RICHARD HUFFMAN is editor and publisher of Baader-Meinhof.com, a rich web resource on the now defunct West German terrorist group. Current Intelligence editor-in-chief Mike Innes interviewed Huffman in two extended email sessions, from June 26th to 29th and from July 2nd to 7th. What follows is a transcript of their correspondence.
Current Intelligence (CI): Richard, you run a unique and substantial website devoted to all things Baader-Meinhof. Can you tell me a little bit about the site - what motivated you to build it, how much effort has gone into it, what do you hope to achieve with it?
Richard Huffman (RH): I created my website almost 15 years ago when I realized that the tiny amount of information about the Baader-Meinhof Group on the internet at the time was either heavily biased, or simply false. I had just completed my senior university thesis project and had a fairly large amount of purely factual data that seemed perfect for the internet. Over the years I've probably put several thousand hours into the project; but there have been a few full years where I've only spent a few hours on updates. Because of the interested derived recent Oscar nominated film (The Baader-Meinhof Complex), and the willingness of many former terrorists and victims to speak about the era, I'm back to devoting a considerable amount of my time to the site.
My interest in the subject is based on my personal history; my father and mother came close to being victims of left-wing German terrorism in the early 1970s. My dad was the head of the US Army bomb disposal unit in Berlin during the exact time that Andreas Baader and his cohort were on the run, trying to start a Revolution across Germany. My dad never really talks much about his military career, so it was a chance conversation in my late 20s that led me to learn about his time defusing terrorist bombs (including one where my mom was having mid-morning tea with other officers' wives). He's got such a wonderfully dispassionate attitude toward it all (he tells me that he doesn't think about those events much because he was simply doing his job, and the terrorists were just doing the same). I think this attitude carried over in my work on my site in that I try to keep the politics and emotions firmly in check and focus on the era as a true historian's exercise.
CI: The project certainly straddles a period of significant change, politically, socially, and technologically. Sticking with that last theme for a minute, how would you contrast your initial experience setting up and running the site with what's now possible and available on the web?
RH: I remember distinctly doing my very first internet search for the words "Andreas Baader" sometime around 1996. I searched using the late and lamented Lycos search engine--this was well before the age of Google. At the time there was a grand total of about 50 references to Baader across the entire internet, so it just seemed like a ripe subject for exploration. I had spent part of my life up to that point as a graphic designer, so it just seemed like a natural progression to use this as exercise in teaching myself web design and development.
My first version was done entirely by creating text based html files; it was massively labor intensive. It looked good at the time, but now I'm certain my first site would be eye-blindingly ugly. As new tools came along I would revamp the site to take advantage of automation, templates, and CSS, to help ensure a consistent design as the site grew to hundreds of pages. It became clear to me last year that I'd reached a dead end technologically speaking with the site in that it was increasingly hard to keep it up to date quickly and effectively. So I've spent the last several months learning various content management systems, finally settling on Drupal to do yet another complete revamp of the site. Essentially this will allow me to turn over parts of the site to other contributors to build out and edit, allow for much richer discussions, and allow for much more timely updating of the content. What limitations Drupal creates in terms of design and layout is more than made up for in its seemingly limitless flexibility for managing data.
It's kind of a golden age for researching the Baader-Meinhof era; there are seemingly dozens of new books, movies, and research papers that have come out this year alone and it's important that I cover all of them. I've always been proud that my site is the number one Google site for the era -- even in Germany--but the only way to maintain that ranking is to keep up with the times, technologically.
CI: It sounds like you have in mind to take this in a new direction - a more dynamic community of interest, with discussion forums and the like.
RH: Absolutely -- I have engaged in so many dynamic and stimulating discussions over the years; yet this rarely translates into the site. They simply end up being interesting e-mail exchanges. In a sense I want to prepare the site to be a vehicle for many people to contribute, separate from my contribution.
The main personal resistance I've had to this over the years is, frankly, the fringe factor. For a variety of reasons, the Baader-Meinhof Gang are the defacto "cool" terrorist group. They were leftists, they were young and attractive, women served equal roles as men, they drove hot cars and wore the latest fashions. All of these elements contributed to the results of a remarkable German poll in 1971 that found as much as 20 percent of young Germans openly supporting the group--surely the last time a significant portion of a western democracy expressed a clear willingness to support a group dedicated to violent revolution through terrorism. And it is these same elements that appeal to young folks today that are often drawn to my site for the "coolness" of it all. I'm not quite so sure I want these folks necessarily determining the direction of my site... The management tools in Drupal will give me the control I'll need while maintaining flexibility.
I think the fringe factors will have it's place in forums on my site, but I hope it will be counterbalanced by more thoughtful contributors. I interview a lot of victims of the Baader-Meinhof Group and I wouldn't look forward to the uncomfortable conversations with them if they thought my site was some kind of unabashed Baader-Meinhof love-fest.
CI: I'd like to come back to a point you made earlier - that we're in "kind of a golden age for researching the Baader-Meinhof era." The web obviously enables much of what's now possible. So does the passage of time, newly disclosed historical documents, and the accumulation of new research and writing on the subject. What about political atmosphere? Given the last eight or nine years - 9/11, Al Qaeda, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - there's almost something retrograde about studying the Baader-Meinhof.
RH: What is interesting to me is that little of the current research and exploration of the Baader-Meinhof era draws any parallels to our modern terrorism challenges; because to me this is an area ripe for exploration. People don't seem to realize that there was a "War on Terror" 35 years ago that offers fairly stunning parallels to our modern "war on terror." Like in America, Germany pushed through dozens of anti-terrorism laws that curbed civil liberties in crucial ways, yet ultimately seemed to have little actual effect on stopping terrorism. Torture (or "enhanced interrogation techniques")? Check. A right wing media empire that rose to prominence and profits by beating the anti-terrorism drum? Check. Taking the criminal prosecution of the terrorists out of the standard court system? Check. Using the struggle against terrorism to build up police and military budgets? Check. The mantra after 9/11 was always "this is different." New rules need to apply. We need to reconsider our old values concerning civil liberties etc., to address this never-before-seen threat. I would argue that not only had it ALL been seen before, but it was within our lifetimes.
So that said, most of the current renaissance in baader-meinhof research is interesting despite it rarely drawing modern parallels. It took me a while to realize what was so refreshing about much of the current work; then it dawned on me: most of the people now writing about the era were like me; born well after 1968 and therefore able to see the era free of most of the biases that necessarily clouded the works of previous generations. Historians now seem able to look at Ulrike Meinhof, a remarkable woman with influence and passion, but not have their work turn into a hagiography. Writers seem to have finally come to grips with the fact that their revolution was a failure, and at its root, these people were killers. With the fall of Berlin Wall, they can also address with the real influence that the East German state had over the Red Army Faction (the real name of the Baader-Meinhof Gang). Writers are also free to explore how interesting these people were without it seeming to have drunk the Baader Meinhof Kool-Aid.
CI: The one writer who comes immediately to mind - you mentioned his work earlier - is former Der Spiegel editor Stefan Aust, who was, of course, a contemporary of Ulrike Meinhof and of that same generation. You mentioned that his work has reinvigorated public interest; at the same time there's this new crop of researchers and writers doing interesting work. Any in particular?
RH: The impact and importance of Stefan Aust on the public's perception of the Baader-Meinhof Group cannot be overstated. His book from the late 1980s, The Baader-Meinhof Complex, was a uniquely important achievement because it presented the story of the Baader-Meinhof group almost completely free from bias. It was also the first work to cut through the politics and show how the strange prison deaths of Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ennslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe in the fall of 1977 were almost certainly suicides (Baader and Raspe died from gunshot wounds inflicted by two separate guns that had been smuggled into what the German government had billed as "the most secure prison block in the world."). Through his editorship of Der Spiegel he marshaled his staff to churn out literally hundreds of thousands of words devoted to the group throughout the 90s and 2000s. Given that Der Spiegel is certainly the largest and most important news magazine in Germany (much more prominent in German society than, say, Time magazine is in the United States), the Baader-Meinhof group was never allowed to fade from the public's consciousness.
Perhaps the most compelling recent work about Ulrike Meinhof is Sarah Colvin's "Ulrike Meinhof and West German Terrorism: Language, Violence and Identity." Colvin, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, provides a deep analysis of the writings of Meinhof, from her konkret columns, through her communiqués and manifestos for the Baader-Meinhof Group, and finally her prison writings. In a way that I had never seen before Colvin clearly demonstrates how Meinhof used language to systematically demonize and exclude her perceived enemies from her own moral circle. In particular Colvin talks about the progressive use of the term "Nazi" and related terminology to describe the government and her other various enemies; first in tentative steps where she takes great pains to justify her analogies, to finally presenting it as a purely factual assertion, no supporting evidence necessary. And since the Nazis were the monsters of history, Meinhof thus now felt no moral qualms about murder as a way to rid society of the Nazi cancer. Reading Colvin, I couldn't help but get a sick feeling about all of the American "Tea Party" folks who seem ready to compare Barack Obama to Hitler for the simple act of trying to extend health care privileges to more Americans. Colvin's work brought to the forefront in my mind a deeply anti-Semitic aspect to the Baader-Meinhof group that had somehow previously glided by under my radar.
In Germany. Jutta Ditfurth (a Green Party member), wrote an excellent modern biography of Meinhof a couple of years ago that it notable for many reasons, but not the least of which because it doesn't decent into pure hagiography as so many previous accounts of Meinhof did. Meinhof is a deeply fascinating person, and Ditfurth's book really gets to the heart of what makes Meinhof so interesting; without falling into old traps of putting Meinhof on some Martyr/Feminist Hero/Socialist Warrior pedestal. Similarly Krisine Wesemann's account was also critical of Meinhof, and delved deeper into Meinhof's idealization of communist ideals while failing to rectify them with the real world problems happening daily in East Germany. Martin Klimke wrote an excellent book last year in English ("The Other Alliance: Student Protest in West Germany & The United States in the Global Sixties") which carefully lays out the parallel and, it turns out, intertwined histories of the American and West German New Left student movements that partially gave rise to groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang and the Weather Underground in the United States. It's funny that almost all of the most interesting books about this era that is approaching 40 years old have been released just in the last few years.
Meinhof had twin daughters; Bettina and Regine. Bettina in particular has been a prominent critic of her mother; she had taken great pains over the years to point out the very real role that the East German government played in funding and maintaining the student unrest and activism in the West.
For much of the 90s and early 2000s she was the bête noir of the German left, because she seemed so insistent on painting the heroes and ideal of the 60s and 70s in a less-than-flattering light. But in the last few years, I think, her narrative has slowly begun to seem more and more like a key way to view those tumultuous times.
CI: Aust touches on some of the federal police methods used to identify and track down Baader, Meinhof et all - essentially casting it all as primitive but pioneering network analysis, bringing in the heavy-hitting computer gear, building a database, etc etc. But it also feels somewhat superficial - what I mean is, Aust's description of the federal police unit and how it handled the Baader-Meinhof problem only scratches at the surface, never really getting past surface details of the unit, how it's members thought about Baader-Meinhof, what actual analytical methods they used or preferred, how that might have shaped their views of the group and what it meant for Germany, etc.
RH: Well to start with, Aust... probably knows more about this than any living person (and not just because of his book and the film, but because during his leadership of Der Spiegel, the magazine probably devoted more than a million words to the RAF).
One suggestion that I would offer as well, Der Spiegel recently posted every single issue in their history online in a fully searchable database, for free. If your German is as poor as mine, using Google Chrome, which can automatically translate the pages into an amazingly passable English, is a God-send. Search terms to use for your purposes would be "rote armee Fraktion" "horst herold" and "BKA". And of course the name of the computer program "PIOS".
So that said, you ask a question that I'm hoping to explore in my book because I don't currently have an adequate sense of the value of the computer programs that the BKA put into place. In Aust's book, the movie, and in a few other sources, you will hear learn about these vast computer operations designed to take in massive amounts of data points and collate the results to find patterns, and this identify the location of wanted terrorists etc. Yet I can't think of a single instance where the capture of a terrorist seemed to be because of these computer efforts. Putting aside the captures of members in 197 and 1971, before the system was really running, you have, say Meinhof and Mueller's capture, which was the result of a supporter turning her in. I think Baader, Raspe and Meins, capture was from someone observing their behavior in Frankfurt; Ensslin was captured because a store clerk spotted her gun. Later, in 77, the computer programs did nothing to spot the commando unit that captured and housed Schleyer, or even was able to realize that they spirited him across the border into France. (if I remember right, there WAS some data that would have alerted the police to the initial whereabouts of Schleyer--a report that someone had paid cash for a cologne-area apartment--but the info got lost before it ever made it into the computer system...). I guess this is like all of the reports of foreign muslims taking flying lessons, but not bothering to learn how to land their airplanes prior to 9/11... the data was there, but it never made it into the proper database. Garbage in/Garbage out.
I think in some respects it helps to also remember what computer technology was like back then. I don't have an adequate grasp of how it worked (though the movie, assuming it was accurate, is pretty helpful in this regard), but I can presume that the data was input via classic IBM punch cards, and not a computer terminal. Which means that it had to be incredibly rudimentary, where everything is given a binary On or Off value, and there isn't really a lot of true computing going on... mostly just tabulation of massive amounts of data. It would seem to me that this style of computer work would be especially helpful at rooting out people whom have been underground at a specific location for months on end, where anomalies necessitated by their underground life would be rooted out by the computer system. But I can't think of a situation where this actual worked out in tracking down a wanted member of the RAF. (Though I absolutely may be wrong on that point; I just haven't looked deeply into it yet).
I tend to focus a lot on the 1972 time period and it seems to clear to me that the major reason that the entire leadership was captured within a month or so after the May bombing campaign was because those bombs put the entire country--police, govt., civilians, etc.--into a vigilant mindset. People became much more eagle-eyed, one-time supporters began to question their support, and a dramatically ramped up police effort all contributed to the captures. I'm just not so sure how much the computer system came into play.
There's a book about Horst Herold (who was nicknamed "the computer commissioner" for his obsession with data), put out by Der Spiegel Press. It's called "Der Chef: Horst Herold und the BKA" and deals at length with this stuff; my German is so sadly weak that I've struggled through it in a losing battle for the last couple of year. If you're german is better, it's certainly available on Amazon...
CI: To follow up on an earlier point, I think our readers' interest might be piqued also by the fact that the book title in the mid-1980s identified the group as *Komplex* in German, but *Phenomenon* in English. I'm curious about that distinction, doubly so now that the 2nd edition just published in English uses *Complex*. There's a very very brief mention in the book that this is what the federal police, the ones investigating the group and compiling data on it in 1970, started to call it: "the Baader-Meinhof Complex". Hence the title of the book and my interest in what sort of influences/training/education shaped the police work at the time. In other words, what did they mean by *complex*, exactly, when referring to the group? There are many possible meanings, of course, I'm just curious what they understood it to mean. Any thoughts?
RH: Here in the states they called the revised version of his book "Baader-Meinhof: The Inside story of the RAF"... leaving out the Complex part altogether. You're right about the original English title "The Baader-Meinhof Group: The Inside Story of a Phenomenon". I have one of the very rare copies that was worth a good 500 dollars up to about a year ago and the rerelease of the book, at which point its value dropped considerably!
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that his choice of using "complex" (Komplex), was a decision to make it clear to the public that he was attempting to avoid politics as much as possible. It's a distinction mostly lost in the English world, but in Germany in the 70s and 80s to simply call the "Der Baader-Meinhof Bande" (the Baader-Meinhof Gang) you we're telling the world that you were conservative, or a reactionary. If you called the "Der Baader-Meinhhof Gruppe" (the Baader-Meinhof Group) you were saying that you were on the left, and you probably had a sympathy for either the group or their ideals. There really wasn't a third choice that split the difference. Though they themselves called themselves the RAF from almost the beginning, it took until well after the deaths of Baader et all for the RAF to become the dominant term.
The even-handed and precise nature of the book was its greatest achievement. Few would have been surprised if Aust, former friend of Meinhof, a person who followed her as editor of konkret and who helped rescue her children, had written a hagiography of Meinhof and her cohorts. But he didn't. He never went beyond what the facts said and he never seemed to take sides. Which was remarkable given the tenor of the time and his background. So in that sense, avoiding "gang" and "group" and going with complex seems fitting...
I actually always kind of liked the title, (baader-meinhof complex) because it implies the giant intertwined nature of how the group gripped all parts of german society. That said, terrible terrible title for a film, at least in the US. No one knows more than me just how few Americans know about this group, so the name takes and already obscure name, and further obscures it. Not good.
I was sort of hired by the American distributor to help promote the film here in the US (meaning my payment was a t-shirt and poster) and I asked him, tactfully, why they didn't change the name for the US market. Apparently they simply couldn't, because they had put it in a theater in LA very early for an Oscar qualifying run... which worked and it got a quick Oscar nomination. But the film hadn't sold yet, and when it finally did sell to Vitagraph for US distribution, they were stuck... you can't very well change the name of AN OSCAR-NOMINATED FILM just prior to release! So they were stuck...
CI: It makes a certain amount of sense for Aust to have chosen "complex" as a neutral third option (though he does attribute the term to a police label for the group). But what about the police usage of the term? Same motive, do you think - to avoid the politics of it?
RH: That's a good question... I don't know. Until you asked about it, I had actually forgotten the term had originated from within the police. That said, at least early on, the police had little problem calling them nasty names. The very first and very famous poster of the entire group, circa summer 1971, said in bold letters at the top "Anarchist Violence: Baader-Meinhof Gang."
CI: It's on p. 102 of the new edition. Do you think this could this be one of the differences between the original version and this revised edition? The British historian and journalist Michael Burleigh, in a late 2008 review of the movie, suggested Aust was being "opportunistic" in his assertion that the Baader Meinhof group and its ideology had a lot in common with latter day jihadists and their religious extremism. Could the same be said about the timing of the revised edition and the movie's release?
RH: I just compared that section of the book against the original version; they are identical. That said, it is very interesting to compare the two versions side by side; there are a lot of little cuts made; and it's not always clear why. Except in the introduction, there is virtually nothing new added; it's all cuts. Most of it is details about peripheral characters; perhaps with 20 years to think about it, he just didn't protect some of these folks...
It's hard to say whether Aust was being opportunistic. Literally his entire extremely distinguished career has been defined by the Baader-Meinhof group and during his tenure at Der Spiegel, they took advantage of every single anniversary to roll out yet another cover story about the group. It really is stunning the amount of ink spilled about this group in Aust's magazine. It really hasn't ebbed and flowed; it's been a consistent amount for 40 years, and especially during Aust's tenure over the last 20 years. Just last month an anonymous former member of the RAF released a statement severely taking Aust and Der Spiegel to task for using the movie as an opportunity to revisit the whole era and get new interviews with former members with new revelations.
Check out Der Spiegel's search page for RAF stories (note that they even use the word "komplex" in their title of the theme). They have a picture of every single issue in which the RAF was a cover story; almost 40 issues in all, basically, on average, once a year they would be featured on the cover. Pretty amazing. Seriously, if you download google chrome, and open the page with that browser, it will give you an option at the top of the page to automatically translate the page into serviceable English. Checking out these Der Speigel archives will become a true rabbit hole; you won't come up for air for a week... totally fascinating.
In terms of Aust comparing the BM group to modern jihadists; I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and point out that this connection, real or not, is pretty much at the forefront of people's minds over the last decade. When I was putting together my book proposal my literary agent spent months essentially convincing me to entirely rewrite my introduction chapter so I could outline a comparison and connection to modern Islamic jihadists; the assumption being that book publishers simply wouldn't even look at the book without this connection.
But again, in terms of whether Aust is being opportunistic... I would say the evidence would show that he's never been particularly opportunistic, at least in terms of any current fascination with Islamic terrorists. He wrote the original book in the mid 80s, well before al qaeda. He wrote the movie stammheim in the early 90s. He wrote and produced the very best Baader-Meinhof documentary some time in the late 90s. The movie was really put together by Bernd Eichinger at Constantin Films; he was the driving force behind it, and the release of the book was entirely because of the movie...
CI: Can you tell us a bit more about your own book on the Baader-Meinhof?
RH: Yes; I've been working on it for an embarrassingly long time, but I am trying to provide the absolute definitive account of those important years. Right now I am trying to simply resist the urge to make it a 1000 page door stopper.
Recently I've been working on the two May 1972 bombings of the US Army bases in Frankfurt and Heidelberg. It's amazes me that almost all of the factual information available in every single account of these bombings is wrong in small and large ways; it's exciting to know that I will be correcting the records. One of the things I hope to do with the book is to spend at least a bit of time talking about some of the specific victims of these attacks. Perhaps because my mom and dad came close to being victims of German terrorist bombs themselves, but I feel a certain connection to the families of the victims that perhaps others don't quite share. And so many of the accounts simply, at best, list the names of the victims, and at worst, consign them to being merely a number ("three were killed in the bombing"). It only seems appropriate to give some life to these individuals.
But it's been somewhat harrowing over the last month or so as I talk with some of the wounded victims and the families of the dead. I spoke recently with Wayne Bloomquist, who's brother was Lt. Col. Paul Bloomquist. He was the first American victim of the Baader-Meinhof Group, killed in Frankfurt. The Baader-Meinhof Group started their bombing campaign on that day specifically in response to the American mining of North Vietnamese harbors.
They took a particular glee in knowing that they'd killed a decorated Vietnam veteran, probably imagining him earning his medals from killing dozens of "commie Vietcong." They were certainly unaware that Bloomquist was actually medevac pilot, who saved the lives of thousands of men flying directly into hot battlezones, sustaining several severe injuries in the process. When I spoke with his brother, I asked Wayne Bloomquist to think back to the day that he learned his brother had been murdered, and he got quite choked up. Mind you I have no interest in making a man in his 60s cry, and I apologized for bringing up such a painful subject. But he said it wasn't the thought of his brother's death that upset him so much, it was that when I used the term "murder" it was the first time in 40 years that he had ever heard that word in connection with his brother's death. It has always been "bombing victim" etc... and the instant realization that "murder" was the most appropriate term was overwhelming. If my book conveys offers a single insight that other books about terrorism tend to fail to offer, it will be that terrorism profoundly and permanently damages the individual lives of the victims and their families.
At least one small way to combat terrorism, it seems to me, is to not allow terrorists to be the ones to solely define the deaths of the ones they kill as part of their war. Thinking of these deaths as simple murder can certainly have a disempowering effect on terrorists, or at least our fear of them.
Personally I am a very progressive, left-leaning individual. I hope that my book will convey the considerable optimism and excitement that the Baader-Meinhof group’s initial ideals engendered. It's an optimism that I completely understand; the thought that society absolutely can and will be more equitable and just. But I also want to demonstrate the utter failure of their "project" (as the succeeding generations referred to the history of the group), and how the most significant impact of the group was in making German society more conservative and more reactionary; the exact opposite of their intent.
CI: That combination of metaphors - terrorism as crime, and terrorism as war – touches on a very current set of issues. People have been wrestling with the idea very publicly over the last few years, and what it implies for both domestic and foreign policy. Picking up on a point you raised earlier, would that be a sound basis for comparison between Baader-Meinhof and other groups?
RH: I don't want to step too far over the edge in terms of calling their actions simply a crime; what Baader-Meinhof engaged in was unquestionably terrorism, and terrorism of the first order. But they were so firmly in charge of defining themselves that it became hard for people to recognize at the time that their "war" had radically changes almost immediately after they began waging it. On May 11 of 1972, they bombed the US Army base in Frankfurt. Then they blew up police stations in Augsburg and Munich. Then blew up part of the hated Springer Press plant in Hamburg. Finally, on May 24, they set off two bombs at the US Army base in Heidelberg. And within a few weeks, the entire leadership of the group was captured. No one seemed to notice at the time, but their war to kickstart a global socialist Revolution was over at that point. From then on, the non-imprisoned members of the group essentially morphed into a prisoner liberation committee. All of their actions after that (at least for the next half decade--which is the era that I study), were entirely composed of efforts to get the Baader-Meinhof leaders out of prison. They were spectacular efforts to be sure; blowing up an embassy, killing the country's Federal Prosecutor, a leading industrialist, and others. Assisting in the hijacking of a Lufthansa jet. But in retrospect they weren't particularly focused on the goal of starting the revolution. That particular war lasted exactly 13 days.
What's interesting about Baader-Meinhof, to me at least, is that there were other active groups at the time that had far, far more violent or destructive actions against the state over a much longer period. Yet we don't hear much about them. Recently I interviewed Bommi Baumann, who was a member of the June 2nd Movement and their lead bomb maker (this is the group that planted the bombs my dad defused; and it was an interesting conversation for me, to say the least). He told me that he built and they set off more than 100 bombs in Berlin in the very early 1970s. We're talking several bombs a week, on average, over a few years (one of their bombs killed an elderly boat mechanic named Erwin Beelitz). Another group, the Revolutionary Cells, was responsible for hundreds and hundreds of small and medium scale attacks on property over the years. Yet few have even heard of these groups. Even at the time, there was very little press coverage of the bombing and attacks, at least relative to the amount of coverage Baader-Meinhof was getting.
I think that part of this is because of Baader-Meinhof's willingness to use deadly force, and a lot of this is because Baader-Meinhof was understood early on the power of defining themselves, and, perhaps unwittingly, realized the media's willingness to enter into a symbiotic pas de deux with them. Quickly "Baader-Meinhof" became this amorphous catch-all term to sum up what was felt to be the great struggle of their modern times. Whether it WAS the "great struggle of their times" was beside the point.
I'm sure there are many asylums full of Napoleons and Alexander the Greats, whom have "declared war" on their own land. One could argue that Andreas Baader wasn't too far removed from this grandiose personality type. The difference is that Baader wasn't locked up in a straight jacket. Instead everyone else seemed to go along with his self-assessment, perhaps because it sold more newspapers or because it provided justification for larger military and police budgets. Of course this is a fantastically crude and cynical analysis, and I really want to be fair to the true fear and concern of the authorities at the time over their real fear over the potential threat that Baader-Meinhof Group represented. But viewed with the clarity that three decades of hindsight can provide, there was very little real threat that the German state was going to be destroyed, or the German government would be ruined by Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ennslin, and their cohort.
CI: Your website and book represent a substantial investment of time and effort; a significant emotional investment, too. What's next?
RH: I’m gearing up to attend grad school in Security Studies; there are some obvious giant gaps in my understanding of the causes of terrorism and how to best address the modern challenges of terrorism. Hopefully I will have something to add to the discourse. And at some point I plan to publish my book; I’m at least a year away from even considering it finished, but I am confident that it will be the definitive account of that tragic era.