T-Shirts for a change of mind

About two months ago, at August 6th, some 300 German Neo-Nazis gathered in the small town ofGera in the federal state ofThuringia. They came for a reason: the biggest German far right music festival, called “Rock forGermany”, was about to take place again. It was supposed to be a week-end full of white pride and white music. But it turned out to be a surprise instead.

The first 250 Neo-Nazis to show up at the concert got a gift: a nice and tough looking T-Shirt showing the slogan: “Hardcore Rebels – National and Free” right under the obligatory skull, bones and flags. The typical right wing style Shirt was donated by an anonymous supposedly patriotic supporter. So far so good, the lucky 250 took their new stylish shirts and went on to rock forGermanyand to disport themselves in their despicable fantasies of white power, xenophobia and general hate for everything dubbed “ungerman”.


But there is always the other side of the coin: the T-Shirts were donated by an organization named “Exit Deutschland”, an organization few Neo-Nazis would like to be around or even reminded of, because Exit Deutschland counsels people who want to leave the movement, break with their hateful past and change. The organization helps them to effectively and enduringly turn their back on hate.


So what about the T-Shirts? What the 250 Neo-Nazis equipped with them did not know was, after being washed the first time, the style and motive vanished. What was left was the big slogan: What your T-Shirt can, you can do too! We help you to free from right wing extremism – ExitGermany”.

One can hardly imagine the sad and disappointed faces on theses bolded heads when they realized they were punked. After 24 hours the first mass text messages went around, pictures appeared in chat rooms and on youtube, just to warn against this “coward left wing attack”.


Soon the concert organizers put their incomprehension for this waste of tax money online. In times were kindergartens had to close the government throws away money to fight the patriots. Again the concert visitors and comrades were fooled, this time by their own superiors.


ExitGermanyworks since the year 2000 completely self funded to fight right wing extremism, to spread democratic culture and gives every individual the chance to change their ways. Founded by the former criminal police officer Bernd Wagner and the former Neo-Nazi Ingo Hasselbach the non-profit NGO kept on working through every high and low and helped over 450 men and women to fundamentally change their life. ExitGermanybelieves that the core principle of democracy is the dignity of every human being and the unquestioned respect for each other. Exit has been criticized many times to give Neo-Nazis a chance to escape, or hide for persecution. The assumption behind that argument is always the same: one time Neo-Nazi, always Neo-Nazi. But Exit does not actively approach individuals asking them to leave or “convert” to something better. Exit uses a passive approach, i.e. to be there when needed, in case someone really wants to quit and change. Over a close cooperation with case managers Exit will provide everything the drop out needs to successfully leave the movement: police protection against the former comrades, drug treatment, job training etc. Exit will however NEVER give away cash or do anything to prevent judicial persecution for crimes committed. To take responsibility for ones own deeds is a part of democracy and something the drop outs have to learn. In addition, and this is the main focus of the drop out process, Exit case managers will slowly work to dismantle the propaganda and ideology, which infected theses individuals for years. The goal is always the same: to get the idea and endorse the principles standing behind the general declaration of human rights.


Exit was also criticized for taking care of the offender but not the victim. Wrong again. ExitGermanycounsels families affected by members drifting off to right wing shores, communities with right wing problems, victims of right wing crime and generally everyone who contacts Exit with any problem related to right wing extremism.


Exit goes to schools informing about the dangers of the movement, helps police to effectively recognize and prevent right wing groups from taking ground, gathers information about hate crime and thereby effectively supports the justice system when needed. When possible the drop outs themselves work over a short period for Exit, as case manager or speaker in schools etc. This work is possibly the most effective way to fight right wing extremism as it continuously decays right wing hierarchies and reminds active Neo-Nazis, that there is indeed no ultimate truth in their worldview. They are constantly forced to explain the “betrayal” of their former well trusted comrades.


Last but not least Exit conducts research in cooperation with scholars around the world to analyze movements, ideologies, crimes and motives – the basis for any adequate policy reaction to fight or prevent not just right wing but every kind of extremism.


Still you can object to the idea of helping Neo-Nazis to leave the movement after all what they did. But think about this: to be given another chance in life and to correct ones own faults is a fundamental pillar of democracy. It is not about modifying the cruelty of the crimes and ideology. It is about getting rid of it once and for all.


ExitGermanycompletely relies on donations and support of private individuals to keep on working. Every kind of support is duly appreciated.


Please visit www.exit-deutschland.de for more information.


Kenneth Gbandi




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