Faster, Please!

The Circle of Evil

The story of the day comes from Germany.  It’s about comrade Horst Mahler, one of the leaders of the West German Baader-Meinhof Gang that terrorized the country in the latter days of the Cold War.  Mahler was one of the founders of the Red Army Faction, which was one of the most violent terrorist groups in Europe in the 1970s and 80s. He was arrested shortly after the group’s creation, and spent many years in prison. A lawyer with a passion for defending anti-Government protesters, Mahler emerged from jail with dramatically different political convictions: he had moved from the extreme left to the extreme right, and is now serving time because of his activities as a Holocaust denier.

The German story alleges — based on a claim of having read a Stasi document — that Mahler was working for East German intelligence until the time that he joined Baader-Meinhof.  The document in question emerged in connection with a recently reopened investigation into the fatal shooting of a peace demonstrator by a West German policeman in 1967.  For extras, the cop was found to be a Stasi agent.

The link above takes you to an article in the Guardian, and the author quite properly raises questions about the reliability of the report. He does not raise a question that should always be introduced when we are talking about internal intelligence service documents: case officers love to claim that they have recruited people who are not actually working for them, but may be sympathetic to their objectives. It is possible, therefore, that Mahler was friendly with the Stasi but not following their instructions.

That said, there can be no doubt that the Red Army Faction was in cahoots with the Stasi.  I had several conversations with top German intelligence and military leaders in the mid-1980s, and they were positive about the operational links between West German terrorists and East German intelligence.

But that is not what interests me most; that is old news, whatever is eventually found regarding the document in question and Mahler’s connections to his country’s enemies. The most important aspects of the story are: Mahler’s smooth transition from communism to right-wing anti-Semitism, and his own reflections on that transition.

Those few people who have actually studied fascism know that European communist leaders often recruited loyal comrades from the ranks of fascist movements and parties. Much of the time, especially after the second world war, the communists airbrushed the biographies of these new recruits in order to save them the annoyance of having to answer embarrassing questions about their previous loyalties. This is especially noteworthy and extraordinarily well-documented in the Italian case, where, to the great amazement of their admirers, leading left-wing intellectuals have been found to have been loyal fascists and even enthusiastic anti-Semites during the 20-year fascist era.

Mahler fits that pattern quite nicely, albeit in reverse.  But the “direction” of his conversion is much less important than the fact itself. Mahler has been a “true believer” throughout, whether his passions were attached to a utopian vision of a classless society, or to a world in which his own country’s guilt for the Holocaust is rendered moot by denying the crime. Instead, he blames his country for different crimes altogether, either the oppression of the (non-existent) working-class or accepting the myth of Nazi mass murder. In such a tortured soul, it all comes to the same thing. He sees himself fighting in the name of higher ideals, even though they change according to the political and moral requirements of the moment.

Mahler says as much.  When asked about the dramatic change in his worldview by a German writer, Mahler insisted that, properly understood, he had remained faithful to himself:

“When I asked him whether he accepted that he had changed his views since the 1960s, he said, ‘You have to see it dialectically. One changes, and at the same time one remains the same.’ “

I wonder if we will not hear similar words from the Norwegian killer, Anders Breivik.  They’re demons from the same level of hell.