Gerhard Frey, one of the most colourful characters of the German Extreme Right, has died one day after his 80th birthday. Frey, a famously rich businessman and right-wing journalist, began building his empire in the late 1950s. Over the decades, he published two rightist weeklies (which he was later forced to merge in a declining market), countless revisionist and openly racist books, and ran a mail-order service for Nazi memorabilia. He was one of only four persons who ever stood trial under a procedure called “Grundrechtsverwirkung”. Basically, the Federal Government tried to strip him of his right to freedom of speech (and also his right to vote, to stand in elections and to take public office) because – according to the government – he had abused these rights to incite racial hatred and glorify Nazism (the Federal Constitutional Court squashed this and all similar cases on the grounds of these measures being disproportionate).
Frey made various forays into politics, but was repeatedly rejected by Germany’s oldest relevant Extreme Right party NPD (although sat on the party’s leadership committee for a short while). Over the years, many a right-winger has accused him of being only in it for the money.
In the 1980s, he converted his German People’s Union DVU (“Deutsche Volksunion, essentially a right-wing book club) into a political organisation that during the decades successfully contested various land elections, only to tank abysmally once they had entered another land parliament. The DVU was never a proper party. Leaving the DVU immediately after assuming office, embezzling money or getting caught while downloading child porn in their parliamentary office was more or less de rigeur for its MPs.
For most of its existence, the DVU wholly depended on its party chair, Gerhard Frey, who had taken out considerable loans from Gerhard Frey, the publisher, to safeguard his position. As far as we know, there was never any meaningful political competition or genuine party life within the DVU, which has been dubbed a “virtual” or even “phantom” party. In 2009, Frey, already in his late 70s, finally stepped down from the leadership and dispensed with the money the party owed him, thereby paving the way for the eventual merger with its longtime rival NPD.