San José State University
Department of Economics

applet-magic.com
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley
USA

The Baader-Meinhof Gang
and its Film Depiction
The Baader Meinhof Complex

First, let me say that the movie, The Baader Meinhof Complex, is riveting, superb drama, far more so than a fictional action movie. It is well worth seeing. The drama is not all action. For me the most dramatic and disturbing sequences were when the gang members in effect sold their souls to remain part of the gang. This was particularly true of Ulrike Meinhof who was about eight or more years older than the others. The movie was also intellectually enlightening. I remember generally the major events, but had forgotten or never knew the details. I do remember being puzzled as to why the media referred to the gang as anarchists when clearly they were communists. Later I realized that during that time there was a longing for detente with the official communists in Moscow and the media people perhaps thought that it would aid detente if the communist nature of the terrorism were ignored.

That brings me to my criticism of the movie and that it is that the role of East German communists, particularly the Stasi (East German State Police), in the gang's activities was played down to the point of hardly being mentioned. Consider an incident that mobilized the protest movements in West Germany. In June of 1967 the Shah of Iran with his Queen visited West Germany. There were demonstrators protesting his public appearances. There were also pro-Shah people, probably flown in to counter the anti-Shah people. A riot broke out between the two groups. During the police action to break up the riot an anti-Shah protester, Benno Ohnesorg, was shot in the head and died. The policeman, Karl-Heinz Kurras, claimed it was an accident. But Ohnesorg was not shot accidently in an arm or a leg or in the butt; he was shot in the head, the one place most likely to kill him. The policeman was exonerated and the protestors howled in rage and vowed to fight the heartless establishment. Some vowed to fight the establishment violently, such Gudrun Ensslin, the good-girl preacher's daughter who had fallen in love with the bad boy, Andreas Baader. Years later when German unification gave the West German authorities access to the Stasi files they found that the policeman, Kurras, had been a member of the Communist Party and had worked for the Stasi. It would be impossible at that date to determine whether Ohnesorg's death was an accident or not. However, it is strange that the conservatives in the police force did not resort to the use of guns against the left-wing demonstrators but a Communist among them found it necessary to have his gun drawn and accidently shoot a demonstrator in the head. What appears to be far more likely is that Kurras on his own or under orders from the Stasi decided to give the left wing a martyr to mobilize them.

Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin went on to plant incendiary bombs in a department store. It only took the police about two days to locate them and they were sentenced to several years in prison. They were mistakenly released under a political prisoner amnesty. At one point they were given a community service assignment of counseling disturbed youths. They then recruited some of these mentally disturbed people into the gang.

When the authorities decided that Baader and Ensslin did not qualify for the release it was too late. The two went into hiding and decided to become urban guerillas. They gathered other psychopaths into the group, including a lawyer named Horst Mahler. They named themselves the Red Army Faction. The media declined to call them by that name. Ulrike Meinhof was never a leader, but she was well known as a leftist journalist so the media tagged her together with Baader, the real leader of the group. The group seemed to have no trouble getting guns enough to become a terrorist organization. However it was not that easy to obtain guns in West Germany. This is something that the Stasi would have had no trouble supplying and probably were the source of weapons for the gang.

Later when the original gang was in prison a second and third generation took over. These were people the Stasi gave training so they were able to carry out in a professional fashion assassinations and kidnappings. When some of these later generation people wanted to retire they were given refuge in East Germany complete with new identities. They thought they were safe. But with unification the Stasi records became available to the West German police and those retired terrorists were arrested.

With unification came an end of support and the group announced its disbandonment in 1997, but not before it targeted prominent figures in the unification, thus revealing that it was basically a tool of the Stasi, the one organization that most feared unification.

Ulrike Meinhof’s daughter, Bettina Röhl, has published files from the archives of the East German Stasi, showing that subsidies and other forms of support flowed regularly to the group from the other side of the Berlin Wall.

The Baader-Meinhof Group early on went to Palestine for military training. I think it quite unlikely that an undisciplined group such as they were would have been able to arrange this accommodation by the more serious-minded Palestinian guerilla organization. But the East German Stasi would have been able to arrange it as a return favor for the help the Stasi had given Palestinian guerilla organizations.

The government put them on trial and gave them a prison complex where they could communicate with each other and with lawyers. In effect, the government treated them like celebrities and gave them a public platform where they could perform.

The movie showed one scene in which a member of the gang who was not imprisoned went to Iraq to try to arrange some international terrorism that would represent international support for the gang. An official of the Saddam Hussain regime reeled off a list of terrorist incidents that could be carried out as a show of support for the gang. Later international terrorists took control of an airliner in Uganda and were holding the passengers hostage for the release of the gang.

When German operatives captured control of the plane Baader recognized that he and the rest of the gang would never get out of prison. He then decided to arrange for the group to all commit suicide at the same time to try to make it appear that the authorities had executed them. It was a nitwit plan that fooled no one but Baader's hold on the group was such that they went along with it. Baader and some of the other members managed to acquire guns while in a high security prison. These were probably supplied by their lawyers during the time the lawyers were with the gang members in the courtroom. Ulrike Meinhof committed suicide months before because of being ostracized by the group.

So once the East German Stasi ties to the Baader Meinhof Complex are brought in the full story becomes quite different from the one told by the movie. However there is an additional line not explored in the movie. There were great similarities between the Gang and the fascist terrorist of the 1920's. The fascists called the terrorism the propaganda of the deed. Basically the philosophy of Andreas Baader was the propaganda of the deed. And the lawyer, Horst Mahler, one of the founders of the Gang, ended up organizing a neo-Nazi group.


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