It is Europe’s premier martial arts organization for right-wing extremists. Their signature tournament has been banned twice by German authorities. However, the Kampf der Nibelungen, or Battle of the Nibelungs, continues to thrive on Facebook, where organizers maintain multiple pages, as well as on Instagram and YouTube, where they use to spread their ideology, recruit new members, and make money through ticket sales and branded merchandise.
The Battle of the Nibelungs — a reference to a classic heroic epic beloved by the Nazis — is one of dozens of far-right organizations that continue to profit from mainstream social media, despite Facebook’s and other platforms’ repeated pledges to rid themselves of extremism.
According to research, a non-profit policy and advocacy group formed to combat extremism, there are at least 54 Facebook profiles belonging to 39 entities that the German government and civil society groups have flagged as extremist. On Facebook alone, the groups have nearly 268,000 subscribers and friends.
CEP also discovered 39 related Instagram accounts, 16 Twitter accounts, and 34 YouTube channels with over 9.5 million views. Almost 60% of the profiles were clearly aimed at making money, with prominent links to online shops or photos promoting merchandise.
The individuals and organizations represented in CEP’s dataset are a who’s who of Germany’s far-right music and combat sports scenes. “They are the ones who construct the infrastructure where people meet, make money, enjoy music, and recruit,” said Alexander Ritzmann, the project’s lead researcher.
According to CEP, it focuses on groups that want to overthrow liberal democratic institutions and norms such as press freedom, minority protection, and universal human dignity, and believe that the white race is under siege and must be preserved, using violence if necessary. None have been banned, but almost all have been labeled as extremist in German intelligence reports, according to CEP.
By treading carefully, these key architects of Germany’s far-right use the power of mainstream social media to promote festivals, fashion brands, music labels, and mixed martial arts tournaments that can generate millions in sales and connect like-minded thinkers from around the world.
The Battle of the Nibelungs event was banned by German authorities in 2019 on the grounds that it was not about sports, but rather about training fighters with combat skills for political struggle. As the coronavirus raged in 2020, organizers planned to stream the event online, using Instagram and other platforms to promote the webcast. According to local media reports, a few weeks before the planned event, over a hundred black-clad police in balaclavas broke up a gathering at a motorcycle club in Magdeburg, where fights were being filmed for the broadcast, and hauled off the boxing ring.
The Nibelungs tournament was attended by members of the Rise Above Movement, a white supremacist street fighting club in California, and its founder, Robert Rundo. At least four Rise Above members were arrested on rioting charges in 2018 after they took their combat training to the streets during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Several Battle of Nibelungs alumni have been imprisoned, including for manslaughter, assault, and attacks on migrants.
However, there is no mention of professionalized anti-government violence on the group’s social media feeds. Instead, it is positioned as a healthy lifestyle brand that sells branded tea mugs and shoulder bags.
Thorsten Heise, who has been convicted of incitement to hatred and described as “one of the most prominent German neo-Nazis” by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the German state of Thuringia, also has multiple pages on Facebook.
Frank Kraemer, dubbed a “right-wing extremist musician” by the German government, uses his Facebook page to direct people to his blog and Sonnenkreuz online store, which sells white nationalist and coronavirus conspiracy books, as well as sports nutrition products and “vaccine rebel” T-shirts for girls.
Google stated that it has no interest in promoting hateful content on YouTube and that it is investigating the accounts identified in this report. According to the company, it worked with dozens of experts in 2019 to update its policies on supremacist content, resulting in a five-fold increase in the number of channels and videos removed.