German language quotes in this article have been translated into English.
The set for the Herman & Popp online video show, produced for a German-speaking audience, is slick and professional, with the hosts Andreas Popp and Eva Herman sitting side by side, a laptop between them as they chat before the camera.
Behind the camera is Mash Mashaghati, who along with his wife Alexandra, is part of the five-person team running the real estate company Cape Breton Real Solutions Inc. that has been set up to sell land to Germans.
Popp and Herman were identified in an article last week by Germany’s largest weekly magazine, Der Spiegel, as members of a right-wing network luring Germans to Cape Breton to buy land and establish a colony of far-right radicals and ideologues, as the Halifax Examiner reported here.
The video that originally appeared at the top of the Spiegel article featured Popp and Herman, and at one point offers an image of a sign for Cape Breton Real Solutions. The video has now been made “private.”
In a message to viewers explaining why they made the video, Herman wrote:
In this video we meet a lot of emigrants from German-speaking countries. Some have already settled here, others visit the island regularly. As a rule, we all know each other pretty well. As you can see at the end of the video, there are also many happy get-togethers with good food and drinks, lively conversations and “house music.” The title Golden Arm, which Andreas’ friend Berndt Hänsel sings for guitar at the end, was composed by Berndt himself. It is dedicated to Bras d`Or Lake (Golden Arm), the breathtakingly beautiful lake here on Cape Breton Island. By the way, in this video, for once, there are no political or scientific messages. We simply take a small piece [sic] with you here on the dream island. From next year – 2020 – we will of course continue to post our constructively critical publications online for free.
It is telling that on Cape Breton Island, where wonderful local music and musicians abound, Popp and Herman chose to have a German friend compose and play the music for the video.
Popp and Herman decry the Spiegel article
In a press release issued by their think tank “Wissensmanufaktur” (Knowledge Creation), Popp and Herman call the Der Spiegel article defamatory, and say they have commissioned their lawyers to defend their rights against the magazine’s “false claims” and against any other media that have spread them.
In a statement issued July 25, Herman and Popp wrote:
Dear friends, neighbours and fellow citizens on Cape Breton, we would like to apologize from the bottom of our hearts for the fact that the use of our names is such a heavy burden on the wonderful home of Cape Breton. The helplessness with which we are facing this defamation campaign of a German magazine is hard to bear. We are working with lawyers to fight the untrue allegations published by the German magazine “Der Spiegel”. Of course, this will take some time and therefore it is important for us to react in advance. We kindly ask you not to take part in prejudgements. We will clear up these unbelievable accusations. But this will take a little bit of time. Firstly, we would like to make it very clear that we have never (!) supported “Nazi” thoughts, nor will we ever support them. – We dissociate ourselves from any right wing ideas in every way possible. – We explicitly stand behind Canada’s values, such as cosmopolitanism and tolerance. – We would never deny the Holocaust and are aware of our responsibility in the context of German history. There were and are no documents or alleged mails from us that in any form show right-wing ideas or even Holocaust denial. The opposite is the case. We constantly warn of the great danger of new totalitarian currents, such as those that appeared in the darkest chapter of German history. I, Andreas Popp, became a Canadian citizen years ago out of firm conviction and handed in my German passport at the same time. The assertion that we wanted to establish a German colony here is false. We have nothing to do with the real estate agent Frank Eckhart. Eva Herman has never met or spoken to Frank Eckhart. I myself last spoke to Frank Eckhart about 15 years ago. There is no business or private contact between him and I. Thank you to the many friends and neighbours who stand by us in these difficult times. We will do all we can to clear up this matter and help to restore Cape Breton’s good reputation. Please distribute this first statement. We want to thank all the people who support us and are helping us to not further damage the reputation of this beautiful home.
Cape Breton Real Solutions
In their Wissensmanufaktur press release, Popp and Herman also deny that they have any role in selling land or advising on land purchases, saying only that they “cooperate” on land questions with Cape Breton Real Solutions.
Nova Scotia Property Online shows that Cape Breton Real Solutions currently owns 32 properties in Richmond and Inverness Counties.
The company has some powerful allies and collaborators. On his LinkedIn profile, well-established Cape Breton business person Damian MacInnis states that he is a freelance business development consultant with Cape Breton Real Solutions. Yesterday, in a tweet including Popp and Herman’s press release, MacInnis refer to them as “my clients.”
In a 2010 article, Chris Shannon reported for the Cape Breton Post that former Progressive Conservative Premier Rodney MacDonald attended a seminar less than a year after he resigned his seat in the legislature, at which he made a pitch to “potential German investors” on why Cape Breton was a good place to buy real estate. The article states that MacDonald was speaking “on behalf of real estate companies Canadian Pioneer Estates and CANEC Land Developments Inc.’s owner Rolf Bouman. However, the delegations of potential investors were reportedly “organized by German economist Andreas Popp.”
The Halifax Examiner emailed Juergen Gindner, CEO of Cape Breton Real Solutions, to ask the exact relationship between Popp and Herman, and the real estate company. As of publication time, no reply has been received.
However, in an online video, Popp describes Gindner as their friend, someone he went looking for, and also the person from whom he buys his precious metals.
Gindner was an investment banker in Germany before moving to Cape Breton with his wife in 2019 to become CEO of Cape Breton Real Solutions, which was incorporated in 2018.
The Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks shows he is also president, director and secretary of Bras d’Or Strategy, a company that he founded in 2015. Bras d’Or Strategy bills itself as “your competent partner in strategic and crisis-proof financial investment,” and mostly, purchases gold and silver for clients and also offers them “the option of storing acquired precious metals in a high security depository outside of the banking sector, operated by International Depository Services IDS.
Popp and Herman say that Cape Breton Solutions and their seminars for Germans interested in seeking a refuge in Cape Breton are separate entities, but it appears that they are closely intertwined.
Leo Betschart, who is in charge of “infrastructure” for Cape Breton Real Solutions, is married to Edith von der Schweiz. It is not clear if she also goes by the name Edith Betschart, but someone of that name is the “recognized agent” for Gindner’s firm, Bras d’Or Strategy, and has also reportedly replied to emails sent to Wissensmanufaktur.
In a video called “Andreas Popp shows his home in Canada 2015,” Popp gives a tour of Cape Breton and his community to controversial German commentator Michael-Friedrich Vogt, who also has his own online channel called MVTV. In the 2015 video, Popp paints an idyllic picture of the province as some kind of paradise on earth, where there is “minimal crime” and he has “never seen a real fight.”
We also learn that the Germans who come to Cape Breton are a “special class,” not just because of their money, but also their spirit and philosophically, in a place where there are “still a lot of Indians living.”
In the video, Popp and Vogt are shown visiting the home of Alexandra and Mash Mashaghati, who work for Cape Breton Real Solutions. In the video, the Mashaghatis are not named, but it is clear that they are very much part of Popp’s show-and-tell tour and close circle in Cape Breton.
And what is it the show-and-tell about? Who are Popp and Herman, what brought them to Cape Breton, and why does Der Spiegel paint them as right-wing conspiracy theorists and doomsday prophets?
The new face of hate?
A 2016 paper in the journal German Politics and Society, entitled “Mobilizing meanings: Translocal identities of the far right web,” by Patricia Anne Simpson of the University of Nebraska, examines the “cadre of self-credentializing experts and politicians.”
In it, Simpson singles out Professor Dr. Michael Friedrich Vogt whose online channel at that time was called “Quer-Denken [thinking outside the box] TV” as someone who “cohabits with the extreme right in Germany.”
In her paper, she cites sources that suggest the “new face of hate in Germany” can appear in the form of people who live in the countryside and who are well-dressed teachers and fathers. She describes one popular far right German figure, Björn Höcke, as someone who is “fluent in hate speech masquerading in true free speech.”
Simpson writes that Popp, who has become a Canadian citizen, resists the “label of emigrant.”
She also observes that in an online forum, “Vogt emerges as a doomsayer in his interview with Eva Herman.”
And about Herman’s talk with Vogt, Simpson writes:
Herman navigates the questions to the general theme of establishing a German-speaking Kolonie, to use the term employed among German-speaking emigrant communities in South America (and elsewhere) from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, on Cape Breton Island. All refer to Rolf Bouman, a German who emigrated in the mid 1980s and who puts properties on the grid. Also the founder of the Indian Cultural Center, Bouman functions as a middleman between emigrating German, Austrians, and Swiss and the local legal, economic, and cultural institutions. It is worth noting that he is also the subject of a Quer-Denken special regarding his work with Canada’s east-coast First Nations. The advice to those who are interested in fleeing Europe echoes and updates the nineteenth-century mentality of German emigration: in the twenty-first century, it intersects with the apocalyptic thinking of the contemporary far right in Europe and North America.
First, the fabric of this “community” of free thinkers who live outside the box and take refuge beyond the borders of Germany consists of prosperous Europeans with incredibly good teeth and disposable incomes, motivated by the imminent threat of war in Europe and disdain for the European Union.
To get a clearer idea of what Popp and Herman are doing in Nova Scotia, we need to come back to the Popp and Herman show, particularly the May 2020 edition, in which Herman poses “important questions” that have been sent from their followers to Popp.
The questions are all about setting up a safe haven or “refuge” in Cape Breton, from what Popp describes as the “shocking” situation these days in their German-speaking European homeland of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
Normally, Popp says, such a discussion would be held during the “exciting” weeklong seminars that he has been hosting for more than 10 years in Cape Breton. The seminars are intended for “clear thinkers” (presumably only ones who speak German as the seminars are German-speaking only, and for people with €2,850 Euro — about CN$4,450 — to spare for the whole package).
However, the coronavirus has made international travel difficult, they explain on the May show, so the fully-booked seminar had to be postponed. As they’ve had a flood of questions from interested followers, they say they’ve decided to answer them in a virtual seminar online.
Herman looks very poised and professional on the set. This is not surprising given her past career. Herman was once an extremely popular and well-known television presenter in Germany. In 2007, however, she published her book Das Prinzip Arche Noah (The Principles of Noah’s Ark), which praised the family policies and gender roles of Nazi Germany. After that, she was fired.
Since then, Herman has divorced — a defender of “traditional” family values, she has been married four times — and has now linked up with Popp in life and in Wissensmanufaktur.
In 2015, she also published a racist conspiracy theory about the migration crisis eroding Europe’s “Christian culture, belief and tradition” on the Wissensmanufaktur website of their Instituts für Wirtschaftsforschung und Gesellschaftspolitik (Institute for Economic and Social Policy).
In the video, she and Popp are clearly comfortable with each other. At one point she plucks a piece of hair from his jacket and once also reprimands him for touching his microphone. She defends her use of a bandage over the camera of her laptop, telling Popp she doesn’t want to be spied upon. Herman advises viewers that they can also receive daily information from her by subscribing to her “Telegram Channel.”
On the surface, much of their chitchat seems benign, even banal. At one point, for example, they explain to prospective German-speaking refuge-seekers that their Cape Breton safe havens will have something called “septic tanks” to deal with wastewater, and that “housewives” use special soaps to avoid harming the bacteria in the septic systems.
“Free thinkers” only
Underneath it all, however, are strong hints that something much darker is being discussed in coded language, as Popp explains at length why they — and other “free thinkers’ like them in German-speaking countries — are seeking a refuge in Cape Breton.
In one exchange, Popp says that the world is on a war footing, and he lists several ongoing crises (spoiler alert: the climate crisis is not one of them he names, nor is it a theme on the Wissensmanufaktur website that does feature themes such as “lying press” and “media manipulation”).
Popp refers to the Corona crisis (which in other broadcasts they suggest is part of a conspiracy that would lead to global digitization of people’s identity so they can be watched and controlled more easily).
Other crises he mentions include “US war games against Russia,” and a “coming blackout,” about which he says we haven’t yet been told. He does nothing to enlighten his viewers.
Then, says Popp:
We have an invasion from the Arabian side at the moment, which is directed at Europe, and European politics is behaving with — if you excuse me — incompetence, that is my personal opinion.
Herman interrupts Popp to say:
It is not just an Arabian [invasion], but also Arabian, African, and Asian invasion.
Popp and Herman suggest that for this reason, for a time at least, Europeans may need to become refugees themselves. They can do it by safeguarding their money and moving onto the land in Germany. But they can also do it in Canada, and that doesn’t mean they have to leave their homeland forever, just until the crisis is over and things are “solved” in Europe. They can also use their refuge as a holiday home for a couple of weeks each year, which Popp says many Germans do in Cape Breton.
Popp explains that the refuge-seekers can come for six-month periods, and then extend for another six months with the German honorary consul in Halifax. Or, he says, they can apply for permanent residence status in Canada, which Popp and Herman agree is not as easy to obtain in Canada as it is in Germany.
There, Popp quips, the magic word used to be “please” but now it is “asylum.”
Popp’s attitude to migration and immigration is interesting, given that he tells the viewers he is not just a permanent resident of Canada, he has become a Canadian citizen.
Herman doesn’t offer information about her own immigration status, whether she is a permanent resident of Canada, or whether she has applied to become one. Nor is it clear whether she would be granted such status, given her record in Germany, where she was accused of evading 37,600 Euros in 2010, filed for bankruptcy in 2012, and was convicted by the Amstgericht Hamburg-Mitte (case number 5000 Js 148/14 in the district court of central Hamburg) and was fined 5,400 Euros.
Popp says he began to look around for a place to take refuge back in 1996, saying that his aim was to find the “safest place on earth” — somewhere that was sparsely populated, with no risk of volcanoes or earthquakes, and no nearby nuclear power plants and military targets.
Cape Breton, he says, satisfied all these criteria.
Herman then chimes in, saying that another advantage is that there are “cultural commonalities” for Germans coming to Cape Breton, because earlier immigrants were all “Europeans — English, Scottish, Irish, French” and “very many” of those coming now are German-speaking.
This satisfies the immigration politics of Halifax and Ottawa, she adds, because they are looking for “well-educated” people.
And for those “free-thinkers” from German-speaking countries, Popp says they are seeking a safe haven where they can be around people that “fit with them,” and around whom they can also keep their mother tongue, German, if they so wish.
He says they don’t want to be around people who would be discussing who is better, [current German Chancellor and member of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party, Angela] Merkel or [former finance minister and candidate for chancellor and representative of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, Peer] Steinbrueck.
Rather, says Popp, they want to be around people whose discussions would be “on a higher level already.” People in the community, he says, stay closely tied to their homelands in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
“When we see what is going on in Europe now it is so shocking,” Popp says to the viewers, and then, speaking directly to Germans back home, he adds, “It’s not as if we just up and abandoned you, that is not it. Maybe we do more for our country than do the people who live there.”
The dog whistles are almost deafening.
Popp says they work with a good team, and that on the issue of mass migration they are far ahead of the “mainstream media” and have “lots of reporters” who work for them abroad.
Herman adds that they have met with a politician in Cape Breton who is interested in promoting immigration from Europe, particularly doctors, but doesn’t name the politician.
However, in a letter to his constituents on July 25, Liberal MP for Cape Breton–Canso Mike Kelloway, wrote that he:
… participated in a meeting in January to discuss the prospect of recruiting a group of health care professionals to Cape Breton. Attendees include those who are facing allegations in Der Spiegel.
I understand that these allegations may be subject to legal action, so I cannot comment further on specifics.
However, generally speaking let me unequivocally state there is no place in society nor in beautiful Cape Breton–Canso for hateful extremism of any kind. I strongly denounce anyone who denies the existence of the Holocaust or sympathizes with Nazi ideology.
Please know that I have raised this matter with the appropriate authorities. If you have reason to believe that there are others who are wilfully promoting hatred or violence against an identifiable group, you are encouraged to contact the police.
I know that the recent allegations have raised significant emotions and I am available to answer any questions that you may have.
Run-of-the-mill right-wing bigotry and bias?
Much of what Popp and Herman say, at least in these public videos, echoes many of the talking points of the hard right anywhere. However, much appears to be coded, couched in deceptively benign terminology that is clearly designed to normalize what are, when stripped of all the fancy word-work, both racist and white — and in this case white German — supremacist views.
One German-Canadian observer who asked not to be named told the Halifax Examiner that Popp and Herman appear to be spearheading and building a network of fairly comfortably-off Europeans from German-speaking countries with survivalist and far right sympathies, who want to establish a safe haven colony in Cape Breton with others who share their racist and radical views, while also preserving their wealth — or making even more by luring people to their scheme who will buy up land from them.
For Don Bowser, a law enforcement advisor with two decades of experience in Germany and the founder of the watchdog organization Maritime Watch, there is much that is troubling about this case.
In a message to the Halifax Examiner, Bowser wrote:
The most worrisome part of their ideology is that Nova Scotia would serve as a “refuge” for European survivalists. Given the links that both Justin Bourque and the Nova Scotia mass shooter [whom the Examiner refers to as GW] had to the “prepper” movement, increasing the numbers of right-wing survivalists here is a major red flag. The Maritimes needs to scrutinize any growth of the movement that is “selling” a bolthole to radical and ideologically-driven survivalists here at home.