This article was originally published in German.
Compact describes itself as the “strongest German-language political medium in the fight against the New World Order pursued by the global elite”. This is a magazine that cultivates an identity as the “only honest source of journalism for the people” and is tireless in its efforts to attract a very broad readership. Its content is chosen with the aim of appealing to as many different target groups as possible: young, old, Christians, esoteric minds, anti-democratic enthusiasts, climate change deniers and far-right supporters. In many ways, the magazine is the epitome of the “Querdenker” movement in Germany in a high-gloss, text-based format. In March 2020 – before the COVID pandemic became the magazine’s favourite drum to beat– Compact Magazin GmbH was deemed a suspected source of far-right sentiment. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence service, has since decided that the magazine is “demonstrably extremist” with “clear far-right aspirations”. Its justification for this lies in the attempts of the magazine’s limited liability company at the tail end of 2020 to oppose the free democratic basic order, or more specifically the dignity of human beings and the rule of democracy and law. The Office has gone on to clarify its decision to ARD: “Compact-Magazin GmbH adopts public positions and makes statements that can be judged to be distinctly nationalist and hostile toward minorities”.
The magazine was first published in 2010. According to its own records, Compact is sold at 17,000 outlets throughout Germany, with a circulation of 40,000 copies per month. It uses different channels to propagate its rabble-rousing, anti-democratic beliefs: as a monthly print magazine in stores, in the form of special issues focusing on specific topics, on its website, as daily broadcasts on its YouTube channel (which has 150,000+ subscribers), on Telegram (61,000+ subscribers) and on Twitter (31,000+ subscribers). A monthly subscription is available for around €60, with the magazine being sent out in discrete envelopes so as not to pique the interest of neighbours. In contrast to the majority of alternative media publications, the marketing efforts and layout are professional. Jürgen Elsässer has been the chief editor of the magazine since it was founded. A visible presence at Compact, he has a penchant for portrait photos in which he appears contemplative while holding a cigarette – preferably in black and white. Elsässer was once a communist and honed his craft in the world of left-leaning journalism, at publications including Jungle World, neues deutschland and konkret. It is likely that he saw a greater opportunity to become a key voice among the right-wing populist media, where misanthropic groupthink reigns.
Internet tools such as CrowdTangle can be used to find out which platforms specific websites – such as Compact Online, for example – are shared on and by whom. Compact Online is disseminated as follows: its most devoted supporters are the “Freie Sachsen” [Free Saxony] movement, Alternative for Germany (AfD) associations and politicians, “Die Basis” [The Basis] movement, and “Querdenker” [Lateral Thinker] groups such as “Erwachen aus der Matrix” [Wake up from the Matrix] and “Corona Impfschäden” [The dangers of the Covid vaccine]. It also appears that the magazine counts one prominent neo-Nazi, Tommy Frenck, among its supporters, with Frenck sharing Compact articles over Facebook.
The magazine itself states that it wishes to call into question everything reported on by the alleged “mainstream media” and “the head honchos upstairs”. Instead of “political correctness”, Elsässer and his team seek to provide “honest journalism in an era of lies”. In actual fact, however, the magazine is not interested in professional or investigative journalism: its authors rely on derogatory language, the use of emotional imagery and apocalyptic tirades to sell their content and polarise people.
9/11, the Great Reset and the deep state
There is a case for stating that the Covid pandemic is the best thing that could have happened to the magazine. Since the start of the pandemic, the incompetence of politicians, the “vaccine wars” and the conspiracy ideology of a dictatorship have been its go-to issues. To reinforce these alleged revelations, the magazine turns to longstanding antisemitic ciphers to paint a picture of the world. Rather than simply leaning on conspiratorial myths, the magazine perfects them by taking existing conspiracy narratives and building on them. Many articles “uncover” alleged secret plans and name supposed influential actors, with the majority making reference to typical antisemitic codes: globalists, George Soros and Bill Gates, the Great Reset, the New World Order, finance capitalism, and the deep state. The magazine creates a conspiratorial fairy tale world in which it is always five to twelve. “Surviving in the Age of the Vaccine Dictatorship”, “Wuhan: Biological Weapons for the Great Reset”, “Harbingers of Post-Humanism” and “Boosters until the Grave” are just a few examples of this end-of-the-world rhetoric.
A stage for reactionary Christians
One perennial issue is the Great Reset. According to this conspiracy narrative, global politics and the global economy are controlled by powerful actors who want to take possession of the people and pave the way for the introduction of a global socialist system. Together with Klaus Schwab and George Soros, the World Economic Forum is the most powerful voice behind the change, and will be instrumental in turning society and the state into a socialist eco-dictatorship. Under this ideology, everything that happens in the world is the result or in pursuit of the Great Reset.
Compact recently published a series of articles titled “The Great Reset: The Last Great Lie” by Catholic archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano both online and in print. The series takes an in-depth look at who is behind the frenzy surrounding the coronavirus and “Satan’s revolution” – a consequence of the pandemic. Vigano has been a firm believer in conspiracy ideologies within the church for some time now and is convinced that the pandemic was staged. He refers to the scientific investigations and studies into Covid-19 and its effects as “global lies” and “the (official) Covid narrative”, and goes on to suggest that there is actually a very different, “true” explanation for the pandemic. From the very first paragraph of an article in the Great Reset series, we read “how globalists are pulling the strings in the background” and about the “scurrilous plans of Soros, Schwab and the rest”.
Vigano does not limit himself to antisemitic codes, either, instead building in an anti-Islamic narrative with references to the “inversion of ethnicity [Umvolkung]” and the “Great Replacement” of Europe’s population. By this, he means that Muslims are being smuggled into Europe disguised as refugees with the aim of making them the new majority in society. Not only that, but Compact has defended recent comments by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller on a global conspiracy, enforced conformity and total control. Müller is celebrated as one of the few who will still dare to speak the truth. Meanwhile, in a religious/esoteric special edition of Compact on “The Great Awakening”, Catholic, Protestant, Russian Orthodox and anthroposophical “thinkers” are given the chance to express their views on the struggle against the Great Reset.
One right hand washes the other
Compact is more than just a conspiracy-loving magazine designed for opponents to the vaccine drive and democracy as a whole; it is also a megaphone for radical far-right intellectuals. Sitting next to an advertisement for the shop run by the right-wing hooligan band Kategorie C are reams of right-wing and nationalistic ideologies: One prominent voice is Alexander Dugin, a Russian “New Right” theorist and supporter of the Eurasia Movement whose books are advertised through Compact. Alain de Benoist, one of the most influential thinkers among the French New Right movement, is another name who has benefitted from Compact, having taken part in an interview with the magazine.
Compact cultivates an active network of organisations and movements that are under observation by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. For example, Martin Sellner – the most well-known face within the Identitarian movement – has his own column in Compact (“Sellner’s Revolution”) and regularly promotes the magazine in his videos. Together with Götz Kubitschek (Institute for State Policy, IfS), Jürgen Elsässer founded the “One Percent” initiative: a network and campaign agency by and for Austrian and German far-right individuals whose aim is to provide financial and ideological support.
To truly appeal to the far-right scene, right-wing symbols are sprinkled throughout Compact. One recent cover bore the Black Sun. This sun wheel symbol is not explicitly banned, but this is precisely the reason why it is one of the most popular symbols among far-right circles – and serves as a symbol of recognition internationally.
Compact unites various trends, with everyone from esoteric far-right proponents to anthroposophically inclined “Querdenker” present within its pages, and this is how it earns money. Its shop contains books by international far-right thinkers such as Alexander Dugin as well as the Thule trilogy by Wilhelm Landig, a former member of the SS whose books take a far-right, esoteric approach to conspiracy ideologies and mythology – two things that continue to play a role among the New Right today. The Compact shop also contains books by Waldorf school founder Rudolf Steiner and tomes that deal with healing through nature while eschewing any form of medicine. Its digital shelves are also home to “subsistence bibles” and advertisements for algae powder capsules. In other words, it has something for everyone.
The only thing that seems a little out of place is an advertisement for the removal company Ebert. Or perhaps it makes complete sense: after all, even rabble-rousers and polarising personalities have to move house from time to time. Maybe abroad, in fact: a new favourite ultimatum used by those who have had enough of all the “oppression” in Germany is to say that they will leave the country if X happens or Y is voted in. Conspiracy ideologist Oliver Janich did exactly that when he fled to the Philippines. There’s even a guide for it in the Compact shop titled “Emigrate the right way and lead a better life” (the author has a clear preference for emigrating to countries “in the East”).
By contrast, Elsässer himself is firmly in the other camp: “Emigrate? We’re staying put!”. He points to the favourable election results for AfD in Saxony and Thuringia as grounds for hope for Germany as a whole. As he writes in an article, “Björn Höcke is the election winner and is flying the flag for us!”. The chief editor is willing to jump on any bandwagon that will generate clicks and sales. His latest project is the “Vaccine Strike Alliance Germany”, which he is pursuing together with “PI News” (another outlet suspected of far-right sentiment), the far-right movement “Freie Sachsen”, the self-proclaimed anti-fascists from the “Democratic Resistance” and the right-wing union Zentrum Automobil.
A heart that beats for the AfD
It comes as little surprise that the AfD is the darling of the Compact political cosmos. Similarities between the two include the constant lamentations about the situation in Germany and talk about the “lying press” or “systemic media”. For the state elections (in the eastern German states in particular), Compact TV broadcasts from each of the AfD party headquarters and speaks to their leading candidates. The AfD and Compact have the same enemies: all other parties, but especially the Greens. Prior to the parliamentary elections in September 2021, political posters went up across Germany that bore a strong resemblance to the Greens’ own posters with one exception: the former railed against the latter. This defamatory campaign against the Greens shortly before the election was launched by Compact and supported by the AfD out of a “fear of an eco-dictatorship” (whatever that implies). Now that the Greens are in government, the provocation shows no signs of abating. One reason why the Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, reached this conclusion: “The agitation against the government is the equivalent of a fundamental rejection of democratic or democratically legitimized decision-making processes.”
The AfD and Compact don’t just have common enemies; they also share a friend that holds democratic processes in low regard: Russia and Putin. The AfD has good relations with Russia, counts on strong electoral support among Germans from a Russian background, and regularly visits its counterparts in Russia. Similarly, Jürgen Elsässer and Compact have featured on Russian television time and again in shows focusing on Germany. Elsässer has long been a proponent of the reactionary forces in Russia: he invited Elena Misulina and Olga Batalina – the figures behind the notorious anti-LGBTQ+ law in Russia – to one particularly homophobic edition of the Compact conference in 2013, whose theme was “the future of family”.
Hatred for civic organisations
In addition to being a thorn in the side of democratic parties, Compact is an enemy of civic organisations dedicated to fighting far-right extremism and protecting a healthy democratic system. Leftist greens, antifa, “do-gooders”: they all allegedly want to make life difficult for Compact’s supporters and take away everything that is fun. By contrast, the musician and neo-Nazi Frank Kraemer was grateful for Compact’s “Antifa Special”, discussing the issue and the “entanglement of antifa with powerful financial backers” in his podcast. Examples like this are proof of how the content found in Compact is used and disseminated time and again by those in the far-right scene and by politicians. The magazine is a key influencer for these actors and an important link within this community.
With the Office for the Protection of the Constitution having classified the magazine as demonstrably extremist, the question remains as to how (if at all) media wholesalers will respond to this development. According to a study by Übermedien in March 2020, supermarkets have no control over which newspapers and magazines are offered in their stores. These stores are supplied by wholesalers, which in turn are not entitled to freely decide on which publishing houses they enter into agreements with. Frank Nolte, Chairman of the Association of Media Wholesalers, said the following to Übermedien in December 2021: “What we sell is not a question of conscience; it is our duty”.
After Compact was suspected of far-right tendencies in 2020, market chains such as Kaufland and Real stated on Twitter that while they had no desire to continue to stock the magazine, it could still be found in many stores. There is an urgent need to review the “duty” of the press association and the wholesalers and decide whether a demonstrably extremist magazine truly needs to be offered and stocked – and whether there is no way for retailers who do not want an anti-democratic magazine in their markets to bypass such an obligation.
While terms such as “conspiracy rag”, “alternative” and “patriotic” can all be used to describe Compact, this downplays the danger it represents. Far more than simply shining the spotlight on far-right proponents, the authors – along with chief editor Jürgen Elsässer – act hand in hand with the far right in rejecting democratic processes in favour of misanthropic groupthink, rabble-rousing and conspiracy ideologies.