Baader Meinhof: Romanticizing Terror

The title of the documentary ‘Baader-Meinhof: In Love With Terror’ suggests a notion of romanticism surrounding the violent actions of the Baader-Meinhof Group or Red Army Faction (RAF). This could definitely be said for its main leader, Andreas Baader. From interviews withformer RAF members and research into the group, it appears that the transition from disgruntled ideologists to a full-blown terrorist group largely sprang from Baader’s love of violence. Until he met the young and passionate Gudrun Ennslin, Baader was a ‘juvenile delinquent’ somewhat apathetic and unconcerned with revolutionary thought. Through his relationship with Ensslin he became interested in left-wing theory and slowly took on the role of revolutionary. Baader then combined his delinquent streak with his revolutionary thinking and the Red Army Faction was born.

The RAF were driven by Marxist-Leninist revolutionary ideals calling for the end of American involvement in Vietnam and the downfall of capitalism, as were other terrorist organizations and protest groups in the 1960s. Targets mainly included department stores, police officers, government members and heads of companies and in the beginning the attacks were followed by strong political statements. After the capture and incarceration of Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof and other prime members of the group in 1972 the violence increased and more elaborate acts of terrorism were carried out. Desperation seems to be the main driving force. However, it was not desperation for the downfall of capitalism, but rather to free their imprisoned leaders. Michael Baumann, founding member of the German Movement 2 June, denounced his comrade’s actions against civilians as detracting from their left-wing image as true “revolutionary vanguards.” Their actions were in vein it appears, as Baader, Ensslin and Raspe committed suicide in October, 1977. Those remaining reacted to the group suicide by murdering their kidnapping victim Hanns-Martin Schleyer. One of the kidnappers actually admitted in the documentary that the Schleyer murder was ‘revenge’ for the suicides and not part of their war against capitalist ‘pigs’.

Other inconsistencies existed in the Baader-Meinhof gang. Baader himself was criticized for wearing trendy and fashionable clothes and at the same time denouncing capitalist wealth. While he professed his love of Marxism it often appeared that it was his love and fascination with violence that motivated him within the group. It is interesting also that Horst Mahler, the lawyer who convinced Baader and Ensslin to return to Germany and form a revolutionary underground group, went from being an extreme-leftist militant to a Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi on the far right. However, there were those in the group, such as Ensslin, who genuinely appeared drawn to the leftist cause and were willing to fight for it. One of the common factors among RAF and other terrorist groups of the time was a strong sense of revolution. It seems that it was this more than any romantic notions associated with violence that compelled them to take up arms against the state.

Dissatisfaction and social upheaval across the globe saw students and concerned citizens like those in Baader-Meinhof rally their discontent and challenge the establishment in any way they saw fit; depending on how dire they viewed society’s problems. While RAF was extreme in their approach they chose violence because they felt it was necessary to achieve their dream of a Marxist-Leninist revolution. It was more complex than just a ‘love of terror’. Revolutionary fervor and desperation to realize their goals pushed them over the brink and into a web of terrorist violence.