The Strategy of Tension: Bringing Down German Democracy

A neo-Nazi plan to ignite a civil war and bring about the collapse of German democracy echoes Italy’s Years of Lead.
Leonard Weinberg CARR, Germany far right, Germany neo-Nazi groups, Italy Years of Lead, Italy Gli anni di piombo, far right plot to bring down German democracy, Germany neo-fascist groups, Italy Red Brigades, Italy Communist Party, right-wing terrorism Europe

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June 29, 2021 07:56 EDT

Despite its government’s best efforts, Germany is suffering through a wave of right-wing violence. Triggered in part by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to admit thousands of refugees from the Syrian Civil War, networks of clandestine neo-Nazi groups whose ambitions encompass the overthrow of the Federal Republic have appeared. Particularly troubling was the discovery that elements within a special commando unit of the country’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have been stockpiling weapons with the aim to ignite a civil war and bring about the collapse of German democracy.

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Fortunately, the authorities were able to uncover this scheme and purge the Bundeswehr of these anti-democratic elements. In April this year, 12 men accused of planning a series of attacks on asylum seekers, Muslims, Jews and politicians went on trial in Stuttgart.

False Flag Tactics

Part of this plan was a false flag operation. A former Bundeswehr officer, identified only as “Franco A.” in the court proceedings, went on trial in Frankfurt in May for planning attacks on German politicians and various prominent individuals. Beginning in 2015, Franco A. sought to create a new identity for himself as a Syrian asylum-seeker. He succeeded in persuading the authorities of his false Muslim identity, at least for a while.

Among other individuals, Franco A. singled out Claudia Roth, a vice president of the German parliament; Heiko Maas, the foreign minister; and Anetta Kahane, a Jewish woman, frequently identified as an outspoken defender of asylum seekers, as likely targets. Fortunately, the authorities were able to uncover the scheme and arrest its principal perpetrator before it could be put into operation.

By impersonating a Muslim and carrying out attacks on prominent and individuals largely sympathetic to the cause of integration, Franco A. hoped to exacerbate the backlash against the Muslim community already underway throughout the country. In this way, he hoped to spark a conflict that would shake the foundations of German democracy.

The false flag tactic has a familiar ring to it. It was employed, for example, in the bombing campaign launched by right-wing provocateurs in the lead-up to the 1967 military coup d’état in Greece. But the one place where the tactic was employed most extensively was Italy. The “strategy of tension” was employed by Italian neo-fascists and elements within the state security agencies during the country’s Years of Lead — Anni di piombo — roughly 1968 to 1982.

Strategy of Tension

Northern Italy and Rome during the late 1960s were alive with revolutionary agitation and protest. Wildcat strikes broke out in the plants and factories of Milan, Turin and other cities during the “hot autumn” of 1968. University students throughout much of the country staged mass protests against the Vietnam War, in solidarity with their counterparts in Paris and Berkeley, and the outdated character of Italy’s system of higher education.

In this atmosphere, extra-parliamentary leftist groups formed. With such names as Worker Vanguard, Worker Power and the Continuous Struggle, these militant bands called for violent revolution against the corrupt Italian state and the Christian Democratic Party that dominated it. What would become the country’s most notorious terrorist group, the Red Brigades, emerged from this milieu.

At this point, we should call attention to the Italian Communist Party (PCI), the biggest Marxist bloc in the Western world. By 1968-69, roughly one-third of Italian voters cast their ballots for the PCI, whose leaders, among other things, dominated the country’s largest trade union federation. Many journalists expected the PCI would shortly surpass the Christian Democrats as the number one party in Italy.

PCI’s leaders Enrico Berlinguer and Luigi Longo were at pains to point out that Italian communism was different — that it accepted the democratic rules of the game and aimed to enter a coalition government with the Christian Democrats to provide the country with a stable, democratic regime. Still, in the eyes of many Italians, the PCI was a communist party after all.

Counterrevolutionary Logic

Enter the strategy of tension. The counterrevolutionary logic of this strategy was to launch a series of indiscriminate bombings in public places disguised in such a way that the Italian public would blame the far left for these atrocities and for the breakdown of public order in general. In this way, Italians seeking a restoration of law and order would support, or at least remain indifferent to a seizure of power by the country’s military and security services.

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Accordingly, during the summer and fall of 1969, there were a series of bombings in Rome — one in front of an elementary school — and in the north of the country. The police reported these acts were the responsibility of anarchists. A number of individuals with backgrounds in neo-fascism (members of the New Order or the National Vanguard) changed their identities and resurfaced as “revolutionaries.”

Giorgio Almirante, the leader of the Italian Social Movement, a neo-fascist party in parliament, appealed to a “silent majority” of Italians demanding a restoration of law and order, borrowing language from the Nixon administration in Washington. Then, on December 12, there was the bombing of the National Agricultural Bank at Piazza Fontana in Milan that killed 17 customers. The police quickly blamed revolutionary anarchists for the massacre and within days arrested two individuals with the appropriate backgrounds. One of them allegedly committed suicide by jumping out of the fourth floor of the police headquarters. Few believed the official account.

The story unraveled quickly, thanks to investigations carried out by suspicious journalists. It’s a complex tale. But it should suffice to report that it involved a collaboration between Italy’s state security agencies, the state police and key figures in the neo-fascist movement. Arrests followed, but the subsequent court proceedings dragged on for more than a decade.

The chances seem remote that the democratic order in Germany will be challenged as seriously as it was in Italy, now more than 50 years ago. Still, some of the same ingredients for false flag operations appear to have been present in the case of Franco A.

*[Fair Observer is a media partner of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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