtmesz retweet from the Swiss conspiracy theorist Daniele Ganser:

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Ganser notes with pride that his new book, Empire USA, is currently #1 on the Swiss bestseller list in, er, “non”-fiction. That says a lot about Switzerland, none of it good. Ganser is also a 9/11 truther who travels all over the German-speaking world giving speeches (at €27 a pop (g)) to largely extreme-left audiences in which he claims the American government intentionally destroyed the World Trade Center complex. At least I think that’s his version, perhaps he’s just a LIHOP man, who knows, who cares? As soon as uncle Jimmy (who was dropped on his head as a child) says 6 million Jews weren’t killed in the Holocaust, do you really care what his preferred estimate is?

Ganser’s main bugaboo is the old chestnut that WTC7 was destroyed by a “controlled demolition“, a claim he recycles (g) in Empire USA. But once again, let’s be charitable towards Lichtmesz. Perhaps he simply agrees with Ganser’s scathing critique of US foreign policy, some of which is doubtless on-point. And Lichtmesz’ Twitter bio contains the standard disclaimer “Retweets aren’t endorsements”. So does Lichtmesz buy into 9/11 truthing?

Alas, yes. After I shot an arrow of snark at Ganser’s new book, Lichtmesz replied “How sweet! There are still a few Internet hillbillies who still believe the official 9/11 story.”

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And then we were off, on the good old debate. Reminded me of old times, in the mid-2000s, in which seemingly half the Germans I met believed in some version of a 9/11 conspiracy theory. I was already very well-informed about 9/11 just because I’m me, but I decided to sit down and read all the official reports and the critiques carefully, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I wasn’t; there’s nothing there.

9/11 skeptics operate the same way that Holocaust deniers and JFK nuts do:

  1. Ignore the colossal juggernaut of evidence supporting the “official” version.
  2. Start the “anomaly hunt”: look for the kinds of open questions and inconsistencies that inevitably crop up in any complex investigation.
  3. Once you’ve found a few anomalies, confidently proclaim the official version “discredited”.
  4. Now you have a choice. Either you can:
    1. Embrace your own conspiracy theory (the ballsy move); or
    2. Sagely proclaim (the non-ballsy move) that you don’t know what happened, but it certainly wasn’t the (obligatory scare quotes) “official” version. And (stroking chin) who can ever know for sure? Who can say they have all the answers? How can we know anything about anything? What is reality?

People who can think straight instantly notice the missing step. You can’t simply claim you’ve destroyed the colossal juggernaut of evidence just because you found a few gaps or inconsistencies, just as you can’t destroy a building by knocking out a few windows (see what I did there?). The only way you can refute a colossal juggernaut of evidence is by showing that all of it, or nearly all of it, is fundamentally unsound. No 9/11 truther has ever come close, which is why nobody really pays attention to them anymore.

The other flaw of this type of conspiracy theory which people who can think straight immediately recognize is: How was a conspiracy involving thousands, if not tens of thousands of people kept secret? As the National Institute of Standards pointed out in its definitive report on the collapse of WTC 7, to demolish a 47-story building with explosives would have required months of careful preparation:

Preparations for a blast scenario would have been almost impossible to carry out on any floor in the building without detection. Preparations would have included removal of column enclosures or walls, weld torches to cut column sections, and placement of wires for detonation. Occupants, support staff, and visitors would have noticed such activities, particularly since they likely would have occurred around more than one column.

This is just the amount of obvious preparation, involving hundreds of workers, which would have been required to destroy one building. Now multiply that by a factor of 10 to account for the “planned demolition” of the other, much larger towers, and the Pentagon attack, plus arranging for the plane crashes as a decoy, sending out warning calls or emails to insiders, falsifying evidence, paying bribes, etc.

Overall, thousands of people — welders, engineers, demolition experts, air-traffic controllers, software programmers, security guards, police, truck drivers, and people from dozens of other professions — would have been needed to arrange the planned demolition of the Twin Towers and WTC7 and the fake (or decoy) plane crashes. Every one of these people would have had to know they were involved in extremely suspicious activity which they either knew was intended to murder thousands of innocent people, or could easily suspect was intended to accomplish this goal. And afterward, these thousands of conspirators would have watched their own handiwork result in the death of almost 3,000 innocent people. Even if Steve the welder didn’t know before the attacks why he installed that mysterious box next to a support column in WTC7, he certainly would know afterwards. And he’s just one of 50? 100? 200? 2000? welders on the wrecking crews in New York and Washington, D.C.

And since then, according to all 9/11 truthers including Lichtmesz, all of these people have remained silent. Not a single one has come forward in almost 20 years, despite this incident receiving more press coverage and attention than almost any other event in the recent history of the human race. Not a single one of these thousands of conspirators has ever been proven to have said anything to anyone about their role, not even to their wives or close friends. Not one. As any rational observer immediately recognizes, that is simply impossible. There’s no evidence that any conspiracy that massive has ever gone undetected in human history, and no such evidence will ever come into existence. This is the crucial flaw behind all allegations of massive conspiracies.

Lichtmesz’s 9/11 truthing, without any other evidence, already shows he isn’t capable of recognizing glaring logical errors. It shows that his resentments and obsessions (anti-Americanism) can trump even the most basic fact-checking mechanisms built into the human mind. Which means no argument he makes can be trusted. Would you allow a surgeon who believed in the four humors theory of the body to operate on you? Would you hire a lawyer who believed the moon landing was faked? Would you get into an Uber driven by a driver who tells you traffic signals are a conspiracy targeted against her to reduce her wages? Sure, there’s a chance these people might be able to function well occasionally — even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while — but you sure as hell won’t hire them. Let other people play that game of Russian roulette. It’s the same with Lichtmesz and so many on the far-right. We now know that he’s incapable of thinking straight on at least one major issue. How many others are there?

Which finally brings us to the “horseshoe” theory (g). This is the theory, discussed actively in recent months in Germany, that the extreme right and extreme left come together on many issues, like the two ends of a horseshoe. 9/11 is a perfect example. The European far-left hates America because it’s the homeland of “hypercapitalist” oppression and maintains a global profit-driven empire based on violence and the threat of violence. The European far-right hates America for those reasons too (usually), plus the fact that the USA is a artificial, deracinated construct inhabited by racial mongrels who are constantly at each other’s throats. In the place of true (that is, European) culture, the USA substitutes a cheap, cynical worship of money, most of which is controlled by you-know-who. Ganser himself is an anti-American obsessive who has fans both on the far left (the majority of his lecture audiences, according to this article (g) entitled “The Audience Was Even Worse”) and the far-right.

How do we know he has fans on the far right? Here he is discussing his ideas with the German right-wing extremist Jürgen Elsässer (who was formerly a left-wing extremist, see horseshoe theory) and the most notorious neo-Nazi in Germany, Karl-Heinz Hoffmann:

Hoffmann founded the notorious “fascist terrorist gangWehrsportgruppe Hoffmann (Military Sports Group Hoffmann), a now-banned paramilitary organization whose members committed numerous crimes, including the assassination of Jewish publisher Shlomo Lewin and his partner in Erlangen in 1980. Lewin had gained international renown, and the everlasting hatred of the Hoffmann group, for publishing articles critical of them.

Wait, but surely you can’t blame Hoffmann for the deranged actions of one of the members of his fascist terror gang, can you? Well, the killer, Uwe Behrendt, wasn’t just a member of the Hoffmann gang. He was its vice-president (g), and lived in Hoffmann’s house, from where he departed to murder Lewin, who lived nearby. Then he returned to Hoffman’s house and reported: “Boss, I also did it for you.” Behrendt then admitted he’d screwed up by leaving Hoffmann’s girlfriend’s sunglasses at the murder scene. Hoffmann then burned Behrendt’s clothing, helped dispose of the murder weapon (which had a silencer Hoffmann admitted to helping build), and arranged for the killer to flee to Lebanon, where the Hoffmann group had ties to the Fatah organization.

Hoffmann soon followed him. Behrendt then (apparently) committed suicide in Lebanon, preventing his trial for Lewin’s murder in Germany. Quite convenient for Hoffmann, who, of course, denied any advance knowledge of Behrendt’s plan. Crocodile tears streaming down his face, Hoffmann bemoaned the “senseless murder of innocent people”. Hoffmann himself was tried but not convicted for ordering Lewin’s murder. Hoffmann was also implicated, but never charged, in the 1980 Oktoberfest bombing (g) which — surprise surprise! — was also committed by a Hoffman group member, who died in the blast. Hoffman himself was convicted of aggravated assault, kidnapping, forgery, and weapons offenses in 1984 and sentenced to nine years in prison. Ganser is happy to share the stage with this man, and uses the interview with Hoffman to push one of his other favorite theories, that the bombing was conducted by members of a Gladio stay-behind “secret army”. Hoffman is of course happy to join in Ganser’s musings, which cast suspicion away from him.

That’s the kind of company Daniele Ganser keeps. And Lichtmesz, along with most of the German hard left and hard right, endorses Ganser’s 9/11 conspiracy theories.

So there you have it: Right wing nutjobs and left-wing nutjobs dancing together in peace and harmony around a maypole of bullshit.

The History of Maypole Dancing – Active Arts

I’d call that pretty strong confirmation of the horseshoe theory.

German Word of the Week: Reichsbürger

Reichsbürger glauben nicht daran, dass das Deutsche Reich untergegangen ist. Sie gehen davon aus, dass die BRD rechtswidrig gegründet wurde. Foto: imago
Source

Before committing a racist mass-shooting in Hanau, Germany, the schizophrenic killer, Tobias R., had sent a petition (g) to the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office asking them to initiate formal legal proceedings against the shadowy “intelligence service” which was tracking, stealing, and broadcasting his thoughts. This raised the issue of how, and whether, authorities should respond to official petitions and letters they receive which strongly hint at the sender’s mental illness — especially when the sender, like Tobias R., was a gun owner. People who work for German courts and government agencies soon protested, noting that they get literally hundreds of crazy letters a week, mainly from Reichsbürger (citizen of the Reich).

Which raises the question: What is a Reichsbürger?

A Reichsbürger is a German who believes the German Reich never stopped existing (g). They believe the Reich, as recognized by the Treaty of Versailles, and in its dimensions from 1937, still exists as a legal entity. They also hold that the Federal Republic of Germany, as proclaimed in 1949 with the passage of the German Basic Law (constitution), has no legitimacy. Therefore they refuse to pay taxes to it or recognize its laws. Many Reichsbürger have drawn up their own documents and even passports, which they show when asked for ID. There’s a massive overlap between Reichsbürger and right-wing groups, and Reichsbürger have killed (g) German police. Reichsbürger groups are closely monitored by the government because of their propensity for violence.

So do the Reichsbürger have any support for their cockamamie idea? Surprisingly, the answer is “sort of”. Their main support is a passage from a decision the German Federal Constitutional Court from 31 July 1973 which states, in part (g):

The German Basic Law … assumes that the German Reich survived the collapse of 1945 and did not disappear either as a result of the capitulation or the exercise of foreign authority in German by the Allied occupying powers… The German Reich continues to exist, continues to have legal capacity, but is not capable of acting on its own because, as a whole, it lacks organization and lacks institutional organs…. Responsibility for “Germany as a whole” is still shared with the four powers. The creation of the Federal Republic did not create a new West German state, but rather simply re-organized a part of the existing German state.

Now, of course, this decision was issued by the German Federal Constitutional Court, which the Reichsbürger don’t acknowledge as legitimate. But this irony is apparently lost on them.

But what is the justification for the Court’s curious wording? Part of the answer is the Court’s desire preserve the legal basis for the reunification of Germany. The passage quoted above came from the Federal Constitutional Court’s decision on the Grundlagenvertrag, the “basic treaty” on relations between West and East Germany, which was adopted in 1972. In the treaty, West Germany gave up its claim to be the only legal representative of “Germany” as a whole, in return for concessions from East Germany. The treaty led to the diplomatic recognition of West and East Germany as independent states. The countries refused to establish official embassies, but they did establish “permanent representatives” in each others’ capital cities, paving the way for better diplomatic and trade ties.

The treaty, part of liberal Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, was controversial among German conservatives, since the original West German constitution required all organs of the West German government to continuously strive toward re-unification (g) of West and East Germany. According to these critics, recognizing East Germany went in the opposite direction, since it tended to reinforce German separation, and therefore violated the constitution. From 1955 to 1970, the West German government pursued the Hallstein Doctrine, in which it argued that the West German state, not East Germany, was the only legitimate representative of the interests of the German people. The Basic Treaty represented the formal repudiation of the Hallstein Doctrine; now West Germany would not protest when other nations granted East Germany diplomatic recognition (and vice-versa).

In fact, the West German constitution itself didn’t even refer to itself as a constitution for exactly this reason. The drafters of the West German post-war constitution elected not to call it a constitution, since it would be possible for the German people to ratify a constitution only when all of them could vote freely and equally on the document, which was impossible as long as there was one part of Germany in which free and fair elections were impossible. Thus, the constitution called itself merely a “Basic Law” (Grundgesetz), and specified in its own preamble that it was intended merely as a “transitional” document.

The Federal Constitutional Court upheld the Basic Treaty of 1972, holding that it did not violate the Basic Law’s mandate to pursue German re-unification. However, to satisfy conservatives, the Court repeatedly stressed that the Basic Law’s focus on re-unification remained as valid as ever. The passage the Reichsbürger rely on is part of the Court’s attempt to split the baby: The Court is stressing that although West Germany has now taken over the functions of the previous German state entity, the Reich, this doesn’t mean that the German people, as a whole, have given up their claims to territory formerly included in the Reich. To put it more simply, the Court is saying that even though Germany was then currently split into two sovereign entities (West and East), the underlying aspiration of the German people as a whole was to exercise unified control over all of the territory traditionally considered to be part of Germany.

So the Court’s language was intended as a compromise: On the one hand, the Court recognized that the government of West Germany could recognize and trade with East Germany without violating the Basic Law’s command to pursue reunification. On the other hand, though, the Court interpreted the treaty as not giving up on West Germany’s claim to be the ultimate true representative of the German people. Yet there is also an interesting sub-text to the treaty, and the court decision. Throughout the post-war years, West Germany had been bedeviled by the question of war reparations. The Third Reich had caused unimaginable human suffering and material losses across Europe, especially in countries which were parts of the former Eastern Bloc. But should West Germany bear the cost of reparations alone, or should East Germany bear some of the blame? East Germany, for its part, claimed that since it had adopted an “anti-fascist” mode of government and was now allied with Eastern European countries in socialist brotherhood, it was no longer obliged to pay reparations to those outside East Germany.

A book (g) sums up the complex situation:

After the Federal Republic gave up its claim to be the sole representative of the German people in the 1972 German-German Basic Treaty, it became even more firmly committed to the position that it was no longer solely responsible for the obligations of the “Third Reich”, and thus forwarded demands from compensation from Eastern Bloc states to East Germany. West Germany behaved ambivalently: On the one hand, it condemned to the rest of the world East Germany’s denial of reparations to Jews living outside East Germany. On the other hand, the West German finance ministry secretly approved East Germany’s position, since otherwise other East Bloc countries could be encouraged to file claims for reparations from West Germany.

The part (g) of the Federal Constitutional Court’s opinion referring to the continued existence of the German Reich was also an attempt to avoid saddling only West Germany with the responsibility for reparations payments. The Court wanted to emphasize that West Germany was not the official “legal successor” to the German Reich, since that would imply West Germany would “step into the shoes” of the Reich, as lawyers say — i.e., that West Germany would now be automatically 100% responsible for all legal obligations incurred by the German Reich. So the Court reasoned that the German Reich — including parts which were now East Germany — still existed, but was no longer “capable of acting”. This meant, in turn, that neither of the two new German states would be automatically liable for the legal obligations of the German Reich. It doesn’t make all that much sense, but legal fictions rarely do.

So this is the story of Reichsbürger. They’ve misinterpreted a few passages of highly complex legal decisions and come to bizarre conclusions which serve their ideological obsessions. Something that happens not infrequently in modern Western societies.

[Cross-posted to my German Law blog].

The ‘German Genius’ and its Friends in the Wrong Places

A book I just finished reading played a part in unraveling a minor mystery concerning a right-wing German politician.

The right-wing politician is Björn Höcke, Thuringian state chair of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.

The book is The German Genius, a 2010 English-language book by the British journalist Peter Watson.

First I’ll talk about the political mystery, then the book.

I. The Political Mystery

The mystery is whether Höcke, under the name “Landolf Ladig”, wrote articles (g) for an extreme-right publication of the German NDP party.

Let’s keep both parties straight. The AfD (g) Party, founded in 2013, is a right-wing, anti-immigrant nationalist-conservative political party. Although controversial, it currently polls at 10-15% of the vote and is represented in the German federal parliament, the Bundestag.

The NPD (National Democratic Party) (g) is a far-right political party which is considered the just barely legitimate political face of extreme right-wing German nationalism. There is considerable overlap between neo-Nazis and fanatical nationalists and the NPD. German law allows the Federal Constitutional Court to ban political parties which oppose the ‘liberal democratic order’, and several attempts have been made to ban the NPD party, but they failed on technical grounds. The NPD polls at 1-3% nationwide, and is not represented in the federal parliament, although it did get into some state parliaments in East Germany.

So in American terms, the AfD would be Donald Trump — controversial, often rude and crude, but with genuine support in the population, and generally smart enough to avoid openly embracing white nationalism. The NPD would be Richard B. Spencer — white nationalist and proud of it.

Trump is controversial, Spencer is radioactive.
The AfD is controversial. The NPD is radioactive.

Now back to Höcke. Höcke, a high-school history teacher (g) (which means he’s a civil servant) and “German Patriot”, is easily the most controversial member of the AfD. Appearing on a major German political talk show, he unfurled a German flag and set it on the armrest of his chair:

Bildergebnis für höcke will fahne

Höcke is part of the AfD’s ‘right-wing’ fringe, and there have been moves to try to kick him out of the party (g) to give it a more mainstream image. They were unsuccessful.

The question in this post, however, is whether Höcke is “Landolf Ladig”. The texts Landolf Ladig wrote for the radioactive NPD party are filled with extreme-right rhetoric. This doesn’t mean they’re openly neo-Nazi; even the NPD avoids that sort of rhetoric, which would earn it an immediate ban and criminal charges. But they’re full of völkisch-nationalistic code phrases popular among the German far-right. They’re even more controversial than what Höcke normally says, and some of the arguments in those articles may even be unlawful in Germany.

So, to sum up, what Landolf Ladig wrote is well outside the pale even for right-wing Germans. Therefore, if Höcke is Ladig, this would be a major blow to his political career. In 2015, a German sociologist Andreas Kemper, began publishing pieces in which he noted the similarities between Höcke’s writing and that of Landolf Ladig. Here’s a representative video:

Unfortunately it’s only in German, but it makes a strong case that Höcke wrote the Ladig pieces. Kemper’s work, among other things, eventually led the AfD to commission a legal expert opinion on whether Höcke was Ladig, which, according to news reports (g), concluded that it was likely he was, indeed, Ladig (g).

Höcke has always denied being “Landolf Ladig”, and in 2015, he threatened to sue anyone who said he was. This has led a German left-wing group to troll him by devoting an entire website (g) to claiming that Höcke is Ladig. You can even buy mugs and T-shirts with Höcke’s picture identified as “Landolf Ladig” on them. So far, Höcke has declined to sue.

And now, finally, we get to the book! One of the pieces of evidence mentioned by Andreas Kemper in a recent interview and article (g) was that Landolf Ladig told his NPD readers to read Watson’s book The German Genius, which bears the German title of Der deutsche GeniusBut Ladig got the name wrong, calling the book Genius der Deutschen. And guess what? Höcke made the exact same mistake! It’s only one element of the Höcke=Ladig case, but it’s an interesting one. Allow me to say, just for the record, that I am not interested in being sued, and don’t really care, so I hereby expressly declare that I have no opinion on whether Höcke is Ladig.

II. The Book

So what about the book? In a word, it’s a nearly 1000-page long compendium of German achievement, summarized thus in a positive Guardian review:

Peter Watson’s colossal encyclopaedia, The German Genius, might have been written for me, but not only for me. A journalist of heroic industry, Watson is frustrated by the British ignorance of Germany, or rather by an expertise devoted exclusively to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. Watson wonders not just why the nation of thinkers and poets came to grief between 1933 and 1945 but also how it put itself together again and, in 1989, recreated most of the Wilhelmine state without plunging Europe into war or even breaking sweat.

Watson has not simply written a survey of the German intellect from Goethe to Botho Strauss – nothing so dilettantist. In the course of nearly 1,000 pages, he covers German idealism, porcelain, the symphony, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, telegraphy, homeopathy, strategy, Sanskrit, colour theory, the Nazarenes, universities, Hegel, jurisprudence, the conservation of energy, the Biedermeyer, entropy, fractals, dyestuffs, the PhD, heroin, automobiles, the unconscious, the cannon, the Altar of Pergamon, sociology, militarism, the waltz, anti-semitism, continental drift, quantum theory and serial music.

Watson’s approach is mainly biographical — the book is essentially a series of potted biographies of German achievers, complete with birth-and-death dates. However, Watson’s summaries of their achievement are accurate and interesting, and he revives many forgotten figures and controversies. Watson probes every single nook and cranny of modern German culture and achievement.

The argument of the book is basically that although German thinkers and doers have shaped huge portions of our modern intellectual and political landscape, the English-speaking world underestimates this achievement because of its excessive focus on the ‘Prussian militarism’ and of course the Nazi era. Germany was a world leader in universal public education, modern research universities, and modern healthcare, chemistry, and physics.

And before the mid-20th century, the English-speaking world recognized this. Watson points out (twice), for instance, that the New York Times dedicated its entire front page to the death of Alexander von Humboldt in 1859. There are thousands of American cities, towns, and institutions whose names reflect the heritage of German settlers (including Humboldt County, California, now famous for something very different). German intellectual rigor and distinction was once proverbial in the English-speaking world, and German language ability and a tour in a German university was a mark of distinction for young British and American intellectuals. Watson’s book is intended to remind us why this was the case, and that the specifically German aspects of German-speaking culture still has much to offer the world.

I enjoyed the book immensely and learned an enormous amount from it, so it’s a solid recommendation from me, Landolf Ladig, and Björn Höcke. Although I should point out, in capital bold letters, that Peter Watson is in no way an apologist for völkisch German nationalism. He devotes exhaustive attention to the horrors of the Third Reich, and points out how aspects of the “German Genius” (excellence in chemistry, philosophical and social radicalism, völkisch nationalism, German historiography) either helped lay the foundations for Nazism or furnished it with tools. Watson admires modern Germany’s culture of remembrance, and doubtless has zero sympathy with the AfD, NPD, or any of those fellows. This is not a book intended to warm the hearts of German nationalists (although, as we have seen, it does that), but rather to encourage respect for and interest in one of the world’s great, and distinctive, cultural traditions.

German Word of the Week: Thingstätte

This GWOW amuses English-speakers because it begins with a false friend. But then it gets very German, in all senses of that word.

A ‘Thing‘, Wikipedia tells us, was “the governing assembly of an early Germanic society, made up of the free people of the community presided over by lawspeakers.” In other words, a sort of proto-parliament, usually held outdoors at a symbolic grouping of stones or large tree (perhaps a Gerichtslinde or “court linden”). There are very few records of Things left, and few ruins which can be positively identified as Thingstätte (Thing-places, pronounced approximately TING-steh-tuh). Nevertheless, they were important institutions — many Scandinavian parliaments have some form of the word “ting” in their official title.

But Germanic Thingstätte had a disturbing second life, as with so many things Germanic. The völkisch movement in Germany, and later the National Socialists, decided to revive the ancient tradition of the Thingstätte. The new versions weren’t supposed to be parliaments, but rather outdoor gathering places where the faithful could assemble to revere nature, the Germanic soul, and other nationalist topoi*.

Party groups, or the Hitler Youth, would assemble at the Thingstätte for Thingspiele, multi-disciplinary events which might feature torchlight processions, speeches by academics or ideologues, choral singing, patriotic dramas, sporting contests or similar collective celebrations of things young, healthy, vigorous, and Teutonic. Nazi-era Thingstätte in Germany — of which 400 were planned, but only 40 built, are often huge, with oval-shaped amphitheaters with seating for thousands, usually set on hilltops. This means they’re quite hard to get rid of, and still generate controversy, since they are massive and indelible reminders of the Third Reich. They attract visitors from the unsavory right-wing fringes of German society, as well as from people who want to revive ancient Germanic traditions such as Walpurgisnacht (there is some overlap between those groups, but it’s far from 100%). I once visited perhaps the most famous Thingstätte, in Heidelberg, and saw only yuppies jogging up and down its steps.

And today I just learned, from the magnificent ars publica düsseldorf** site, that Düsseldorf had its own Thingstätte, way off in Gerresheim, a working-class suburb in the eastern part of the city. It was built in 1935, partly as an employment-generating measure for World War I veterans. Now, it’s pretty much completely abandoned, and surrounded by privately-owned houses:

It included a big 220-step path up a large hill, at the top of which was a massive boulder with a memorial inscription. I bet a ruined Thingstätte would be pretty interesting to visit (after getting necessary permissions, of course), so it’s now at the top of my list of things to see and do in this endlessly-fascinating city. Continue reading “German Word of the Week: Thingstätte”