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Introduction Chapter

The Gun Speaks

The Baader-Meinhof Gang and the Invention of Terror

by Richard Huffman

It wasn’t just about killing Americans, and killing pigs, at least not at first. It was about attacking the illegitimate state that these pawns served. It was about scraping the bucolic soil and exposing the fascist, Nazi-tainted bedrock that the modern West German state was propped upon. It was about war on the forces of reaction. It was about Revolution.

The Baader-Meinhof Gang certainly didn’t expect to win their war by themselves. They assumed an epic proletarian backlash would be the Revolution’s true engine. They assumed their wave of terror would force the state to respond with brutal, reflexive anger. They assumed that West German civil liberties and civil rights would be quashed as the state turned the clock back 25 years to the Nazi era of open fascism. They assumed that the proletarian West Germans would react in horror as the true nature of their own government was revealed. They assumed that factory workers, bakers, and miners, would be inspired to smash their own oppressors. They assumed that they would be the vanguard of a movement where millions of Germans brought Revolution home. They assumed a lot.

It wasn’t complete conjecture. In July of 1971, Institut Allensbach, a public research firm with a standing and reputation similar to the Gallup organization in the United States, published a remarkable poll. Twenty percent of Germans under the age of thirty expressed “a certain sympathy” for the Baader-Meinhof Gang, a group with the avowed purpose of violently overthrowing the West German government. One in ten young Northern Germans indicated that they would willingly shelter a member of the Baader-Meinhof Gang for the night.

It was the last, and perhaps only, time that a significant portion of a western democracy expressed open support for terrorism as an avenue for Societal change.

For the leaders of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, this was empowering proof that millions of Germans were lining up behind their cause.

In retrospect, what is clear is that these millions of young middle-class Germans, primed by their radicalizing university experiences, were mostly expressing a theoretical support for a radical group that seemed to embody the realization of their leftists ideals. But save for killing a few policemen in shootouts, the Baader-Meinhof Gang hadn’t really begun their Revolution. There were no decapitated GIs yet, no maimed printing press operators. It was therefore easy to support them; they hadn’t yet truly turned their theory into praxis. This would all change one year later.

Few Germans were interested in marching behind the Baader-Meinhof Gang after their week-long campaign of terror in mid-May of 1972. After the Heidelberg bomb that shredded US Army Captain Clyde Bonner and his friend Ronald Woodward into a confetti which covered the limbs a nearby tree; after that same bomb knocked over a Coca-Cola machine, crushing another soldier, Charles Peck; after the Frankfurt bomb that sent shards of glass into Lt. Colonel Paul Bloomquist’s neck and neatly severed his jugular; after the bombs placed in the hated Springer press offices in Hamburg that injured and maimed 17 typesetters and other workers; after the bomb that almost killed five policemen in Augsburg; after the car bomb placed on the same day in the Munich parking lot of the German Federal Police force destroyed 60 cars; after the bomb planted under the seat of Judge Wolfgang Buddenburg’s Volkswagen exploded, severely injuring his wife; after all of this terror, the Baader-Meinhof Gang had no support. The millions of ordinary Germans, whom the faction’s leadership believed were primed to fight, never materialized, never fulfilled their destiny to bring down the fascist, oppressor state.

Within five weeks they were all in jail. Within five years they were all dead.

In 1974 Holger Meins, 6 foot 4 and rail thin, starved himself to a death-weight of 120 pounds in a bid to gain concessions from his jailers.

Ulrike Meinhof, the famous journalist who had helped free convicted arsonist Andreas Baader from prison custody, hanged herself. Constantly wracked with self-doubt, she tore a towel into thin strips, fashioned a noose and hanged herself from the wire mesh of her cell’s window. She left behind twin daughters whom she cared deeply about but hadn’t spoken to in three years. It was Mother’s Day, 1976.

As for Baader, his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin, and fellow faction leader Jan-Carl Raspe, their ends came after the longest, most expensive, and most controversial trial in German history, after several plane hijackings by their compatriots who were still loose terrorizing the German Republic, after dozens more bombings, embassy takeovers, more kidnappings, and ultimately the unsuccessful hijacking of a Lufthansa 737 (which was a last, desperate attempt to secure their freedom).

As Baader listened in his prison cell to reports on his smuggled radio, he learned that German commandos stormed the plane on a deserted Mogadishu runway, killing most of the hijackers and rescuing all of the hostages. Knowing that the hijackers had failed, Baader sent word to Ensslin and Raspe through their secret “telephone” system using the common electrical circuits between their soundproof cells. All hope is lost. It’s all over. In cell 716, Raspe removed a 9mm Heckler and Koch pistol from a small section of hollowed wall—smuggled into what had been touted as the most secure prison block in the world—sat on the edge of his bunk, put the gun to his temple, and pulled the trigger.

Across the cell block, in cell 720, Ensslin removed a speaker wire from her record player, stood on a chair next to her window, fed the wire through the mesh screen of the window (as her friend Ulrike Meinhof had done the year before) put her head through the makeshift noose, then took stepped off the chair and kicked it aside.

In cell 719 Baader removed the carefully hidden 7.65 FEG pistol that had been smuggled into his cell, and fired one round into the wall, and another round into a pillow. Then he held the gun to the back of his neck, put his thumb on the trigger, and squeezed, blowing a hole through the top of his forehead. It was later theorized that Baader’s machinations that night were an attempt to leave the impression that he had been murdered. For countless angry radical Germans, it was clear that the faction had been murdered. How could anyone reasonably trust the explanation that the imprisoned terrorists had managed to smuggle two pistols into the most heavily protected security block in the world, how they had managed to coordinate a suicide pact when their cells supposedly prevented communication, how guards stationed 20 feet away managed to not hear three separate gun shots, finding the bodies the next morning; how could anyone trust the pigs selling this lie when these same pigs had spent the previous three years proclaiming their supremacy over the prison conditions of the jailed terrorists?

To even the most conservative observer, it was clear that the authorities had a lot of questions to answer. It was all too easy to believe that it was simply another in a long line of Big Lies.

 

The threat of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and their Revolutionary goals, has no mirror in the Islamic terror threat posed against western democracies since September 11, 2001. The response to the threat, however, offers eerie, and unfortunate parallels. In the wake of the threat of the Baader-Meinhof Gang—the “war of the six against sixty million” as Nobel Laureate Heinrich Böll famously put it—Germany’s response was absolute. Vast new police powers were enacted. A major revision to the German Basic Law, dubbed “Lex Baader-Meinhof” provided sweeping curtailments on German civil liberties. 3.5 million public servants underwent loyalty checks. A powerful conservative news empire run by notorious press baron became the dominant news source for the entire nation through increasingly aggressive and irresponsible coverage of the German left. An entire new police structure, designed to provide homeland security, was built up seemingly overnight. Prisoner’s were kept in extra-legal conditions while the government stymied their contact with lawyers.

And few—if any—of these efforts stopped the terror. Mostly they became additional tools of control for a government bent on curtailing accepted civil rights. It has taken decades for the Germans to find a more nuanced, effective and mature response to terror. The German decision to oppose the 2003 American invasion of Iraq was not the pouty statement of Old Europe. It was the culmination of a generation of learning how best to address terror. It was the decision of a cadre of politicians who learned the danger of a government that uses the fight against terrorism as justification for a laundry list of other goals. When one million young Germans took to the streets of Berlin in February 2003 to voice their support of their government’s opposition to the coming war, it was a remarkable bookend to the protests of 1967 and 1968, when Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and millions of others marched to implore their government to provide a more just world. In 2003 there would be no new Meinhofs or Baaders growing increasingly disillusioned by their own government’s actions.

 

The Baader-Meinhof Gang were the world’s first celebrity terrorists. Although they called themselves “The Red Army Faction,” they were only known in the public’s mind by the last names of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Coverage of the group was so ubiquitous that the weekly story index of Der Speigel, Germany’s equivalent of Time magazine, regularly listed a simple “B-M” alongside “Culture,” “Foreign,” and other topics. No one needed the letters “B-M” explained to them.

They were the true embodiment of the term “radical chic.” They had style; they set trends. The were popular; they had panache. When Andreas Baader was eventually captured in a nationally televised siege in a Frankfurt neighborhood, he had the presence of mind to keep his Ray-Bans on as he was being dragged into a police van, a bullet in his thigh. As word spread that the Baader-Meinhof Gang apparently preferred to steal the speedy little BMW 2002 sports cars, people began to joke that BMW was actually an acronym for Baader-Meinhof Wagen. What had been a financially struggling regional automaker known for well-built yet plain cars, became a global brand with true cachet. Such was the perceived connection of the Baader-Meinhof Gang to BMWs that police would set up road blocks and only stop drivers in the little Bavarian cars, often unwittingly allowing the savvy terrorists to slip by in stolen Mercedes, Audis, and Alfa Romeos.

If you were conservative, or middle-of-the-road, you called them “the Baader-Meinhof Gang.” Leftist and radical Germans, indignant at the “Gang” appellation, called them “The Baader-Meinhof Group” instead. Inside the faction, however, the issue wasn’t whether they were a criminal “gang” or a Revolutionary “group.” Frustration came from the media using the names of the supposed leaders of a revolutionary group that eschewed cult-of-personality leadership. Besides, it made it clear to Baader that people were incorrectly assuming that Ulrike Meinhof was a co-leader of his group. They quickly adopted the moniker “Red Army Faction,” though the name never really took hold until Baader, Meinhof, and the other original members were long dead and their succeeding generations continued to maim and kill.

But the public and the media weren’t interested in the true dynamics of the membership of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. For most, the group became a prime vehicle for people to project their own assumptions, fears, and ambitions. Nothing reflected this more than in the late summer of 1971, when seemingly overnight every bakery window, U-bahn station, kiosk, and lamp pole became covered with wanted posters. Supplied by the BKA, which was the West German federal criminal police force, the posters featured rows of the faces of almost two dozen young Germans sheepishly confronting passersby.

These wanted posters served as a coming out party for the Bundeskriminalamt; the BKA. Prior to the emergence of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, West Germany had no true national police force; nothing with the power or breadth of mandate of the United States’ FBI. The BKA served as a frontier police force, but were specifically prevented from working within the German lander, or states; a legacy of the heavily decentralized structure imposed after the war in an effort to prevent the rise of another Hitler. It was akin to the American Wild West; terrorists on the run merely had to travel 50 kilometers to the next land to be assured that the there were no local police with the slightest bit of knowledge about them or whether the police from a neighboring state were searching for them. Horst Herold, the newly-selected head of the BKA, had long advocated an increased role for the BKA in the internal security of West Germany. His arguments always fell on deaf ears. But with the Baader-Meinhof Gang on the loose, the various German land had a considerable change of heart, and authorized an extraordinary expansion of the powers of the BKA.

”Baader is the only man who has ever really understood me, and I am the only man who ever really understood him,” said Herold, the man who eventually would catch Baader and the entire leadership of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Herold knew that the Baader-Meinhof Gang had made the BKA, and he was going to make the most of his agency’s newfound powers. Their first project was the wanted poster.

The reach of the Baader-Meinhof wanted poster was enormous and unprecedented; seven million posters were printed and distributed across a country with only 60 million residents. The photos on the poster were relatively benign; many clearly came from school photos or from family albums. But if the photos on the poster were not particularly menacing, the poster itself certainly was; the ever-present nature of the poster left many Germans fearing that terrorists were behind every lamp post and phone box.

What the authorities did not anticipate however, was that their poster would also communicate another equally powerful message—unintended, yet devastating in its allure—to many young German women. Of the nineteen faces, almost half were women.

The top row featured those who it could be assumed to be the group’s leaders; Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Holger Meins, and Jan-Carl Raspe; woman, man, woman, man, man. Seen through the eyes of a progressive young woman stifled by paternalistic German society—where the tripartite ideal of Kinder, Küche, Kirche (Children, Kitchen, Church) was considered sacrosanct, where it was still technically illegal to co-habitate with a man who was not your husband, where all abortion was outlawed, and where men were legally recognized as the head of the household—this was powerful, empowering stuff.

Intended by the BKA to turn the German populace against the group, the wanted poster actually touched a deep nerve among many young German women who were excited by this band of outlaws who were clearly disregarding any notions that guns and bombs were the pure domain of men. They weren’t seen so much as attacking the state, as they were promoting and practicing equality. In fact, even the BKA seemed to be tacitly accepting the Baader-Meinhof Gang’s premise of gender equality by equally spacing the women and men throughout the poster; few would have noticed had the poster lined all the of the men along the top rows and the women along the bottom, indicating men’s traditional dominant role and women’s traditional auxiliary role.

Of course this gender-neutral poster offered an equally appealing flip-side to young German men; apparently with Revolutionary Terrorism—what one assumed would be the most male of vocations—there were an almost equal number of women. Any impulse by young German men to have their egos threatened by clearly powerful women was negated cleanly by the assumption that if an outlaw band of young radicals were equally divided between men and women then sex must be rampant. A whole lot of sex.

Many conservatives read the poster the same way, and had exactly the opposite reaction. This depraved, debauched gang of criminal youths were clearly having sex; entirely too much of it. The emotional women driving the group certainly were the central cause for their irrational acts of terror; men would not act with such malice and illogic.

The group’s resonance with much of the West German population went well-beyond issues of gender and sexual equality, however. The scores of Germans who expressed support for the outlaw band during their early days had been primed by years of revolutionary socialist philosophy espoused on the radically-reformed German university campuses. Throughout the 1960s, German universities were awash in what would now seem to be radical Marxist thought, filtered through Fanon, and parsed by Marcuse, Horkheimer, and the other titans of the Frankfurt school. Students learned that German society, like all western society, was in the throws of late Capitalism, eventually to be replaced by true Democratic Socialism. Every worker would control his or her own fate; oppressed no more. The question wasn’t if the Proletariat was oppressed, but how much longer will they be oppressed, and who will take the mantle of leadership to end the oppression and jumpstart the Revolution?

Rudi Dutschke, a brilliant Berlin student leader, demonized as “Red Rudi” by the hated conservative Springer press chain of newspapers, advocated a “long march through the institutions.” Inspired by Mao’s famous march across China, Dutschke proposed a decades-long Revolution from within by entering the German systems of power, working into positions of leadership, and effecting peaceful, gradual change from within. His arguments held considerable sway, inspiring many young Germans to begin their own long marches. Joschke Fisher, Germany’s extraordinarily popular foreign minister, so instrumental in the German decision to oppose the 2003 American war in Iraq, was the most noted of hundreds of former radicals who deferred their immediate goals and steadily marched into the upper echelons of the German power structure.

But Meinhof, Ensslin, and their cohort were baldly dismissive of this slow methodical approach. Their very first communiqué after going underground made this evident: “You have to make clear that it is Social Democratic garbage to assert that imperialism…would allow itself to be infiltrated, to be led around by the nose, to be overpowered, to be intimidated, to be abolished without a struggle. Make it clear that the Revolution will not be an Easter Parade, that the pigs will naturally escalate the means as far as they can go.”

The main assumption, inherent to their argument, was clear. Everyone knew that German society, like all Capitalist societies, would ultimately become a Marxist social democracy. That was a given. But in that innocent early time of their days on the run, the Baader-Meinhof Gang offered many young leftist Germans an infinitely more exciting vehicle for arriving at utopia; certainly more compelling than a long institutional march.

A common thread among most left-wing terror groups in the 1970s were the communiqués and letters released faithfully after every action, explaining their intentions. And no group was more faithful in releasing voluminous material than the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Typically, much of it was self-critical, albeit in self-serving ways. Communiqués usually mixed high-minded philosophical analyses with liberal dollops of “arselickers” “pants-shitters” and other proletarian vernacular. After each bank robbery, kidnapping, and shoot-out, another communiqué would faithfully appear. Sometimes sent to the underground journal Abit 883, sometimes sent directly to a press agency, the communiqués were typically signed by a different, independent “group” each time. Usually named after a dead comrade, the “groups” signing the letters claimed to be the “Holger Meins Commando,” the “Petra Schelm Commando,” and so on. It was partially intended to give the impression that dozens of new, independent factions were springing up across the Federal Republic. But these independent letters all spoke with the same voice, offered the same criticisms.

For a group whose ideology revolved constantly around self-criticism and reflection, they were oddly incapable of asking themselves the most obvious of questions: have we failed? Could we have ever succeeded? Why hasn’t the Proletariat, inspired by our actions, spontaneously risen up and destroyed those that oppress them?

Much of what they assumed about the German state proved true. Light armored tanks and machine gun-wielding police became common sights on the streets of Berlin, of Hamburg, of Munich. Police would search entire apartment complexes on the slightest hint of Baader-Meinhof activity. Random police searches of the vehicles of young, long-haired Germans became so common that a new bumper sticker began turning up on seemingly every other car: “Ich gehoere nicht zur Baader-Meinhof Gruppe.” Its message couldn’t have been more clear: just because I have long hair, “I do not belong to the Baader-Meinhof Group.”

It seemed perfectly clear to the members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang that their own terror campaign had brought to the surface the fascism that had plagued Germany since 1933. The fascist power structure had changed little since the Nazi regime. The beast had risen and responded to their challenge with full fury. This was the cue for the Proletariat to recognize West German society for what it was, and rise up themselves and overthrow it in a joyous Marxist Revolution.

At least that’s how the theory went.

In practice, of course, it didn’t happen. Not because they had necessarily misread the nature of the German state, but because they had fundamentally misread the nature of the German people. Rather than rising up and overthrowing the fascist German state, as the Baader-Meinhof Gang expected of the German Volk, they often reacted with bemusement at the initial tactical efforts of the faction, and later horror as their May 1972 bombing campaign began. To be sure, the German state did respond with massive retaliatory force against the comparatively modest threat of the idealistic terrorist faction. But the working class German people, for the most part, cheered their government’s efforts to restore order at all costs. They were, after all, Germans.

But for the multitudes of young Germans who had supported the nascent Urban Guerrilla faction for the previous two years—the same youngsters who had idealistically told pollsters of their willingness to provide terrorists warm bed for the night if called upon—the terrors of May 1972 proved to eliminate all fence sitters. For truly the first time, they had to rectify their abstract philosophical commitment to aggressive Revolution with the carnage and horror that the very real violent Revolution had created and was being shown nightly on their TV screens. In the coming years, as the German government went to increasingly absurd lengths to isolate, ostracize, and mistreat the imprisoned terrorists, many of these idealist young Germans found a new justification to return to the fold and provide sympathetic support for easing the conditions that Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Jan-Carl Raspe, Holger Meins, and their cohort were suffering under. But that last quiet week before the carnage of mid-May 1972 proved to be the last time a significant portion of a western democratic society was committed to aggressive socialist Revolution amongst their own people.

 

Late in 2002 it was discovered that Dr. Bernhard Bogerts, a psychiatrist from at the University of Madgeburg, had been keeping Ulrike Meinhof’s brain in a jar in the corner of his office. Bogerts had been studying the brain off and on for five years trying to determine why a young, well-off, successful mother of two would throw away all vestiges of her happy life and sink into a morass of violence. As pressure to return the brain came from Meinhof’s twin daughters, Bogerts announced that he had solved the riddle of Meinhof’s behavior. “Pathological modifications” in her brain, the results of a mildly botched operation to clip off a blood vessel, had led her down the violent path.

It was such a comforting answer to a population that still feels the mythos of Küche, Kinder, Kirche in their very core. It was a brain abnormality, not the logical progression of a sharp mind who was truly devoted to exposing the fascist underbelly of West Germany and the global imperialism of America. On May 13, 1970, Ulrike Meinhof was a famous political commentator and journalist, with a TV movie based on her original script set to appear the following week; 24 hours later, on May 14, she was Germany’s number one fugitive, having helped convicted arsonist Andreas Baader escape from prison custody in a raid that left an elderly man gravely wounded. Anyone who would make such a decisive break from her past must have something wrong with her. A brain abnormality.

But of course the Revolutionary decisions of Ulrike Meinhof, as well as Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and the 100 or so other young Germans who joined them in the next few years, can not be explained away by such simplistic reasoning. Whether correct or not, the Revolutionary goals of the Baader-Meinhof Gang were shared by millions of Germans, if not their tactics to achieve those goals. But other, more human, factors drove Meinhof as well.

In her heart, and despite all of her self-professed Revolutionary ardor, Ulrike never felt anything less than anguish over her own perceived weaknesses. Like an anorexic schoolgirl looking in a mirror and seeing a bloated reflection, Ulrike always saw failure. Her whole life she had longed to be part of a committed movement, and as her own leftist views began to contrast sharply with her rich bourgeois life-style, she tortured herself as a hypocrite. Her jump with Baader from that window in Berlin’s Dahlem district was a leap of faith into the committed movement she had been searching for all of her life. But as Meinhof found herself quickly shunted aside within the group by the abrasive Baader and his powerful girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin, the truth behind Meinhof’s choice became painfully clear; it was the constant desire to be part of a dedicated movement that defined her life, not actually being part of a movement. But like many who vacillate on life-altering decisions, Ulrike had put into place severe internal repercussions should she choose to change her mind at a later date. After the freeing of Baader (and especially after the shooting of the elderly librarian Georg Linke), Meinhof knew that she would certainly never be able to see most of her friends again, her children would probably have to be raised by her hated ex-husband, she would certainly face prison time, she would be a pariah.

Meinhof was correct in her assumption that these certainties would prevent her from any desire—or ability—to return to her old life, but she was wrong when she thought that they would help to finally exorcize her perpetual self-doubt. In her bid to rid herself of her psychic demons, Ulrike Meinhof eliminated her entire support system that had always helped her to cope in the past.

Andreas Baader’s motivations to become a Revolutionary terrorist were as complicated as Meinhof’s. Baader always wanted to be a leader, but as a young man he had little success inspiring others to follow him. When he was a young teen, he was sent to a new boarding school near Munich. In a attempt to draw interest toward “the new kid,” Baader began periodically coughing into a handkerchief, while dropping hints that he had some incurable lung ailment. The other students noticed that his handkerchief never showed blood. Most students saw his sad attempts to generate interest exactly for what they were, and they ignored him.

Later Baader would adopt a swaggering style. In new situations he often talked aggressively, trying to establish early that he was the toughest in the room. His act never really worked with some of the crowds he mixed with, like the Rockers—who saw through Baader immediately. But within the burgeoning student movement he found that his tough-man routine was accepted unquestioningly.

Compared against the coming actions of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the radical German student movement of 1968 was “radical” in name only. Students would talk themselves in circles discussing Revolutionary theory—Revolution was a given, but which would be the better model to follow? Marxist-Leninist, pure Marxist, early Mao, late Mao, Marcusian?. But they rarely expressed any desire to turn their theory into praxis, and actually bring about the Revolution. Baader, at least initially, didn’t much understand the various theories. But he knew that they all seemed to require some form of violence to bring them about, and he quickly surmised that the timid students naturally respected anyone who seemed willing to move beyond mere theory.

It wasn’t until Baader met the fiercely intelligent Gudrun Ensslin that he found his impetus to put violent theory into action. Ensslin taught Baader all about the evils of Capitalism, the lies of the German Wirtshaftwunder (“Economic Miracle”), and the necessity for Revolution. At first, he took in enough of the rhetoric to be able to hold his own in short arguments, but that was about it. (Later he would be prove to become as well-versed in Revolutionary theory as any graduate student.) After Baader, Ensslin, and two others burned down a couple of Frankfurt department stores in 1968, Baader basked in the infamy of his act, and the legions of young radicals that approached him, wanting to be led, by him.

Thus Baader’s life as a terrorist was as much the story of a dedicated violent poseur as the story of a Marxist Revolutionary.

It was Gudrun Ensslin who was the engine of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. She was the one who most closely paralleled the standard background that conservative Germans argued had given rise to the group. Though only partially reflected in reality, the assumption was that the Baader-Meinhof Gang had sprung fully-formed from the radicalized student movement. in fact, members of the group came from much more diverse backgrounds. But Ensslin functioned as the perfect stereotype. The idealistic daughter of a pacifist Methodist Pastor, she had become radicalized as a student; first supporting and then being disillusioned by the major left-oriented party, attending protests, attending Berlin’s Free University, learning the compelling theories of Marx, and developing a powerful hatred of Capitalist society. Gudrun Ensslin represented every student that Germans had seen screaming in the streets, opposing Vietnam, Coca-Cola Capitalism, and calling for Revolution.

But even for Ensslin the most human of emotions helped drive some of her choices. The galvanizing incident that gave rise to the name “Baader-Meinhof Gang” was a breakout of Baader from police custody in May of 1970 (Ulrike Meinhof was enlisted to help and the media quickly latched onto their names as a convenient appellation for the group). It was planned, however, by Ensslin as much an effort to solidify the leadership of a nascent Revolutionary faction as it was an effort to get her boyfriend out of custody and back into her arms.

 

During their trial in the mid-70s, many members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang testified about the internal operating structure of the group. All took great pains to describe the egalitarian nature of the faction; all decision-making, all actions, everything was done with equal participation. It was all so utopian Marxist.

But it was mostly a delusion. Though it may have been important for the outside world to find in the Baader-Meinhof Gang the perfect realization of a socialist Revolutionary faction, this was not reflected in reality. With charismatic leaders like Baader and Ensslin leading by fiat, and making decisions often for the most human of reasons, and intelligent yet self-doubting followers like Meinhof failing to find any absolution in Revolutionary terrorism, the Baader-Meinhof Gang would prove to be entirely reflective of the bourgeois society that the were so dedicated to overthrowing.