In the waning days of the Cold War, Rainer Sonntag helped fuel a neo-Nazi movement that still plagues Germany today. He was also a Communist spy—and he worked for Vladimir Putin:
Author Regine Igel, who has studied extremism in modern Germany, believes that the East German intelligence apparatus was engaged in “massive and long-term support and direction of German and international terrorism,” exploiting extremists on both right and left to destabilize the West. By Sonntag’s time, however, the authorities’ approach to the far right may have become more pragmatic, concerned with heading off neo-Nazi attacks against border installations and countering the spread of the ideology in East Germany. “Following the logic of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend,’ there was a basis for cooperation,” historian Bernhard Blumenau said. “This was realpolitik at its best.”
Unleashing Sonntag in West Germany was a gamble. He was a loner, with few personal relationships to ground him. There was a good chance that, once free, he would simply vanish. But he was about to surprise his handlers.
“When the show began, a constellation of folks who’d known Alfredo, including many people he’d screwed over, mingled over his work. At first he’d turned art into crime. Now he was turning his crime into art. Prison was ‘the best residency Alfredo could have dreamed of,’ says Fuentes.”
Forty years ago, the world’s most famous terrorist hanged herself in her prison cell. Williams looks at Meinhof’s complicated legacy, and what it reveals about how radical women are perceived.