Bavarian Oktoberfest – Where “Middle Of Society” Folk Come to Celebrate.

A Time for Festivity… a Time for Reflection.

Fall is a time for change, as greeneries transform from bright hues to dark brown, high mountaintops experiencing first snow, children impatiently awaiting  Halloween, and for a few fortunate Americans,  having the opportunity to travel abroad to join in the festivities where the novel Bavarian Oktoberfest was first shaped, and, where every year hundreds of thousands of Europeans come from far and near to dance, eat, sing and drink beer in the primeval mountains of Germany. Unfortunately, the festival also has somewhat of a fateful history and from time to time been regarded by some as Europe’s Geo-political litmus test. In the 1930s the Festival was also known as the Great German Folk Fest, where thousands came to venerate in their new-found Aryan ideology.

From tweets to the streets – these groups are mirroring the ISIS playbook for radicalization and have begun to build a dangerous narrative.

While Bavarian event planners are busy making final preparations for the fest, others in Germany have been engaged in revelries of a different sort. Earlier this month in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, an unparalleled event and likely a sign of the times occurred when thousands of protesters, led by far-right and neo-Nazi groups, rampaged across city neighborhoods, flashing Nazi salutes with far-right chants of “foreigners out”. On that same night, more than a dozen Nazi sympathizers stormed one of the few local Jewish owned businesses and attacked the owner with stones, pipes and glass bottles. From tweets to the streets – these groups are mirroring the ISIS playbook for radicalization and have begun to build a dangerous narrative. On October 1, 2018, 100 police officers backed by paramilitary commando’s arrested 7  members of the newly formed Revolution Chemnitz: German authorities uncovered this far-right ‘terrorist’ group planning sophisticated attacks on government, minority and other targets of opportunity.

Mob Attacks against Mosques, Jewish owned businesses, and other cultural sites once unheard of in contemporary Germany are no longer rare events.

Earlier this month, hundreds of Neo-Nazis marched through the suburban district of the nondescript city of Dortmund. While waving the black-white-red imperial flags they chanted in unison neo-Nazi slogans: “Those who love Germany are anti-Semitic” followed by “Police, democracy, you’ll never break us” and “National Socialism [Nazism] now!” The police left the Nazis undisturbed and did not intervene. Mob Attacks against Mosques, Jewish owned businesses, and other cultural sites once unheard of in contemporary Germany are no longer rare events. A witness to the Chemnitz attacks detailed her observations to media; What shocked her most, was not so much the presence of the far-right in her city – “they’ve been around for decades” – so much as those from what she calls “the middle of society” who marched alongside them. These protests rapidly materialized after last month’s fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old German man, purportedly attacked by two immigrants of Iraqi and Syrian origin. In a matter of hours antagonists leveraging social media, summoned thousands of people to the streets. News footage visibly showed protesters chasing dark-skinned bystanders in targeted attacks, while others recorded the crowds chanting “foreigners, get out of our city.” Merkel condemned the violence as having “nothing in the least to do with sadness for a person or with concern for a city’s cohesion.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, in a similar rebuke, called on people to “get up off the sofa and speak up” against the neo-Nazi presence, noting that “if the Hitler salute is shown on our streets today once again, it will be a disgrace to our nation.”

Many of the marchers admitted membership and support for what was once a fringe political party now mainstream called AfD, Alternative for Germany. AfD is now the second most popular party in Germany whose creed is predicated on anti-immigration, anti-Semitic and xenophobic ideology.  In just a year, AfD has surged in the polls, senior government officials have publicly supported their agenda, members of the police and military services, albeit still a distinct minority, have been arrested for harboring neo-Nazi views, with some under investigation for plotting and planning attacks on Jewish, Muslim, government and other minority citizens. The party has taken 92 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Provocation, slurs, and other behaviors which would have never been considered acceptable have become the norm. What we are beginning to see is that taken at an aggregate level, such an adverse public reaction may generate something that these ultra-nationalist parties themselves cannot. Historians, pundits, and sociologists are astonished how once again this complex process has effortlessly been used as an enabling tool to manipulate the public into helping deliver the parties strategic goals

These distinct yet systematically similar groups recognize that if their actions cause large-scale mobilization of the public to put pressure on their governments to change policies or positions, they could indeed enjoy agenda-setting powers over a democratic society.

Like here in the United States, the citizens of European democratic societies have vested veto powers, affecting the outcomes of their own political processes. EU Policymakers who do not meet voter expectations are either forced out of office in the next election cycle or are forced to resign due to the dramatic loss of public confidence reflected through large-scale demonstrations, unfavorable opinion polls, or referendum outcomes. Both Ultra-nationalists and Islamic extremist groups engaged in terrorist activities against European citizenry have fixated on current events and have taken these democratic processes into account. These distinct yet systematically similar groups recognize that if their actions cause large-scale mobilization of the public to put pressure on their governments to change policies or positions, they could indeed enjoy agenda-setting powers over a democratic society. This dynamic is not dissimilar and independent, but, in fact, intertwined, as Islamic extremism and Ultra nationalism activities converge, each will fuel the growth of the other. When homegrown violent extremists carry out acts of terrorism, it incites an atmosphere of fear that extremists manipulate when injecting identity politics into civil discourse–thus sowing distrust between neighbors and further provoking the growth of these treacherous movements. This vicious cycle is perpetuating and exacerbating threats and other transnational challenges which have now transcended national and regional boundaries.

All this occurs amidst a backdrop of European governments having to care for and integrate millions of refugees streaming in from war-torn regions of the Mideast and northern Africa, and much of Europe is still dolefully ill-prepared for the next onslaught.  Terrorist attacks, deep socio-political divisions, renewed concerns that we are entering an age of Cold War with Russia, have been further exacerbated by an echo chamber social media landscape, which has, in turn, become increasingly manipulated and prone to conspiracy theories.

Some within the German and European security services have indicated that they are profoundly troubled and judiciously monitoring threats against Mosques, Synagogues, and Churches, many of which have become targets for mob violence and retribution. Still, few within the transnational security community are conscious of the current conditions challenging Europe’s citizenry and not mindful that today in contemporary western Europe, if a citizen wishes to enter a Synagogue to pray, visit, or gather with fellow community members, they need to first pass through combat-ready military troops posted behind concertina barbed wire and cement blocks. This is not just exclusive to Germany, members of European religious and other minority communities have been harassed and or assaulted on the streets of Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Stockholm.

The Bigger Picture

Under the guise of cultural and sporting events and through penetration, manipulation, and its continued desire to control the narrative Russia is keenly focused on altering the archetype by using democracies attributes against her. As pundits and analysts continue to search for supportive data to confirm this seismic shift, many are not showing any notice at all and more interestingly, in some respects, several analysts and academics, although naturally vigilant in their judgments on possible future developments, seem to have chosen to distance themselves from commenting on these rapidly changing geopolitical events.

One doesn’t need to look too far to see that many of the ballads in support of the new populist movements have already been tallied. As for a select few of us who labor in the transnational security and geopolitical realm we earnestly remain troubled by what we see –For Europe is our – Canary in a Mine…

There still appears to be an adolescent radiance that resonates with citizens born into democratic societies. We seem to take human rights, ideals, morals and the integrity upon which our openhearted nations were created for granted, at our own peril…  it seems as if we can’t possibly accept as true that as citizens of democratic nations we can be manipulated in ways that directly threaten human and civil rights, freedoms, potentially threatening the very future of our societies as we know them.

Since the fall of Nazism just 70 years ago, Western society has worked feverishly towards greater cooperation with the single goal in mind – to build a European Union.  Only ten years ago many Eastern European nations were eager to join the European Union, yet, today, most are now ruled by nationalist populist governments defying democratic rules of law and in some cases democracy itself. Many within the populist movements no longer consider the USA an ally, although, the ideology they elected to embrace may contrast with Russian doctrine, populist leaders feel that they now have more in common with the east.

Back to Oktoberfest, where the ‘middle of society folk” will flock to Bavaria to celebrate; and it is the middle of society folk which now has German Police officials anxious. Referred to New Right or Mosaic, the middle of society folks are the people who have historically not been active in any political event or party have now become the fastest growing group joining the ranks of AfD and other like-minded groups.

Nearly 4 decades ago I was compelled, albeit reluctantly, by my devoted parents to accompany them to the premiere of a new musical called Cabaret. They felt I needed to expand my limited horizons as I had little interest in movies other than James Bond or Three Stooges.  However, as I sat within the theater and half-heartedly watched the Cabaret opening scene of a Bavarian Oktoberfest, I was suddenly mesmerized by the beautiful voice of a young man who captivated -the middle of society- folk gathered to enjoy the sausage and drink. As his voice became more dynamic, brasher, the onlookers rose one by one to their feet, the camera shot quickly panned to the soloists’ face and then to full body which revealed a young man, blond hair, impeccably pressed brown uniform, emblazed armband with the red swastika. In an instant, his face transformed from beaming to ominous, his lyrics clearly resonated with his fellow revelers and the few standing rapidly turned to hundreds of- middle of society- all of whom raised hands as they crooned in harmony. -Tomorrow the World Belongs To Me!

 “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”

 –Elie Wiesel; The Nobel Peace Prize speech, 1986

I’d like to share the short clip and hoping that readers will find the time to view this thought-provoking three movie clip!


Paul Goldenberg
Paul Goldenberg
Paul Goldenberg is currently a Senior Fellow with Rutgers University Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience and senior advisor to the Network Cotangent Research Institute NCRI. He is also President of Cardinal Point Strategies and was a longstanding member of the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council (HSAC) where he served as Chair of both the DHS National Cyber Security Task Force and DHS Foreign Fighter Task Force, and advisor to the DHS Countering Foreign Influence Subcommittee. His public career includes more than two decades as a former senior official of the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office, Director of the nation’s 6th largest county social service and juvenile justice system, and as a law enforcement official who headed investigation efforts for significant cases of domestic terrorism, political corruption, and organized crime.

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