“We are talking about the nastiest and most disgusting neo-Nazi, racist and refugee-hostile hatred,” Reul said.
The 126 images with content punishable by law were shared in five WhatsApp chat groups that were exclusively or predominantly used by police officers. The officers — 25 of whom worked for the police force in the city of Essen — were asked to hand in their badges and weapons on Wednesday.
Disciplinary proceedings with the aim of termination have been initiated against 14 of the officers, officials said, with 11 suspected of committing a criminal offense. Early-morning raids were carried out at 34 locations, both private homes and police stations.
Germany’s police and military have been marred by a slew of extreme-right scandals. Neo-Nazi death threats in recent years against prominent public figures, including left-wing politicians and lawyers, have been linked to police computers. The inquiry into those threats also unearthed WhatsApp chat groups in which officers had shared racist and anti-Semitic content.
That followed the 2017 discovery of a group of neo-Nazi “preppers,” called Nordkreuz, who authorities said were readying themselves for “Day X” by drawing up a list of political opponents, and hoarding weapons and body bags. Suspects were linked to the police and military.
In June, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer disbanded a combat unit of Germany’s elite Special Forces Command because of suspected extreme-right ties in its ranks.
But experts have accused German authorities of failing to tackle the problem head-on and raised questions about the ability of police to investigate themselves.
No officers have been charged in the death threats. The founder of Nordkreuz, a police officer who previously served in the German military, was given a 21-month suspended sentence last year on weapons charges.
Even as scrutiny has increased during worldwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has repeatedly pushed back against any assertion of structural racism within the country’s security forces.
In July, Seehofer canceled a planned study of racial profiling by police, with the ministry explaining that it was not necessary because racial profiling is against the rules. Instead, he proposed a study into violence directed at police.
Steve Alter, a spokesman for the federal Interior Ministry, described Wednesday’s reports as “alarming” but said far-right networks that have been unearthed in three of Germany’s 16 federal states did not indicate a structural racism issue among the country’s 300,000 police officers.
Speaking at a news conference in Berlin, Alter added that it was too early to reevaluate the decision to shelve the racism study.
The latest chat groups were discovered after an officer’s phone was confiscated because of suspicion over media leaks, officials said. One of the groups was begun in 2012, while another — on which the majority of the images were shared — was created in 2015.
Reul warned that more cases may emerge, after cellphones of other officers were seized on Wednesday for examination.
“I have to tell you that this process makes me speechless,” he said, referring to the investigation, “and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since I found out about it.”