The looming fifth wave of terror carries the potential for greater lethality, enhanced organization, and a larger scale than waves preceding it. The reason for this lies in its motivation: right-wing extremism. Unlike their counterparts in the fourth wave of terrorism (jihadist threats in Europe), these new terrorists are deeply entrenched in European society, possessing significant financial, armament, and resource capabilities. A striking embodiment of this concerning wave is found in the entity known as Objekt 21 — a group that not only epitomizes the fusion of right-wing extremism with organized crime but also serves as a microcosm of the broader threat looming over Austria.

Objekt 21 first surfaced on the Austrian violent right-wing extremist (VRWE) scene in 2010, initiated by members linked to the Blood and Honour group. Despite the groups’ official dissolution in 2011, secret cells kept operating until 2013. Founded in Upper Austria, the group employed a cultural association as a veneer, officially registered at an address linked to a property acquired by the organization. The activities undertaken by Objekt 21 were diverse, initially focusing on organizing rock concerts. Official estimates suggested the group comprised around 30 core members, with an additional 200 closely affiliated individuals. Shortly after its inception, Objekt 21 established ties with German organized crime (OC) and VRWE circles, collaborating with biker gangs like Hells Angels Germany, Freies Netz Süd (FNS) in Bavaria, and the Aktionsgruppe Passau. Funding their operations through illicit means, the group engaged in a spectrum of criminal activities, including arson, burglary, violence, kidnapping, extortion, robbery, illegal arms and drug trafficking, as well as involvement in illegal prostitution. Primarily serving as the armed and violent counterpart within OC networks, Objekt 21 members acted as enforcers to intimidate rival factions. Subsequently, the group’s leader and several members faced convictions on charges ranging from terrorism-related offenses to organized criminality.

Even from behind bars, the shadow of Objekt 21 looms large. Recent revelations exposed a former high-ranking member allegedly attempting to peddle weapons and Nazi paraphernalia from prison, highlighting the persistent danger posed by these individuals even when incarcerated. This raises urgent questions about the effectiveness of prison systems in isolating and neutralizing such extremist influences in Austria. Furthermore, recent raids targeting the right-wing extremist milieu led to the apprehension of a prominent Objekt 21 figure in late June 2023. Overlapping leadership structures with a dismantled “rock group” revealed connections, accompanied by the seizure of weapons, narcotics, and Nazi paraphernalia. This arrest shed light on ties between Objekt 21 and members of the Bandidos MC, exposing the web of right-wing extremism and organized crime that continues to pose a substantial threat.


Austria’s Role as a Hub for illegal weapon trading

Compounding the challenge is Austria’s pivotal role as a nexus for weapons trading within the realm of right-wing extremism. The nation’s central location within Europe facilitates the transnational flow of arms, not only intensifying the local threat but also contributing to the broader European landscape of extremism. Adding complexity to the scenario is the escalating activity of outlaw motorcycle gangs. The arrest of a Hells Angels MC member in Vienna in June 2023 laid bare connections to arms, drugs, and violence, offering a cross-border perspective on combating criminality within these gangs.

Security agencies have redoubled their efforts to probe into Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMCGs), with a particular focus on the expansion of the Bandidos MC into Austria. A collaborative task force has been established to preclude violent conflicts between right-wing MC gangs, emphasizing the imperative to combat criminal activities related to weapons, war materials, narcotics, and extremist ideologies within OMCGs.

As Austria grapples with the beginning of this fifth wave, the global expanse of right-wing extremism comes into focus. The interconnectivity of extremist groups transcends national borders, with Austria emerging as a hub for weapons. The transnational nature of this threat mandates a reassessment of international cooperation to stop the flow of arms. 

Austria’s vulnerability is underscored by the deeply entrenched presence of right-wing extremism in culturally accepted institutions such as Burschenschaften, which have partly evolved into breeding grounds for extremist ideologies. Burschenschaften are national-conservative student associations, emphasizing the principles of “Honor, Freedom, Fatherland” established by the Urburschenschaft in 1815 at Jena. Frequently, individual Burschenschaften come under scrutiny in state security reports due to their connections with far-right extremists. Some notable members have been associated with or are currently part of far-right organizations. The challenge extends beyond dismantling criminal enterprises to eradicating the deep-seated ideological roots that fuel extremism. The growing political division provides fertile ground for extremist ideologies to take root, further complicating efforts to address the right-wing threat.


The Urgency for Holistic Countermeasures

In the ever-shifting landscape of threats, Austria’s counter-terrorism strategy must swiftly adapt. While the focus on thwarting jihadist threats remains crucial, it is paramount not to overlook the pressing need to confront the rising threat of right-wing extremism. A comprehensive response demands inclusive measures, incorporating thorough deradicalization programs, enhanced intelligence sharing, and strengthened international collaboration to form a united front against this intricate threat.

As Austria grapples with the complex interplay of right-wing extremism and organized crime, the narrative surrounding Objekt 21 serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges that lie ahead. A strategic and all-encompassing approach is imperative, delving into the financial ties, fostering international cooperation, and reassessing the national counter-terrorism strategy. The battle against this multifaceted threat requires a bolstering of political will and dedicated funding for effective prevention and response strategies, underscoring the urgency of adopting a comprehensive, cross-border approach to safeguard the nation’s security in this evolving era of terrorism.

Written by Anna-Maria Hirschhuber, Edited by Reed McIntire

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