A disturbing trend: Neo-Nazi codes

Mike Krumboltz
The Upshot

The swastika, unmistakable symbol of Nazi power, has been banned in Germany for some time. However, neo-Nazis are finding ways around that law, initiating alternate graphics and codes to promote their Hitler-inspired beliefs.

A new brochure titled "Hide and Seek," featured in German news magazine Der Spiegel, explains the troubling trend. Of course, the symbols appear innocuous so most people don't recognize them as anything hate-driven. The neo-Nazi signs can be seen on banners at sporting events, as tattoos, etc. Michael Weiss, author of the brochure, told Der Spiegel that its purpose is to raise public awareness of the current generation of neo-Nazi codes, especially among teachers and social workers and others with access to German youths.

Consider, for example, a symbol as seemingly far from the swastika as the number 14. This is code for "14 words," a phrase first coined by American white separatist David Lane. His 14-word statement, "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children" is a mantra for many neo-Nazis.

"BH" is another secret hate code. This stands for Blood and Honour, an extreme right-wing group banned in Germany more than a decade ago. The number 88 is gaining popularity, too, a reference to the outlawed phrase "Heil Hitler." With "H" being the eighth letter of the alphabet, to Nazis, "88" means "Heil Hitler."

According to Weiss, around 150 neo-Nazi codes are in use in Germany. In addition to emerging symbols, some neo-Nazi groups have repurposed old ones. Der Spiegel points out the example of the kaffiyeh scarf, a longtime symbol of Palestinian nationalism, which neo-Nazis have adopted not as a symbol of support for Palestine but of the fight against Israel.

This act of Nazis stealing symbols is nothing new. The swastika itself was once associated with peaceful themes in other cultures before Hitler and the Nazi Party made it synonymous with racism and mass murder.

You can examine the full brochure of neo-Nazi codes here (in German).

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