Leaders of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn assumed they had police protection. Now some of them are due to be charged with organised crime, accused of murder, racist attacks and possession of weapons.
One word leaps out at you from the seven-page Greek indictment document against Golden Dawn. It is “fuhrerprinzip” – the leader principle, spelled out in Roman type.
Since Saturday, Greek anti-terror police have arrested six of the far-right party’s MPs and 16 activists, who they will charge on Tuesday, collectively, with organised crime.
Key to the prosecution is the argument that the party’s leaders controlled a military-style cell structure, that they trained attack groups, and that it was the political leadership – the MPs themselves – who controlled the apparatus of violence.
Nothing happened without orders, and orders were followed rigidly, say prosecutors – as with Adolf Hitler’s “fuhrerprinzip”.
With that they are preparing to hang two murders, eight attempted murders, tens of racist attacks, a bombing and the illegal possession of weapons and explosives around the necks of men who, even as I write, are receiving salaries and a massive subsidy from the Greek parliament.
The men themselves have cut a defiant figure as they are ferried to and from the cells: always flanked by anti-terror police in body armour, automatic weapons and balaclavas.
The police heaviness is not for show: I saw Christos Pappas, the party’s strategist try to leap from a police car in handcuffs last night, yelling furiously “Long live Golden Dawn”.
A search of Mr Pappas’ home in Ioannina is said to have found an arms cache and pictures of Hitler.
Ilias Panagiotaros, who told me last year he wanted civil war in Greece, was found in possession of a 9mm pistol last fired in salute at the funeral of a general who took part in the military coup of 1967.
The accused will get a chance to enter pleas on Tuesday.
Right now the Greek parliament is hearing a bill to remove state subsidy from the party. But this is only the start of something.
Because the police investigation – led by the anti-terror squad, and sidelining the equivalent of the UK’s Special Branch – has already uncovered uncomfortable facts for the authorities.
When Golden Dawn activists were trying to cover up their connections to the alleged murderer of a rap artist, Pavlos Fyssas, wiretap information seen by Channel 4 News records one of them, named as George Patelis, saying: “Everyone’s calling me. Some guys from the police who were there, everyone, they’re calling saying George we love you and we’re not backing down, we’re with you.”
And that goes to the heart of Greece’s problem. To do this crackdown, the government had to sack two top police chiefs and two intelligence officers, including the man in charge of investigating Golden Dawn – and to sideline eight more commanders, including the boss of the riot squad.
Golden Dawn had assumed – as had many of their victims – that they had tacit police protection.
“Migrant victims of racist attack were turned away by police” says Petros Constantinou, who runs the antifascist group Keerfa, “they told them – probably another migrant did it.”
And in the last Greek election, polling booths specifically allocated for police personnel to vote on duty, recorded up to 40 per cent support for Golden Dawn.
After the election, the coalition government led by the conservative New Democracy party ordered police to sweep migrants off the streets of Athens and into detention camps.
Golden Dawn – also engaged in attacks and intimidation designed to “cleanse” parts of Athens – assumed they were just doing the same job, only more forcefully.
Maria Psara and Lefteris Bidelas, journalists at the newspaper Ethnos, have spoken to two whistleblowers now in the witness protection scheme, whose evidence has been crucial to the prosecution.
“They were threatened,” Ms Psara said.
“They were terrified when they came to us but their will to go out of this group was very strong and that’s why they talked. One had been in Golden Dawn many years, but they didn’t want to be in a group that kills Greeks.”
“They told me that one of their leaders in the Nikea district where Fyssas was killed told them he’d attacked a Pakistani, and that afterwards he kicked the victim’s head like a football, taking a penalty.”
When I visited Golden Dawn HQ today, a solitary man in sunglasses, wearing a T-shirt with the word Mr Hooligan, told me “no filming is allowed”.
But we filmed anyway. Two weeks ago that might have been followed with something more than verbal, but the party is now completely disorientated.
For the fuhrerprinzip works as long as you have an actual fuhrer on hand to give the orders.
As Golden Dawn’s leadership are finding out: you cannot lead a civil war from the police cells.