German authorities dismiss threat of far-right 'enemy lists'

Ruben Neugebauer said he has grown accustomed to the death threats since he started working for Sea Watch, an organization that rescues migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and brings them to Europe.

"We've been getting death threats for years," Ruben told DW, explaining that not everyone is a fan of the group's work. "It's become part of our everyday lives."

As such, he said he was not surprised his name is on a far-right "enemy list."

But what Neugebauer takes with a degree of calm has another man whose name is on the list shocked and worried. And finding out that extremists know his name from journalists rather than police is even more concerning, according to the man who asked to remain anonymous to keep from becoming more a target for the far-right.

"My immediate reaction is wondering whether I should now carry pepper spray or find other ways to protect myself," the man said.

Authors aim to spread fear

Emotions like that are just what the lists' authors aim to create, according to Hajo Funke, a political scientist who has studied right-wing extremism for years. One of their goals is "to spread fear and terror," he added.

But these lists, which often include addresses, could also be used to carry out attacks, Funke said, pointing to the case of Walter Lübcke. The conservative politician was shot in front of his home in June. A vocal proponent of Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy, his name showed up on a far-right "enemy list." An alleged right-wing extremist suspected of committing the murder said he killed Lübcke because of the politician's pro-refugee statements. The suspect later recanted the confession and is in custody awaiting trial.

Read more: Politician's killing must be a wake-up call

Funke said by maintaining "enemy lists" extremists also could be preparing for what they call Tag X(Day X) — the day they hope to seize power. "These lists are supposed to ensure that they can find and detain certain people," Funke explained.

The list Neugebauer and the teacher are on, Wirkriegeneuchalleor Wewillgetyouall, includes some 200 people. The authors of the list, which was publically accessible online for a few hours, remain unknown.

In addition to names, the list, a copy of which was obtained by DW, includes addresses as well as hateful comments such as "anti-capitalist," "towelhead," and "lefty spaz." Most of the people on the list are activists, journalists and left-leaning politicians.

Read more: AfD fuels xenophobia with distorted crime figures

There are several such lists. The far-right group Nordkreuz (Northern Cross), hacked a left-wing punk rock e-commerce website and put all 25,000 addresses they stole. Another "enemy list" specifically targets Jews and has been publically accessible online for some time. In addition to sorting people into categories by their degree of perceived treason, but also identifies Jews with yellow Stars of David.

Read more: Germany records small uptick in far-right extremist violence

Interior Ministry: Being on a list is not a tangible threat

Germany's Interior Ministry said that it is aware of the lists and reviewed them.

"So far, there have essentially been no indications that they pose a tangible threat for those affected," the ministry said in a statement. "The listed persons, institutions and organizations are currently not in danger, according to an assessment by the federal criminal police agency."

As police duties are largely delegated to Germany's states, each of the 16 states can form its own policies on whether to contact residents whose names appear on "enemy lists."

But police and the Interior Ministry are acting negligently if they do not inform people they could be targets because, according to Helga Seyb of ReachOut, an organization in Berlin that supports victims of far-right and xenophobic violence, the lists do represent a threat.

"Data is being collected and this information is, of course, supposed to be used," she told DW. "Maybe this is not dangerous right now, but in the future it could be."

Read more: Germany: AfD's anti-refugee Facebook video sparks massive incitement probe

How dangerous are the lists?

Funke, the political scientist, said he thinks the risk for the people on the lists varies from list to list and from person to person. For a list with 25,000 names on it, like the one created after a hack, not everyone is in danger, he said.

But being identified by name and address on a smaller list — like Wewillgetyouall — poses a more significant threat, he added.

"They are […] presumably in immediate danger," Funke said. "If the security authorities were good at their jobs, they would see it this way,"

Neugebauer said he and other people on the lists are angry over the lack of action from the police and government officials.

"We have been let down and left to our own devices by the authorities," Neugebauer said. "The Interior Ministry did not recognize and continues to deny what a danger these lists pose. That's a huge scandal."

Rather than relying on authorities for support, he reached out to other people listed on Wewillgetyouall. That informal support group, he said, helped him the most in dealing with the emotional strain of reading his name on a far-right extremist "enemy list."

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