Operation Trojan T-shirt

How would you reach a target group that operates relatively secretive and communicate a message to them that puts their beliefs into question — and this in a familiar surrounding and with a surprise? These questions we asked ourselves, together with partners from the advertising industry — and our answer was the „Operation Trojan T-shirt.“

From the Trojan horse to the T-shirt

The idea is old – but our Trojan is not a horse, it is a T-shirt. The T-shirts were distributed free of charge by the NPD on August 6th 2011 in Gera on the right-wing rock festival „Rock for Germany“ organized by the Thuringia NPD. But only at home the T-shirt would reveal their true intention: the imprint of a skull labelled „hardcore rebels“ and swung flags of the so called „Free Forces“ (right wing extremists groups resembling left wing structures) disappeared after the first round in the washing machine and the message „What your T-shirt can do, you can do too – we will help you to free from right wing extremism. EXIT Germany“ became visible.

The operation

Using a fake identity and claiming to have withdrawn from the political fray, but still supporting the political struggle, we sought out contact with the NPD Thuringia. After several inquiries and a shifted meeting – which never took place after all – we were given a contact address few days before the festival. With that information everything speeded up very quickly. The packages were shipped by us 4 days before the festival, and the T-shirts were distributed directly at the entrance by the organizers themselves. Already 24 hours later the first mass text messages spread in the neo-Nazi movement with the following warning: „Beware fake! Yesterday at the RfD concert T-shirts were given away, imprinted with a hardcore rebel label but containing a message from EXIT, the government funded dropout program. This message will be visible only after washing. Exit has wasted thousands of Euros of taxpayers‘ money“(sic.).

On Monday morning a note on the Facebook fan page of the festival regarding the T-shirts was posted, and the movement began discussing the operation. The comments — spanning from the call to burn the T-shirts to appreciative remarks – showed that the action indeed had reached its target group. A few hours later it seemed that this also became visible to the administrator of this site and the page was closed down. But the discussions went on. In several related forums news about the operation spread, and the wildest counter actions and speculations were circulating.

250 T-shirts found their way directly into the right-wing extremist scene.

Neither joke nor a waste of tax money

The far-right scene was confused and wondered how something like this could have happened, and who was responsible. The action took the organizers of the festival completely off guard and so they did not respond at all in the beginning. Some days later, the district division of the Thuringia NPD released a confused press statement claiming that at least „2000“ Euros tax money were wasted. The statement continued: „The party district chairman Gordon Richter responded with incomprehension to the joke.“

The operation of EXIT Germany – a non-governmental dropout program — was anything but a joke.

A customized appeal

With the T-shirts we wanted to make our offers known in the scene and appeal to the young and not yet well-established right-wing extremists. Furthermore, we wanted to carry our concerns directly into their environment — and this is what we achieved. The „Operation Trojan T-shirt“ was one tool to speak directly to the right wing scene. EXIT Germany is experimenting with various forms of reaching target groups. As part of the „Working Goup of Former Right-Wing Extremists“ from EXIT Germany we developed flyers, postcards and podcasts designed to work like the T-shirt-Trojan.

Even though we know that these and other actions won’t bring extremists to spontaneously reconsider their xenophobic and anti-Semitic ideology in a day, but our name will stay present in their heads. And when one day this person starts thinking about leaving the movement he or she will remember us.

EXIT Germany