Gottfried Küssel

Gottfried Heinrich Küssel (born 10 September 1958 in Vienna)1 is an Austrian Holocaust denier, right-wing extremist publicist and key figure in the Austrian and German neo-Nazi scene. He was known above all for his leadership of the militant neo-Nazi group "Extra-parliamentary Opposition Loyal to the People" (Volkstreue außerparlamentarische Opposition, VAPO) that he had founded in 1986. Küssel has spent around half of his adult life in prison because of Nazi revivalism and incitement. Küssel repeatedly called himself a national socialist, for example in 1990 during a TV show of the Austrian public broadcaster ORF:2

I am not a fascist. I am a socialist, but not an international socialist, I am a national socialist.

Early years

The newspaper Falter reported that Küssel had obtained an edition of Hitler's book Mein Kampf already at the age of 14.3 Initially, Küssel was drawn to far-right student corporations and fraternities, which are firmly anchored in public life in Austria. In the age of 18, Küssel became a member of "New Right Action" (Aktion Neue Rechte), a German New Right group,1 which appeared primarily as a neo-Nazi student movement. Küssel also belonged to the German nationalist "Academic Gymnastics Association Danubo Markomannia in Vienna" (Akademische Turnerschaft Danubo Markomannia zu Wien), at that time still a member of the "Sudeten German Association of Student Corporations" (Sudetendeutscher Verband Studentischer Corporationen),4 and he had contacts with the "Ring of Free Students" (Ring freiheitlicher Studenten).5 He was also a member of the neo-Nazi "comradeship" Kameradschaft Babenberg from 1979 until it was outlawed in April 1980. Around that time Küssel edited the far-right magazine Halt.1

In the early 1980s Küssel mingled also with soccer hooligans, especially from the soccer club Rapid Vienna, aiming at recruiting them to the far right.1 In 1982 he became head of operations of the "People's Movement" (Volksbewegung).2 He was arrested in 1983 and imprisoned on charges of attempting to revive Nazism.1 Released in 1984, Küssel got involved in a number of minor groups, notably the "National Front" (Nationale Front, NF) and the "People's Socialist Party" (Volkssozialistische Partei, VSP).6

According to his own statement, Küssel joined Gary Lauck's US neo-Nazi organization NSDAP/AO in 1977.7 Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Küssel established extensive international contacts and took part in various revisionist meetings abroad, often appearing as a speaker.

VAPO flyer stating "Foreigners out"

In 1986, Küssel established his own extremist organization, the "Extra-parliamentary Opposition Loyal to the People" (Volkstreue Außerparlamentarische Opposition, VAPO), one of the most radical and influential neo-Nazi groups in Austria at the time.81 VAPO took part in public rallies in Austria whilst also drilling its members in military exercises.1 It is likely that Küssel followed the example of German neo-Nazi Karl-Heinz Hoffmann, the leader of the "Military Sports Group Hoffmann" (Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann) banned in 1980, with whom he reportedly had been in contact.

Küssel participated several times in the annual meeting of the "Ulrichsberg Community" (Ulrichsberggemeinschaft) in Carinthia,9 had contacts with the "Federation of Free Youth" (Bund Freier Jugend),10 and attended commemorative events in honor of the Nazi fighter pilot Walter Nowotny.11 Among Küssel's closest collaborators in his early  years are Hans Jörg Schimanek junior and Franz Radl, both exponents of the neo-Nazi scene in Austria.

Küssel has also long-standing ties to right-wing groups in Germany, especially in Saxony.12 Germany's most prominent neo-Nazi in the 1970s and 1980s, Michael Kühnen, had appointed Küssel to the rank of a district manager ("Area Manager Ostmark") at a meeting in Frankfurt-Höchst in 1987.2 In the immediate aftermath of the German reunification Küssel's activities shifted more and more to Germany, and he had played a leading role in helping to establish neo-Nazi cells in former East Germany.13 The newspaper Falter reported that Küssel had obtained an off-road vehicle of the dissolved National People's Army in East Germany, attached the Reich War Flag to it and led his followers to the former concentration camp Sachsenhausen. According to Falter:3

Outside, in front of the gate, they set up a wooden shack, a small memorial - not for the murdered Jews, but for SS men who had been shot by Soviet soldiers during the liberation of the concentration camp. "There were gas chambers, but not for the extermination of people, but for delousing," he explained at the time in an interview with Der Standard. He had also been in the concentration camp Theresienstadt, where he had "laughed a lot."

1990s

After Michael Kühnens arrest in 1990, Küssel took over the planning of the party conference of the "German Alternative" (Deutsche Alternative) in Cottbus. Subsequently he tried to take over the leadership of the neo-Nazi network. In doing so, however, he met with fierce resistance from the leadership of the German neo-Nazi scene.9 Together with Günther Reinthaler14 he lived in a squad house in Berlin-Lichtenberg's Weitlingstraße, which was occupied by neo-Nazis, and was the neo-Nazi centre of Berlin at the time of the reunification. From there, they organized attacks, for example on the art collective Kunsthaus Tacheles in 1990.15

In 1991 Küssel was banned from entering Germany, but this did not prevent him from taking part in a neo-Nazi demonstration in Dresden that same year.6 Together with Günther Reinthaler, Küssel also attended Michael Kühnen's funeral, who in April 1991 had died of HIV.6

Militarization of neo-Nazi groups

Following the death of Michael Kühnen in 1991, Küssel joined Christian Worch and Winfried Arnulf Priem in taking control of Kühnen's last neo-Nazi group, the Gesinnungsgemeinschaft der Neuen Front (GdNF).16 Küssel claimed that Kühnen had named him his successor on his deathbed.17 In this role he continued to be a public face of neo-Nazism whilst also organizing military training for both Austrian and German activists.1

Having taken over as sole leader of the German Alternative, which, unlike the more openly militant GdNF, had publicly maintained a legal façade, Küssel pushed that group in a more violent direction, resulting in its ban in 1992.18

Heinz-Christian Strache during a paramilitary exercise.

In the 1990s, Küssel, VAPO members and other like-minded people in the Austrian Langenlois area began to organize so-called "military sports exercises."2 A video of one of these events, which shows Küssel and other - partly masked - members of the right-wing extremist scene, was widely discussed when it became public. The later FPÖ chairman Heinz-Christian Strache also took part in one of these trainings,19 of which  photos exist showing Strache with a rifle in camouflage clothing.

According to Ingo Hasselbach, Küssel also regularly lead his supporters in attacks on refugee centers.20 After a letter bomb attack on such an establishment in Vienna in January 1992 four of those detained afterwards were high-profile VAPO members or supporters (although Küssel himself was not arrested in connection with this incident).21

In 1992, Küssel was attending a conference of historical revisionists in Munich, at which the likes of David Irving, Fred Leuchter, Mark Weber and Udo Walendy were leading speakers.1 He is also said to have been present at private meetings with the British Holocaust denier David Irving.9 In the opening scene of the 1991 documentary Wahrheit macht frei by Michael Schmidt about the Holocaust denier meeting and its organizer Bela Ewald Althans, Küssel plays guitar and sings an anti-Semitic song glorifying the Holocaust.22

Documentary by Michael Schmidt about neo-Nazis and holocaust deniers published in 1991 after two years of extensive research.

Imprisonment

In an interview that Küssel conducted on December 1, 1991, with the German television station Tele 5, Küssel advocated the "admission of the NSDAP as an electoral party."23 After further neo-Nazi statements in US TV programs, in 1992, Küssel, along with his ally Klaus Kopanski, was arrested at his Vienna apartment and charged once more with Nazi revivalism.8 He had told the TV station ABC in an interview recorded in Austria, among other things:23

Adolf Hitler was one of the greatest men in the history of the 20th century, especially in the history of Germany [...] he, and with him all of Germany, lost the Second World War. But his ideology was great, an extremely national ideology, which I think is good for the whole wide world [...] he helped the German nation to a new rise and to reach a majority in the own country, and that was obligatory for its own identity.

When asked whether he believed that the Holocaust had taken place, Küssel said during his court hearing: "No, concentration camps did exist, but there was never any organized killing or organized gassing there." When asked whether he was a racist, he replied: "Of course I am, yes."23

Found guilty the following year by Vienna's Regional Court, he was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment.1 Küssel complained about the length of his detention because he felt that his fundamental right to personal freedom was curtailed. The complaint was initially upheld by the Vienna Higher Regional Court, but the Supreme Court subsequently dismissed it. The indictment by the Austrian Supreme Court accused Küssel of23

having established an organization in 1986, namely the Volkstreue Extraparlamentarische Opposition (VAPO), whose purpose is to undermine the autonomy and independence of the Republic of Austria through the activities of its members that are inspired by national socialism...[Küssel] outlined the aims of the "VAPO" and declared that in about 10 years he wanted to rename the "VAPO" to "NSDAP," that he also intended to enter parliament with this "NSDAP" and subsequently come to power. Should this not be possible by legal means, then he would try to overthrow the Austrian government with a coup, to eliminate the institutions of the rule of law and to seize power in Austria ...

During Küssel's imprisonment, his role as Austrian neo-Nazi leader was taken over by his allies Gerhard Endres in Vienna and Jürgen Lipthay in Salzburg.24 Küssel's imprisonment was followed by a number of bombings carried out by neo-Nazi militants using home-made bombs as a protest against the sentence.25 Küssel married his wife Karin, a fellow VAPO member, during his prison term.26 Küssel was released from prison in 1999, being granted an early release for good behavior.9

2000s

Return to the neo-Nazi scene

After his release from prison in 1999, Küssel and his wife ran a "national organic shop" called "Naturnah" in the Untere Donaustraße in Vienna's district Leopoldstadt,27 while Küssel resumed his far-right networking activities. During a routine visit by the police at a meeting of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für demokratische Politik (AFP), where around 50 right-wing extremists had gathered, the police also spotted Küssel and his former VAPO deputy Gerd Endres. During a subsequent search, relevant right-wing extremist propaganda material was seized.

Küssel became active again in the right-wing extemist scene in order to "recruit new blood," according to the Austrian domestic intelligence agency.28 According to the "Documentation Archive of Austrian Resistance" (DÖW), Küssel took part in a solstice celebration of the right-wing extremist "Austrian Compatriots" (Österreichische Landsmannschaft, ÖLM) and the "Vienna Fraternity Ring" (Wiener Korporationsring, WKR) in 2001. In 2002, it was revealed that the internationally active right-wing extremist group Blood and Honour had turned to Küssel to establish a "branch" in the Austrian capital.19

In 2006, Küssel participated in a fraternity memorial event organized by FPÖ mandatary Lutz Weinzinger in Braunau am Inn. The DÖW also reported on appearances "at the graves of the (neo-)Nazi 'heroes' Walter Nowotny (2004, 2008) and Otto Skorzeny (2006), [and] at the summer festival of the neo-Nazi "Federation of Free Youth" (Bund freier Jugend, BFJ, 2007)..."29  He was secretary and treasurer of the Verein Wiener Akademische Ferialverbindung Das Reich, which celebrated, among other things, a "Reich Weapons Day" and a "Good Friday Stilt Dinner."3031 In 2009, Küssel took part in an FPÖ event that had been scheduled as a replacement for the Ulrichsberg meeting.30

Appearances as speaker

Although no longer in an official leadership position, Küssel has continued to be a prominent figure in the far right, and since 2007 has been a speaker at a number of neo-Nazi events, often alongside his long-term collaborator Hans Jörg Schimanek junior.3233 For example, he spoke at the Europe-wide neo-Nazi meeting "Celebration of Peoples" (Fest der Völker) on September 8, 2007, in Jena;34 the neo-Nazi so-called "Anti-War Day 2008" in Dortmund; and the neo-Nazi 1st May march in the Czech city of Brno,3536 where 650 neo-Nazis from several countries came together. 

On June 6, 2009, Küssel spoke before the "Free Forces" in Leipzig and lamented the "genocide of the German people in Austria," as only 4.3% of Austrians now considered themselves Germans.32 At the beginning of 2011, Küssel was announced as one of the speakers at a planned neo-Nazi demonstration entitled "Stop the invasion of foreign workers - Jobs for Germans first" on May 1, 2011, in Heilbronn, which was organized by the "Young National Democrats," the youth organization of the neo-Nazi NPD party, together with members of the local neo-Nazi scene.37 However, the assembly was banned by German authorities.38

Illegal arms

On February 16, 2005 Gottfried Küssel was sentenced by the Vienna Regional Court to a fine of 360 euros for illegal possession of weapons. The appeals he had filed were dismissed and the first instance fine (120 Euro) was increased. The public prosecutor demanded a prison sentence for the weapons found in Küssel's apartment (two Indian daggers, three bayonets) during a search in September 2002, also in view of Küssel's previous convictions. During the search, a SS dagger of honour with the inscription "My honour means loyalty," the motto of the SS, was also found, but it was classified in the proceedings as an ornamental object and not as a weapon. As a ban on weapons had been imposed on Küssel since 1982, the sentence was passed.39

2010

In the summer of 2010, Küssel attracted negative attention when he was seen in a brawl between fraternity members in a Viennese red-light restaurant, together with the chief secretary of Heinz-Christian Strache's office.4041 On October 17, 2010, Küssel was again interrogated by the police after he had shouted Nazi slogans in a bar with three comrades, shown the Hitler salute, and attacked the Venezuelan-born female restaurant owner with an umbrella.42

Alpen-Donau.info website

In July 2010 Küssel started to publish articles on the neo-Nazi website Alpen-Donau.info, which, as was later established, was commissioned by Küssel himself. The website, which had been in operation since April 2009, also published information about Küssel's lecturing activities.19 The news magazine Profil reported at that time:41

After analyzing the entries on the "Alpen-Info" website, which include many submissions by Küssel, the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) suspects that neo-Nazis around Küssel as well as activists of the meanwhile dissolved "Federation of Free Youth" (Bund Freier Jugend) could be involved, some of whom had joined the ranks of the FPÖ youth.

In connection with the investigation of the website, on October 30, 2010, the largest police operation against the neo-Nazi scene in Austria since the 1990s took place. A total of 18 apartments in several regions were searched, and computers, laptops, memory cards, mobile phones, rifles, ammunition, knives and brass knuckles, as well as Nazi devotionalia were seized. One of the house searches took place at the home of Küssel.43

An informant of the defense department had already in April 2009 pointed out to Austria's domestic intelligence agency (BVT) that Küssel and the "Federation of Free Youth" (Bund Freier Jugend, BFJ) had a connection to the website.28 In connection with the investigations, the BVT was repeatedly criticized for being infiltrated by moles from the neo-Nazi scene. Profil published a report on November 13, 2010, in which it stated, among other things28

The son of an official of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BVT), who was only transferred to another office in the summer of 2010, had made a pilgrimage to Ulrichsberg in 2009, wearing the uniform of the German Army, together with Küssel and Schimanek junior [...], an event that was also announced on alpen-donau.info.

In connection with the investigations around the website, Küssel was finally arrested on the evening of April 11, 2011, by the Austrian special operations task force Cobra, alongside other neo-Nazis. During the house search that accompanied Küssel's arrest, "documents, computers and data carriers, weapons and Nazi devotional objects" were confiscated.44 As a result, on April 14, 2011, at the request of the public prosecutor's office, Küssel was provisionally detained. He stood accused of Nazi revivalism and incitement.45

Solidarity actions

30 German neo-Nazis protested that same evening in Dortmund against Küssel's imprisonment.33 Several neo-Nazis demonstrated against his arrest in front of the Austrian consulate in Munich and organized a "solidarity vigil." A neo-Nazi internet mail order company produced "Solidarity Stickers for Gottfried" with the promise to donate a portion of the proceeds to Küssels' expected legal costs.29 On 20 April - Hitler's birthday - the previously incriminated website "alpen-donau.info" went online again and posted articles in protests against the arrest.46 Various posters were confiscated throughout the region demanding Küssel's release. In the course of an anti-EU demonstration on October 22, 2011, supported by former FPÖ National Council member Werner Königshofer, a group named "Austrian Citizens' Party," demanded in leaflets, among other things, the release of Küssel and other exponents of the right-wing extremist scene.47 Finally, in November 2011, leaflets with the inscription "Freedom for Küssel!" were deposited in mailboxes at Vienna's Karl-Marx-Hof.3

Process

On December 12, 2011, the Vienna Public Prosecutor's Office filed the indictment against Küssel.48 The trial, originally scheduled for May 14, 2012, had to be adjourned to May 21 because not enough jurors showed up to conduct the trial.49 The public prosecutor began his plea by describing the unlawful character of the incriminated website alpen-donau.info and the associated forum alinfodo.com. Thereupon he submitted e-mails as evidence that Küssel had commissioned these websites.50

Finally, on January 10, 2013, the judgement was issued, in which Küssel was sentenced to nine years imprisonment because of Nazi revivalsim.51 Presiding judge Martina Krainz explained the severity of the sentence with Küssel's status as "a leading figure in the extreme-right scene" and his  earlier convictions. After an appeal, the Austrian Supreme Court ruled on January 15, 2014, that Küssel was rightly convicted of Nazi revivalism, however, it reduced the prison sentence to seven years and nine months.52

Release

Küssel has had a job in a company since the beginning of 2017, while still in custody, and was released on Friday, January 11, 2019.53 Ever since his release, Küssel has not made any headlines. There have been reports that Küssel's protégé is Martin Sellner, the leader of the Austrian Identitarian Movement.54