It’s a rainy Sunday evening in May, in the town of Weiden, in northeastern Bavaria, and Patrick Schroeder, whom the German press has dubbed the “Nazi-hipster,” is preparing for his big webcam entrance. As the opening sequence for his weekly Internet TV show, FSN.tv, plays silently in the background, he ties a bandana stitched with the slogan “H8” around his mouth and fiddles with his mouse. A map of Germany in 1937 hangs on the wall above him.
It’s hard to get the timing for the intro “just right,” he explains, and once the graphics stop playing, he strides into frame and raises his arm, curling his hand into a fist and wishing his viewers, a few hundred members of Germany’s extreme right, a lovely evening. He calls this gesture his “professional wrestling entrance move,” which he claims was inspired by WWE-style theatrics, though it also, not inconveniently, looks a bit like aheil Hitler Nazi salute.
Schroeder is 30 years old, about six feet tall, with the boxy musculature of an MMA fighter, his blond hair shaved except for a jaunty strip along the top of his head. He’s dressed all in black, wearing armbands slightly reminiscent of those favored by vintage Avril Lavigne and speaks quickly and loudly, with a strong Bavarian lilt. When he laughs, his upper right lip rises up, making him look both threatening and insecure. “If the Third Reich was so bad, it would have been toppled,” he argues, before the filming begins. “Every half-intelligent person knows there is no system where everything was bad.”
He won’t elaborate, for legal reasons, but he’ll happily share his topline thoughts about everything from Obama (whom he grossly describes as America’s “neger president”) to why black people don’t belong in Germany (“It’s against nature — there’s a reason we’re not walking around in the sun, in Ghana, with our skin color”), to why American neo-Nazis are “primitive” (“It’s like they’re always dressing up for a costume party”) and — because, just like many other Germans, he loves American TV — his strong feelings about the series finale of How I Met Your Mother (“The mother dying was a good reminder that the world isn’t a great place”).
Inane rhetoric notwithstanding, Schroeder comes across first and foremost as a dedicated self-promoter, and he clearly enjoys putting on a show: For the next two hours, he sits at the computer and chats with his remote co-host about the latest Nazi news — recently banned groups, European elections — and riffs on pop culture. He peppers his statements with self-deprecating asides and eye-rolls, and he occasionally interrupts the chatter to play Rechstrock, neo-Nazi rock songs.
FSN.tv is Germany’s only neo-Nazi Internet TV show, and in the two years since it has existed it has turned Schroeder into a well-known, if highly controversial, figure in the German extreme right, largely because he has been open about his desire to give the German neo-Nazi movement a friendlier, hipper face. Schroeder sometimes conducts seminars showing neo-Nazis how they can dress less threateningly and argues that anybody from hip-hop fans to hipsters in skinny jeans should be able to join the scene without changing the way they look, an idea that, for many older members, is an affront to their anti-mainstream values.
Over the past year, partly because of leaders like Schroeder and partly because of the unstoppable globalization of youth culture, the hipsterification of the German neo-Nazi scene has begun to gain steam. This winter, the German media came up with a new term, “nipster,” to describe the trend of people dressing like Brooklyn hipsters at Nazi events. Experts have noted that the German neo-Nazi presence on Tumblr and other social networking sites has become sleeker and more sophisticated. Neo-Nazi clothing has become more stylish and difficult to recognize. There’s even a vegan Nazi cooking show. “If the definition of the nipster is someone who can live in the mainstream,” Schroeder explains, “then I see it as the future of the movement.”
These are strange times to be a neo-Nazi in Germany. The Federal Constitutional Court is gearing up for a hearing on the latest attempt to ban the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), the country’s oldest and biggest extreme-right political party. Regardless of the verdict, the party is close to running out of money and Nazi opponents have become successful at shutting down its public appearances (in April, a high-profile Berlin NPD march was successfully blockaded by several thousand protesters). The murder trial of the lone surviving core member of the National Socialist Underground, a far-right terror cell that is accused of killing 10 people between 2000 and 2007, is also ongoing in Munich, and focusing the nation’s attention on extreme-right crimes, and a recent study found that the number of people with extreme-right sympathies has sunken from 9.7 to 5.6 percent in the last 12 years.
At the same time, Germany and German culture have become more porous and international than ever: A federal survey found that nearly 20 percent of Germans have an immigrant background, and another new study found that immigrants and Germans are becoming increasingly similar. German TV broadcasts The Real Housewives, the Top 20 pop charts include songs by Calvin Harris,Coldplay and Pitbull and thanks to the Internet, teenagers can pirate the latest episode of Girls a few hours after it airs in America. And now another American export has arrived: In 2012, the dailyWelt heralded the “hipster” as Germany’s “new object of hate” and just this February, the country’s biggest tabloid, Bild, offered a guide to “hipster types” for its readers. (Example: “The fixed-gear fanatic never goes anywhere without his bike.”)
For people like Andy Knape, the rise of the German hipster presents both an opportunity and a dilemma. For the past two years, the 28-year-old Knape has been the head of the Junge Nationaldemokraten (JN), the youth wing of the NPD. His office is located in the state parliament of Saxony, in the eastern part of Germany, and overlooks the city’s majestic opera house, which largely burnt down after the city’s firebombing and was rebuilt after the war. A poster of an elderly woman with a shotgun and the words “drastic security measures” hangs on the wall, next to a photo of several steely-eyed white people smiling.
As head of the JN, Knape’s job is to make the NPD, and its extreme-right politics, appealing to young people (one of his biggest goals, he explains, is to “preserve German culture”) and he’s a good salesman — 5’8″, fit and dressed in a grey T-shirt and Converse-style sneakers, he wouldn’t look out of place on an American college campus. He first entered the scene when he was 13, in Magdeburg, because his brother was also “right-wing oriented” and he “started to ask himself lots of questions.” Eventually, he says, he began going to NPD demonstrations, and got more involved. Although his eyes betray a palpable aggressiveness and many of his talking points seem clearly rehearsed, for a man in charge of an organization being monitored by the Bundesverfassungsschutz — Germany’s domestic security agency — he is surprisingly soft-spoken. When he speaks he tends to curl up in his chair.
Like Schroeder, whom he sees as an acolyte, Knape wants to give “nationalism” a friendlier, cooler face (in the NPD, and many other extreme-right organizations, “nationalist” often functions as a politically acceptable euphemism for “Nazi”). For Knape, who grew up with American pop culture, the idea of policing what young members of the scene watch or listen to is silly — he’d much rather hijack it, and use it to bring young people into the fold. Michael Schaefer, the JN’s excitable 31-year-old press person, chimes in: “We’ve taken over the nipster,” he says, giddily, before catching himself. “I mean nationalist hipster, not Nazi hipster.”
The term hipster has, of course, always been notoriously slippery. Back in his 2010 book What Was the Hipster?, Mark Greif described the term as meaning a “consumer” who “aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class and thus opens up a poisonous conduit between the two.” But in Germany, as elsewhere, the newly discovered hipster is often reduced to its more superficial component parts: “skinny jeans, a bushy beard, bright sunglasses” (Welt), “strange, nerdy and somehow different,” (Sueddeutsche Zeitung), “self-important culture snobs” (Tagesspiegel). Here, the hipster is simultaneously a uniform, a cooler-than-thou weltanschauung and signpost of globalized American youth culture and consumerism.
“We don’t want to cut ourselves off,” Knape says, about hipster culture. “I see rap and hip-hop, for example, as a way of transporting our message.” In recent years, a number of extreme-right hip-hop acts have emerged in Germany — with names like Makss Damage and Dee Ex. Despite the awkward politics of using hip-hop to preach the virtues of German identity, they’ve amassed a small, but significant presence within the scene. Dee Ex, for example, has over 7,000 likes on Facebook and posts photos of herself in a revealing outfit on her blog. There is now neo-Nazi techno (biggest act: DJ Adolf) and neo-Nazi reggae.
Knape, on his end, has also gotten increasingly invested in online culture: “The Internet allows us to reach people we can’t reach on the street.” Now young people can get in touch with him over Facebook or e-mail without their parents, or anybody else, finding out. “They don’t need to out themselves immediately,” he says. Knape is especially proud of his viral-video outreach: last year, his group filmed a “Harlem Shake” video. In the JN video, people in masks bounce around junked cars while one of them holds up a sign saying “Have more sex with Nazis, unprotected.” It has over 17,000 hits on YouTube. (“New, modern, but not decadent,” Knape says about the video, which you can watch below.)
But, perhaps partly because of this internationalization of German culture, Knape struggles to define the “German traditions” he’s trying to preserve. It’s understandable: Germany, even by European standards, is a supremely contrived state composed of 300 formerly distinct political entities. Founded in 1871, it is also younger even than Canada — there’s a reason Hitler had to reach back to centuries-old, mythical folklore when trying to sell people on the idea of Germanic superiority. Knape says he wants more people to mark the “Sonnenwende” or solstice — a celebration the Nazis tried to revive in the Hitler era — for example, and to preserve the German language. He is concerned that “these days, we see a lot of people mixing German and English” — though he acknowledges that when it comes to technology, it’s “not easy to avoid.” He notes, with some resignation, that there is no German word for “hashtag.”