One Perspective of the Baader-Meinhof Experience

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

First off, many may not know about the Baader-Meinhof gang (or group, aka the Red Army Faction or RAF).  Andreas Baader patterned his gang on the other socialist extremist groups in the 60s and 70s throughout western Europe.  Their first exploits began in the late 60s.  They pictured themselves as being modern Robin Hoods in protest of the lack of a Communist Party in Germany during the Cold War.  They were not Robin Hoods, only hoods.

As for the governments of western Europe, there was evidence that some of these radical terrorist groups were trained by the Communist forces during the Cold War.  Many with ties to North Korea.  It is unclear if the RAF was a trained terrorist group or simply a copy-cat.  In the communist bid to win the Cold War, they encouraged socialist terror group to destabilize the population, creating fear, giving everyone a sense of insecurity.  This tactic, along with sleeper cells, spies, etc. were common methods used during the Cold War.  To keep the military active, exhausted at times, the Russians would move tanks from one location to another along the demilitarized zone.  For one thing, it kept the free world guessing and then the Russians could predict how long it would take for NATO to respond, a constant cat and mouse game that led to many sleepless nights.  No shots fired, just a few tanks seen moving on a satellite image.

But we are talking about the RAF.  In one story, the RAF leader, Andreas Baader was to be interviewed while in prison by a magazine.  This was a ruse.  Ulrike Meinhof arrived to interview him, guns were produced instead of notebooks and tape recorders and they made their escape.  As a result, the terrorist group was also called the Baader-Meinhof Gang or Group.

Most of the stories that have been recorded about the Baader-Meinhof Gang are not true.  This has led to a term called the Baader-Meinhof Effect or Complex.  (The Baader-Meinhof Complex became a movie.)  It pertains to anything that distracts you from your main focus, with too much attention made on the assumption that something else is happening, whether the other thing ever happens or not.

I wrote a note to Julie of Cookie Crumbs to Live By recently.  I mentioned that I felt safer in Germany during the Cold War and the Baader-Meinhof Gang was active in our area than I do now in a sleepy suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, USA.  In a way, it is the Baader-Meinhof Effect.  Most of the lack of a safe feeling (not really fears in that it does not consume my time) extends from street vandalism and shouting right outside our front door, and loud noises in the middle of the night, violent arguments among twenty somethings that were constantly lectured by the local police when they were growing up for shooting pellet guns at passing automobiles.  Have they escalated to more lethal weapons?  A few of our neighbors have moved.  We may be next to move.

But how did the RAF affect us in Germany?  Oddly, in many ways.

First, we arrived in Frankfurt am Main at the Rhein-Main Air Force Base in August of 1977.  We were handed a Stars and Stripes Newspaper on arrival.  The headline was that Elvis had died, pronounced dead while we were taking off from the Memphis, TN airport the day before.  At the bottom of the front page was an article about an industrialist who was kidnapped in a bloody battle, killing all his bodyguards, by the RAF in front of a department store, an easy walking distance from where we would be living.  A few weeks later, the industrialist was found dead.  The event said to us newcomers, “Welcome to your new home.”  We arrived in 1977 during “German Autumn,” the term used for the peak of RAF activity.

Over the first few months, we learned of American military families that were gunned down while stopping at rest areas along the Autobahn.  It was so seldom and random, that we never let that enter our minds when we did any tourist things on the weekends.

When we first moved there, the major leaders of the gang had been captured and imprisoned in Stuttgart, just to our east.  The increase in activity was meant to affect their release.  Meinhof had committed suicide (the official report) the year before and a few months after we arrived, living in Karlsruhe, Gudrun Ensslin, a female member from the beginning, and two male gang leaders, including Baader, were found dead.  The report that we received, but not recorded on internet sites, was that they were visited by a “priest” and then the two men were found shot and the woman hanged using radio speaker wire.  This should have ended it, but it was only beginning.

The following story is one that my wife thinks that I have made up.  I just never told her.  She did not need to know about a scare that never materialized.  The Gang sent an anonymous message to the US military that pay officers were to be ambushed as they left the finance office.  It seemed that the Gang might be wanting to make some money.  If you were a Deutsche Mark exchange pay officer, you could have possibly $50,000 in either US money or Germany money.  You paid the soldier in American money and then asked if he wanted some of that exchanged for local currency.  There was always round-off error and I usually had to take money out of my pocket to pay the difference.

When the message was received, I was one of the lucky pay officers that month.  We were called into a meeting and we were told that we had to change our method of travel and presentation to the public.  The Gang would be looking for a military jeep with a driver, a front seat passenger carrying a conspicuous M-16 rifle, and an officer in the back seat with an ammunition can or two full of money and carrying a .45 caliber automatic.  The finance office required the guard with an M-16, but we were instructed to hide it under the seat.  We also were instructed to avoid the usual route, no main roads.

My guard (a Spec. 4 company clerk) and my driver, Mash Truck (his well-deserved nickname), were wide eyed, but it was part of the job.  They asked to be excused for a few minutes before we left.  When they returned in five minutes, ready to go get the money, I asked them what they had been doing.  The guard said that in an ambush, a rifle under the seat would be useless – dead before you could retrieve it.  They had each gone to their lockers to get personal weapons, hidden under their uniform.  As the guard said, “Sir, if you fire your weapon, you will have to account for every round fired – a lot of paperwork.  If I fire my personal weapon, that’s my own business.”  (Note: As for Mash Truck, he was my usual driver after Big Butt had been promoted.  Some of his exploits are given in a Hydroplaning story here.)

In true Mash Truck fashion, once we exited the main gate from the kaserne (barracks area), we immediately went down an alley.  It was one alley after another in a variety of directions to end up to our east at the finance office.  I had no idea where we were, but I think a couple of times, we were cutting through people’s back yards as the paved alley turned into a dirt road.  He used even more alleys and back yards to get back to the barracks to dispense money.  Since none of the pay officers were shot at that day, it was much ado about nothing, but it made you think.  Was this an instance of the Baader-Meinhof Effect?  Yes, it just had not gotten that name attached to it yet.

It was about that time that I was with my platoon doing a morning two-mile run, about 5:30am.  We left the main gate, turned right and then turned at the first right hand turn, running around the outside of the kaserne fencing.  We were immediately stopped by the Polizei, the German police.  A sergeant who knew German and I were told that we could not proceed any further.  The local prosecutor for the supreme court there in Karlsrue, where a gang member was on trial, lived on the corner, and the house at the cul-de-sac had just been purchased.  After the purchaser was vetted, they found that it had really been purchased by proxy of a proxy by the Baader-Meinhof Gang.  It seems that the prosecutor was a typical German, a slave to the routine.  At 6:00am each morning, without fail, the prosecutor got in her car (I think she was female) and drove to the office early.  It was at precisely that time that an American LAW was rigged to be fired from the newly purchased house (through the plate glass window) into the car.  A LAW is a disposable Light Anti-tank Weapon.  I mumbled to the sergeant that an about face was in order.  The sergeant told the platoon that we were going to set the record for the two-mile run, because we were turning around and only running a half mile.  We jogged back a lot quicker.  We didn’t know if the German bomb disposal guys would be quick enough.  They were.  The LAW had been booby trapped to hamper any disarming, but they handled it.

But then I changed positions and became the local Facilities Engineer, until the civilian replacement could be hired four-months later, staying on as his “assistant.”  Off in a German civilian world, maintaining buildings, grounds, roads, and utilities for all military sites, I heard less about the RAF.  But then while my wife was pregnant with our second child, she had her own routine.  She would wake up about 2:00am to go to the bathroom.  You mothers out there may know what I mean.  For about two months, she had heard a German moped screech to a stop behind our car.  She was afraid the German guy in his late teens or early 20s was going to hit our car, so she looked down from our fourth-floor apartment (no elevator).  The kid ran into our building and ran back to his moped with a canvas bag filled with something.  When he did this, it was always the day before US military payday.

After two months, my wife finally told me.  Of course, I had slept soundly through her trips to the bathroom.  She was afraid to go into the Army’s version of the NCIS office, so I went.  The Sergeant First Class that I talked to was very interested in every detail.  He wanted to hear it from my wife though.  We returned, and the SFC was now a Captain, unless he had a twin.  She told him the same story and we were told to do nothing but report the next time it happened.  On that occasion, my wife got brave and walked down the stairs to the first-floor apartment entries.  One more half floor to the building entrance and then a turn and she could get a look at the guy’s face.  Then it dawned on her that he could be armed, and she ran (as fast as you can 6-7 months pregnant) back up to the apartment.  She told me the next morning and I went back to report the next sighting.  I was greeted by the SFC/Captain who was now a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC).  The now-LTC, or maybe triplets, was beaming with delight.  He was waiting for me so that he could tell me that they followed the young guy back to the Maginot Line in nearby France.  This part of the Maginot Line was off limits due to booby traps left by the French after World War II, but the Baader-Meinhof Gang had their own explosives experts.  They had been using it as their hideout, where no one would think to look.  For the next year, the wanted poster changed nearly monthly.  With the gang flushed into the open, they were tracked down and almost all killed.  Then the poster would have a new red “X” over the latest former Gang member.

As we were leaving to return home, the day we left, we heard that three Americans had been sentenced to imprisonment in Leavenworth, Kansas as a result of their aiding the Baader-Meinhof Gang.  Two of them were neighbors of ours, from across the street.  They were using our stairwell as their money drop.  The young lieutenant’s platoon, a light combat engineering platoon on the far side of town, was one hundred percent hooked on heroin.  To feed their habits, the platoon sergeant and the lieutenant traded stolen military weapons for money and then money for drugs.  The platoon got the drugs.  The Baader-Meinhof Gang got the weapons, ammunition, and explosives.  The officer, the sergeant, and the officer’s wife, who had been pocketing some of the cash, were all found guilty.  My wife was shocked in that our older son had played with her children.  She had seemed so “nice.”

Why go down memory lane?  We have people in the USA choosing to fire weapons upon police instead of getting a minor traffic citation.  As a response, instead of helping the police, the government talks of defunding the police.  Yes, policemen continue to use deadly force against unarmed young people who do suspicious things like running from the police and doing the opposite of what they are told.  This may in some rare cases be systemic, but the police are just as frightened as the criminals (if they were honest about it), but it does not slow down the crime.  Violent crime is escalating at an alarming rate.

And the voices of the media are blaming the government and the police, while nearly all the police are just trying to ”protect and serve,” while a small splinter group are causing the trouble.  But the real problem is that we have turned from God.

The Apostle Paul writes an End Times prophecy in this letter to the church in Thessalonica above.  While our leaders are shouting “Peace and Safety,” there is destruction all around us, and those that do not seek God will have no place to hide.

Is this the End Times, or can we repent?  There may not be a third option.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


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  1. Great story Mark— gripping really as I was not familiar with this German RAF vs the Royal Air Force…
    I thought of Maxine Waters latest shenanigans when you wrote “in the Communist bid to win the Cold War, they encouraged socialist terror ground to destabilize the population, crating fear, giving everyone a sense of insecurity.”
    As she is out on the streets encouraging the rioters-
    There’s a book in here somewhere— a comparison of times, attempts and organizations!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow what a post! NEver heard of this gang; this is such a precious window into the Cold War era European theater US ARmy in Germany, something some might forget about!

    Liked by 1 person

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