By Sarah Marsh
BERLIN (Reuters) - German authorities on Tuesday banned a neo-Nazi group with roots in the United States and raided the homes of 28 members nationwide after an investigation lasting more than a year in cooperation with U.S. officials.
"Hammerskins Deutschland" is an offshoot of "Hammerskins Nation", a U.S. neo-Nazi organization founded in 1988 that considers itself the elite of the extreme right-wing skinhead scene and totals around 130 members in Germany, the interior ministry wrote in a news release.
"With this ban, we are ending in Germany the inhumane actions of a neo-Nazi group with international reach," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser was quoted as saying. "With this, we are sending a clear signal against racism and antisemitism."
The ban comes amid a rise in far-right extremism in Germany and growing support for the nationalist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which is currently polling at 21-22%, putting it in second place behind the centre-right Conservatives (CDU/CSU) and ahead of all the ruling parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz's centre-left coalition.
Far-right parties have gained ground across Europe but the rise of the AfD touches a particularly sensitive nerve in Germany because of the country's Nazi past.
"Far-right extremism remains the greatest extremist threat for our democracy," Faeser said.
Voters should bear this in mind before casting their ballot for the AfD, the country's domestic spy agency said earlier this year in an unusual warning against a political party ahead of elections in a number of states.
According to the agency's 2022 report, the number of people potentially involved in far-right activity in Germany rose by 14.5% to 38,800 in 2022, while the number of far-right activists prepared to use violence rose to 14,000 from 13,500.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Editing by Rachel More and Alexandra Hudson)