The “Extremism” Cudgel
On August 25, in a move that made media waves worldwide, the internet platform linksunten.indymedia.org was shut down by the German interior ministry. We stand in solidarity with the beleaguered project and would like to make a couple points regarding the ban.
The German interior ministry used a law governing associations [Vereinsrecht] to justify the ban, further explaining that the site “runs afoul of the penal code in both its aims and its actions.” The ban went public on August 25 with five coordinated police raids in Freiburg and the shutdown of the website. But the ban is broader than that, including as it does the use of linksunten.indymedia‘s logo and Twitter account as well as the use of the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allegations against the site include that it is “oriented in opposition to constitutional order,” and that the platform’s operators, “in rejection of the state monopoly on force, excuse and promote the use of violence against people—especially police officers—and property to advance left-extremist ends” (source: a tweet sent out by the German interior ministry on August 25). Further, the site’s operations team allegedly had not removed articles calling for violence against police officers.
This team, according to authorities, consists of three Freiburg residents. Although Indymedia has never been structured as an association, the justice system constructed one around these three, in order to be able to ban the project more easily under the association law.
The media are celebrating the ban as a major blow to the “left extremist” scene, drawing connections to the G20 protests and accompanying reports with lurid headlines like “Internet platform’s operators had weapons” (Stuttgarter Zeitung) or “’Expect acts of revenge’” (Focus). Thus spreads the frightening specter of leftwing viciousness and with it a mass coordinated attempt to justify the ban. It is mentioned only in passing that the “typical leftwing arsenal” discovered by law enforcement consisted merely of pipes, clubs, and slingshots—and it is not mentioned at all that these items were found not in the apartment searches of the alleged site operators but separately at Freiburg’s autonomous social center, KTS.
Interior minister Thomas De Maizière had this to say about the ban: “It should send a clear signal.” We admit he’s got a point; it does send a clear signal when a state organ bans a leftwing internet site at a time when
- the NSU [National Socialist Undergound, a large network of Nazi crews responsible for the murders of eleven people between 2000 and 2007] is being downplayed in its significance by federal law enforcement
- there were more than 3500 assaults on refugees in 2016, a trend that has not stopped
- more than 4000 refugees died on the way to Europe in 2016, a trend that has not stopped
- and Germany’s deportation machine is illegally sending people back to the warzones they had fled
and when the only task this leftwing site had set out for itself was to offer a platform that could be used by anyone and on which reports, event- and demonstration announcements, and articles could be published uncensored. The “signal” that the honorable minister is referring to is loud and clear: The true enemy is on the left!
The ban is best understood against the backdrop of the coming federal parliamentary elections and with a view to the debates following the unrest around the G20 summit in Hamburg. Even in advance of the summit, there were demands from many corners that there be “tougher measures” taken against “leftwing extremists.” The ban and the criminalization of a central communications portal for left movements can, in this context, be read as a sign of what’s to come. It is no coincidence that, in the coming weeks, nineteen federal and state ministers of interior and justice will meet to discuss a “more resolute approach to combating leftwing autonomists” (Spiegel).
An Attack on Independent News Coverage
Linksunten.indymedia was not used solely for statements on militant attacks and actions, nor were instructions for making petrol bombs the only thing that appeared there. Linksunten was a central platform on which articles, reports, and event- or demonstration announcements could be published uncensored and available to all. The operators of the site only inserted their voices in regards to technical issues. Thus linksunten—which regards itself as part of the worldwide Indymedia Network—provided a space and a resource for both the production and consumption of independent news coverage for those otherwise without access to their own media.
For example, useful background information of far-reaching importance about the NSU and how it hunted down targets was published on the platform, along with reports about the local and national NSU inquiries; meanwhile the Bundesamt für Verfassungschutz [BfV, basically the German FBI] was shredding records pertinent to the impaneled parliamentary investigations.
The nature of the attack is also apparent in the fact that the operators stand accused not of having themselves published anything criminally relevant, but of having made a platform available—which is a basic element of independent journalism, and something that could be said of any newspaper or blog that publishes statements, dispatches, and announcements.
With this ban on an internet platform that was used by many different currents within the left, the political signaling is clear: it is not merely an attack on a specific structure but against the entire left, as a whole. The ban represents an attack on all of us, and it is an attack on all independent and uncensored news. Therefore what it means for us is: it’s time to create one, two, three, many more Indymedias!
During the protests against the G20 in Hamburg and in the arguments that followed, the “extremism” cudgel was brandished over and over again, and a “resolute approach to combating extremism of all kinds” was demanded—in this case against “leftwing extremism.”
But what does “extremism” even mean?
The theory of extremism assumes that on both the left and right fringes of the political spectrum, “extreme” positions are held that endanger security and order within society. This theory posits an equivalency of right and left positions—therefore an equivalency between an excessive regard for “cultural tradition” and violence against migrants on the one hand and the struggle to meet people’s basic needs, to end war, and for a better world on the other.
This theory also leads to the lazy conclusion that the correct position is to be found somewhere in the middle. That such a notion has come up right before parliamentary elections is hardly surprising. It intentionally obscures that centrists
- are pro-war (the Federal Republic of Germany is currently involved in sixteen)
- are for a de facto military lockdown of our urban centers
- promote policies that result in the deaths of thousands of refugees
- promote policies that cause hunger across wide swathes of the planet
- are for the everyday exploitation of the majority of the population
- and, long story short, are in favor of structural forces that run against the interests of the majority of the population.
Therefore the equivalency drawn between a rightwing and a leftwing view of the world is simply and honestly wrong. The violence inherent in a rightwing view of humanity is directed at minorities and people who do not fit into their vision of the world, and has caused nearly 200 deaths in Germany since 1990, while the leftwing worldview and ideology has remained steadfast in the struggle for the broader public good over the private profit of a few.
Extremism has been a weaponized political term from the beginning, intended to discredit positions that diverge from established norms, to distract from the structural violence of these norms, and to disallow any distinction between misanthropic violence and the struggle for the liberation of humanity.
Translated by Antidote
Rote Hilfe is an anti-repression organization, ancillary to the militant communist group Revolutionärer Aufbau, that lends active legal support, advice, and counterinformation to movements and individuals throughout the Swiss left and beyond, functioning in many ways similarly to (though perhaps more assertively than) the National Lawyer’s Guild in the United States.
Featured image: spotted in Lübeck. Source: Twitter