CEP Webinar: The Transnational Nexus of Right-Wing Extremism and Organized Crime


Presentation (March 29, 2023): Mr. Alexander Ritzmann: Lead author of the study and of the Germany chapter Senior Advisor, Counter Extremism Project (CEP) The new CEP study can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/3ZPt9k1

About the study: Existing studies on the extremism/terrorism-crime nexus in recent years have focused on Islamist extremism and terrorism, while the transnational nexus between right-wing extremism/terrorism and organized crime groups remains under-researched. This gap in knowledge can lead to a misunderstanding of the strategies of right-wing extremists as well as of the risks those actors pose to potential victims and society as a whole.

A new CEP study, commissioned by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, shows that several violence-oriented right-wing extremist individuals and groups in Europe and the U.S. engage in or maintain ties with organized crime. Many of the identified cases have a transnational dimension, be it through cross-border activities like the acquisition of illegal drugs for distribution or through supposedly legal activities such as co-organizing hate music concerts, including events with a transnational character.

As the study demonstrates, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, VRWE-affiliated football hooligan groups, prison gangs, and a range of VRWE individuals and groups are part of transnational networks. Such connections are particularly visible in Austria, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and the U.S. The study aims at informing policymakers working on the prevention and countering of violent extremism or terrorism and organized crime with the goal of fostering a better understanding of the phenomena and to encourage further cooperation between relevant government agencies and civil society organizations.

Die Neonazimafia (ZEIT ONLINE)

Extreme Rechte machen Millionen mit Drogen, Waffen und Prostitution. Doch Ermittler ignorieren oft die Verbindungen zwischen kriminellem Milieu und Rechtsextremisten.

Ein Gastbeitrag von Alexander Ritzmann

6. April 2023


Rechtsextreme vernetzen sich über Grenzen hinweg miteinander, aber auch mit klassischen kriminellen Gruppen. Solche transnationalen Netzwerke hat das Counter Extremism Project, ein in Deutschland und den USA arbeitender Thinktank, im Auftrag des Auswärtigen Amtes untersucht. Der Politikwissenschaftler Alexander Ritzmann ist Mitautor dieser Studie.

The December 2022 German Reichsbürger Plot to Overthrow the German Government

CTC Sentinal

March 2023, Volume 16, Issue 3
Alexander Ritzmann

Weblink: https://ctc.westpoint.edu/the-december-2022-german-reichsburger-plot-to-overthrow-the-german-government/

Abstract: The alleged plot against the German government by the Reichsbürger group Patriotic Union, whose key members were arrested on December 7, 2022, is best understood as a thwarted, possible early-stage terrorist plot, rather than a preempted imminent violent coup attempt. The Reichsbürger, who are comprised of different groups and networks, claim that the German state of today does not legally exist. Many Reichsbürger ascribe to a version of the anti-Semitic ‘New World Order;’ others believe in “QAnon.” Some are right-wing extremists. However, the German Reichsbürger are not a movement. They lack structure, unifying narratives, and a common leadership, and their leading adherents do not cooperate with each other. Although the vast majority of Reichsbürger are neither considered violent nor right-wing extremists by German security agencies, the threat posed by a minority of violent and extremist Reichsbürger persists, with German security agencies continuing to thwart alleged violent activity linked to different Reichsbürger groups. Hence, the broad variety of Reichsbürger groups and individuals requires ongoing and focused attention by the German police and intelligence agencies, investigative journalists as well as civil society organizations.

DGAP-CEP Event: The Possibilities and Limitations of the EU’s Digital Services Act | A. Ritzmann

The German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) hosted a hybrid panel discussion on December 13, 2022: “Fighting Extremism and Terrorism on Social Media Platforms: The Possibilities and Limitations of the EU’s Digital Services Act” On November 16, the EU’s long-awaited Digital Services Act (DSA) came into force. It aims to curb the spread of the online hate speech, disinformation, and extremist and terrorist content with which democratic societies are increasingly confronted. At this event, we explored the implications of the DSA for combating extremism on social media platforms. How will it affect existing national regulations such as Germany’s Network Enforcement Act? How will the new legislation impact the technological aspects of the fight against online extremism? How is extremist infrastructure adapting online in the face of regulation? PANELISTS: Anke Schlieker, Project Assistant, Technology and Global Affairs Program, DGAP Dr. Hany Farid, Professor, University of California, Berkeley; Senior Advisor, CEP Alexander Ritzmann, Senior Advisor, CEP; Associate Fellow, DGAP

RAN Spotlight on COVID-19, Violent Extremism and Anti-Government Movements

October 2022


A psychological perspective on ‚Conspiracy narratives fostering anti-government sentiment‘. (Page 11)

Alexander Ritzmann is a senior adviser with the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) and the RAN

People who believe in conspiracy narratives are often trying to fix a problem. In many cases, they are in some kind of personal crisis (e.g. financial debt, reputation loss, job loss, partner loss) when they subscribe to stories claiming for example that a small “hidden (Jewish) elite” is running the world, that “white people” are being systematically replaced or that Bill Gates is using the COVID 19 pandemic to put microchips in peoples´ bodies to control them. Most conspiracy narratives also promise a caring community, belonging, safety, a status upgrade, adventure and often even heroism. Simply put: People believe in conspiracy narratives to feel better. They promise an essential upgrade to the (subjective) status quo to the “believer”. And they put the blame of what went wrong in one´s lives on someone else, which can be quite liberating.

Conspiracy narratives that are of particular relevance for P/CVE practitioners and policy makers are those that call for the degrading of others or are proclaiming an existential, apocalyptic threat that justifies or even mandates violence. The “Great Replacement”, “QAnon”, the “War against Islam” and “protect the children/vaccines kill children” fall in this category.
Possible Indicators for potential violence are:
“Upgrading by downgrading”: The promised status upgrade of the “believer” is based on the degradation or dehumanization of “the others” (out-group)
“The end is near”: The “believers” are facing supposedly existential, apocalyptic threats by out-groups
-“Moral outrage”: Unbearable crimes are supposedly being committed by out-groups, e.g. the abuse or killing of children.

Conspiracy narratives are mostly not about IQ´s or information deficits. Many “believers” claim to be well informed critical thinkers who spend a lot of time investigating “the truth”. Research suggests that the more intelligent “believers” are, the better they are at defending their narrative. Why? Because believing their truth makes them feel better than the realistic alternative. This indicates that the main issue here is not “the truth” as an end point of scientific research (which is more of process than an end point anyway), but the lack of “trust” in established mainstream governments, universities and civil society organizations. In that sense, we are not in a post- truth, but a post-trust era.

Conspiracy narratives are probably as old as human language since they promise the above mentioned feel-better functionality. Having said this, pervious “gatekeepers” of information, like established newspapers and TV stations, have partially been replaced as moral and factual universal authorities. Partisan cable TV stations since the 1990s, and algorithmically amplified polarization as part of the business models of social media companies since 2014, have been triggering basic human instincts like fear, outrage and moral grandstanding in a suggestive 24 hours-7 days a week on-demand way.

It is difficult, if not near impossible, to change someone´s mind if their current belief and in-group makes them feel safe and relevant. Some Anthropologists suggest that historically, homo sapiens who stayed in tight groups to fight threats spread their DNA more successfully than those who wandered into the forest by themselves, leading to a widely shared biological „need“ for community. Until today, this can make humans pick the “truth” of their in-group over otherwise available information, especially if the “out-group” information challenges sacred values or the group identity. Neuroscientific research suggests that the „threat perception-centre“ of the human brain, the amygdala, which reacts when we encounter a physical threat like a bear in the forest, also takes charge of our behaviours when our most valued/sacred beliefs are challenged. This indicates that confrontational approaches when addressing conspiracy narratives will not work or even backfire, particularly if the “believer” is in a state of “fused identity”, meaning the individual and the group identity have merged.

The good news is that conspiracy believers at some point will have doubts about their life choices again. Maybe the hopes and projections of the promised life-upgrade did not realise. Maybe the leadership of the new community is corrupt, unjust or even dangerous. This can make people reevaluate their choice and then they might be looking for support to leave. This is the opportunity for a successful P/CVE intervention, very similar to deradicalization/exit work. In a private context, when family or friends are conspiracy believers, staying in contact, avoiding dividing topics and looking for common ground can help facilitating an exit from the world of “hidden elites” and conspiracies.


CEP-Puplication: Western Extremists and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine in 2022

Germany chapter by Alexander Ritzmann


The Russia-Ukraine war has been attracting foreign fighters/volunteers since 2014. Initially, the number of foreign individuals joining the conflict was limited. However, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24, 2022 provided a seemingly seismic shift in this field with up to 20,000 foreigners expressing an interest in joining the Ukrainian war effort. …