Born in the East German city of Dresden in 1955, Rainer Sonntag spent most of his early adulthood in and out of prison until, in 1986, he received permission to leave for West Germany. Two years later, he entered the inner circle of Michael Kühnen, the country’s leading neo-Nazi, and succeeded Kühnen after the latter’s death in April 1991—only to die in a violent confrontation a month later. Leigh Baldwin and Sean Williams delve into Sonntag’s bizarre backstory, and the “dark secret” his comrades didn’t know when he joined their organization:
While outwardly [Sonntag] was a neo-Nazi, he was also a spy for East Germany’s feared secret police, the Stasi. Not only that, he had ties to the KGB. In fact, right up until the Iron Curtain fell, one of his handlers was a young, ambitious Russian officer stationed in Dresden. The handler’s name was Vladimir Putin.
The Stasi had a rich history of exploiting the far right for its own ends. When Adolf Eichmann stood trial in Jerusalem, the Stasi funneled cash to a campaign to defend the captured war criminal and forged letters from “veterans of the Waffen-SS” urging comrades to join the “struggle against Jewish Bolshevism,” all in an effort to humiliate the West German government. With the same goal in mind, in the late 50s and early 60s, Stasi agents smeared swastikas on Jewish graves across the country. Later, in the 1980s, the Stasi recruited Odfried Hepp, one of West Germany’s most wanted neo-Nazi terrorists, to report on far-right activity on his side of the Berlin Wall. When it appeared that Hepp’s arrest was imminent, he fled to East Germany and was smuggled to Syria under a new identity.
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.
The Stasi also provided funding for Palestinian terrorist groups as well. In 1986, Baldwin and Williams conclude, it deliberately engineered Sonntag’s migration to the West so that he could pursue its mission.