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Jalees Rehman, M.D.

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Creative Ways to Counter Right-Wing Extremism: Trojan T-Shirts

Posted: 08/12/11 06:45 PM ET

When you go through your laundry after pulling it out of the washing machine, you occasionally have to be prepared for unexpected surprises, such as seeing that your favorite white tablecloth has acquired a turquoise hue, or discovering your iPod that had gone missing. However, when German right-wing extremist music fans went through their laundry this past week, their surprise was even bigger.

As reported in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the far-right German political party NPD had organized a rock music concert in the city of Gera, which was attended by a significant number of German neo-Nazis. The organizers of the concert also distributed 250 free T-shirts, which they had received as an anonymous donation prior to the concert. The T-shirts appeared to be fairly typical for the kind of T-shirts that German right-wing extremists would wear. They were imprinted with a skull logo and the inscription, "HARDCORE REBELLEN, NATIONAL UND FREI", which translates to, "HARDCORE REBELS, NATIONALIST AND FREE."

When the attendees washed their T-shirts after the concert, however, the logo of the T-shirt changed to "WAS DEIN T-SHIRT KANN, KANNST DU AUCH," which means, "WHAT YOUR T-SHIRT CAN DO, YOU CAN DO TOO," reminding the right-wing extremists that they could also change, just like their T-shirts. The washed shirts also depicted the logo and web address of "Exit Deutschland" ("Exit Germany"), an anti-extremist organization that tries to help German right-wing extremists quit the far-right milieu. The organizers of the concert subsequently sent out messages via Facebook and SMS to warn the concert attendees about the deceptive nature of the T-shirts. This action has caused quite a bit of stir among German right-wing extremists, who felt duped by these "Trojan T-shirts."

However, comments made in German right-wing extremist online discussion forums after the news broke suggested that some members were impressed by the strategy of "Exit Deutschland." The co-founder of "Exit Deutschland," Bernd Wagner, subsequently wrote an excellent commentary, discussing the "Operation Trojan T-Shirt." In his commentary, Wagner highlights the importance of using novel approaches to reach out to right-wing extremists. Conventional protests by left-wing or progressive-liberal citizens are likely to be seen as "old political rituals" and will be ignored by right-wing extremists.

The long-term outcome of "Operation Trojan T-Shirt" still needs to be determined. It is not yet clear whether this will end up being just a successful media stunt or whether it will actually help convince some members of the German right-wing extremist scene to disassociate themselves from their anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic ideology. It definitely made German right-wing extremists and the general public aware of the fact that an organization such as "Exit Deutschland" exists. This organization is available to help and educate people who want to quit the right-wing extremist scene but may be afraid to do so because of peer pressure or other obstacles. The fact that some right-wing extremists were impressed by the humor in "Operation Trojan T-Shirt" also illustrates the need to develop creative approaches to interact with right-wing extremists. Traditional ideological sermons that criticize right-wing extremists are likely to be ignored, but the language of wit and humor may be a more effective way to communicate with extremists.

 

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