Will Neo-Nazis Disrupt the World Cup?

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As host of the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament, Germany has been touting the games as "A Time to Make Friends." But a rash of attacks by far-right groups is raising fears that some of the estimated 10,000 neo-Nazis who live in Germany will use the event to broadcast their message of hatred and intolerance to a global audience. In the same week that neo-Nazis in East Berlin are suspected of attacking a member of Parliament who is of Kurdish origin — and who remains hospitalized after suffering a concussion — German police released a national report documenting a sharp increase in the number of crimes committed by far-right groups over the past year. And this comes after a dire "no go" warning, issued earlier this month by a former government spokesman who now heads an anti-racism advocacy group, that if people "with different color skin" travel to parts of eastern Germany, "they may not come out alive."

Security officials say that the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is planning several rallies during the monthlong tournament, which begins June 9 and will likely draw an audience of hundreds of millions worldwide. At one rally scheduled to coincide with the Iranian team's first game, the NPD is expected to express solidarity for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, whose anti-Semitic and anti-American diatribes have been embraced by many a skinhead in Germany and elsewhere.

"This is a special problem we face," said August Hanning, who is in charge of tournament security for Germany's Interior Ministry. But organizers also say that the problem may be overblown. Crimes committed by far-right groups in Germany increased 24% this year, according to the new statistics released this week. But more than 90% of these far-right crimes were non-violent and political in nature, such as displaying swastikas and violating other post-war bans on Nazi propaganda. The number of racist attacks actually decreased last year. World Cup organizers insist that while neo-Nazis may be preparing to make a spectacle of themselves this summer, local police and security services are more than up to the task of keeping them in check. The games, they say, will go on.