The left-wing terrorist group Red Army Faction's main objective was to protest what they perceived as fascist-leaning and otherwise oppressive, middle class, bourgeois values of West Germany. This general orientation was coupled with specific protests of the Vietnam War. The group pledged allegiance to communist ideals and opposed the capitalist status quo. The group explained its intentions in the RAF's first communique on June 5, 1970, and in subsequent communiques in the early 1970s. The group was founded in 1970 and disbanded in 1998.
According to scholar Karen Bauer:
The group declared that… its aim was to escalate the conflict between the state and its opposition, between those who exploited the Third World and those who did not profit from Persian oil, Bolivian bananas and South African gold… 'Let the class struggle unfold! Let the proletariat organize! Let the armed resistance begin!'(Introduction, Everybody Talks about the Weather… We Don't, 2008.)
- April 2, 1968: Bombs set off by Baader and three others in two Frankfurt department stores cause significant property destruction. At trial, Gudrun Ensslin, Baader's girlfriend and a committed activist, claimed the bombs were intended to protest the Vietnam War
- May 11, 1971: A bombing of US barracks killed one US officer and wounded 13 others.
- May 1972: Bombing of police headquarters in Augsburg and Munich
- 1977: A series of killings designed to pressure the German government to release detained members of the Group take place, including the assassination of chief public prosecutor Siegfried Buback; the assassination of Dresdner bank; Hans Martin Schleyer, abduction of the head of the Germany Association of Employers and former Nazi party member.
- 1986: Siemens executive Karl-Heinz Beckurts is killed.
Leadership and Organization
The Red Army Faction is often referred to by the names of two of its primary activists, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Baader, born in 1943, spent his late teens and early twenties as a combination of a juvenile delinquent and stylish bad boy. His first serious girlfriend gave him lessons in Marxist theory and later provided the RAF its theoretical underpinnings. Baader was incarcerated for his role in setting fire to two department stores in 1968, briefly released in 1969 and re-imprisoned in 1970.
He met Ulrike Meinhof, a journalist, while in prison. She was to help him collaborate on a book, but went further and helped him escape in 1970. Baader and other founding members of the group were re-imprisoned in 1972, and activities were assumed by sympathizers with the group's imprisoned founders. The group was never larger than 60 people.
The RAF After 1972
In 1972, the group's leaders were all arrested and sentenced to life in prison. From this point on until 1978, the actions that the group took were all aimed at gaining leverage to have the leadership released, or protesting their imprisonment. In 1976, Meinhof hung herself in prison. In 1977, three of the original founders of the group, Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe, were all found dead in prison, apparently by suicide.
In 1982, the group was reorganized on the basis of a strategy paper called, "Guerrilla, Resistance, and anti-Imperialist Front." According to Hans Josef Horchem, a former West German intelligence official, "this paper… clearly showed the RAF's new organization. Its centre appeared at first still to be, as hitherto, the circle of RAF prisoners. Operations were to be carried out by the 'commandos,' command level units."
Backing & Affiliation
The Baader Meinhof Group maintained links with a number of organizations with similar goals in the late 1970s. These included the Palestine Liberation Organization, which trained group members to use Kalashnikov rifles, at a training camp in Germany. The RAF also had a relationship with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was housed in Lebanon. The group had no affiliation with the American black panthers but announced their allegiance to the group.
The group's founding moment was in a demonstration in 1967 to protest the elitism of the Iranian Shah (king), who was visiting. The diplomatic visit drew large grounds of Iranian supporters, who were living in Germany, as well as opposition. The killing by German police of a young man at the demonstration spawned the "June 2" movement, a leftist organization that pledged to respond to what it perceived as the actions of a fascist state.
More generally, the Red Army Faction grew out of specific German political circumstances and out of broad leftist tendencies in and beyond Europe in the late 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1960s, the legacy of the Third Reich, and Nazi totalitarianism was still fresh in Germany. This legacy helped shape the revolutionary tendencies of the next generation. According to the BBC, "at the height of its popularity, around a quarter of young West Germans expressed some sympathy for the group. Many condemned their tactics, but understood their disgust with the new order, particularly one where former Nazis enjoyed prominent roles."