Nikos Michaloliakos, the leader of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, is a disciple of a former Greek military dictator, who led his fringe group all the way to parliament.
Just over a year after it took Greek politics by storm to elect 18 MPs for the first time in its history, Golden Dawn has been labelled a “criminal organisation” by judicial authorities.
Michaloliakos, a 56-year-old mathematician, will appear in court Wednesday to be charged with belonging to a criminal organisation.
He has already been jailed on two occasions in the late 1970s for assaulting journalists and participating in bomb attacks in Athens.
While in prison, he befriended ex-dictator George Papadopoulos and was handpicked to lead the youths of far-right group EPEN after the fall of the Greek junta in 1974.
He then founded Golden Dawn, which he has run with an iron fist for the past three decades, making him one of the longest-serving party leaders in Greece.
The party follows a strict military-style regimen. Its members conduct parades dressed in black shirts and camouflage trousers, and are required to stand to attention before higher-ranking members.
Magistrates have linked the group to two homicides, three attempted homicides, robberies and an arson attack on a bank.
The evidence was drawn from prior police investigations, police wiretaps and the testimony of former members who have described how the group orchestrated attacks on migrants and Greek rivals.
According to the magistrates’ report, which was leaked to the media, Golden Dawn also held clandestine training in the use of assault weaponry for elite members.
Michaloliakos’ first elected post was as an Athens municipal councillor in 2010, where he attended sessions with bodyguards and was filmed taunting a left-wing opponent with fascist salutes.
At the time of its inception and for years thereafter, Golden Dawn glorified Adolf Hitler and the warrior ethos of Nazi Germany in its party publications.
One of the party’s older texts, read in parliament by a leftist MP in May, called Hitler a “visionary of new Europe”.
“Faith in the words of the Fuehrer, and faith in victory, grows in our hearts. The fight goes on, the future is ours,” the Golden Dawn text read.
This rhetoric was later toned down as the party adjusted its message to better suit Greek voter concerns with austerity and illegal immigration.
Even so, in a May 2012 interview Michaloliakos effectively denied the Holocaust, telling Greece’s Mega channel: “There were no crematoria, it’s a lie. Or gas chambers.”
Formerly on the fringe of Greek politics, Golden Dawn went from 19,000 votes a few years ago to over 426,000 in June 2012 after pledging to “scour the country” clean of illegal immigrants.
Michaloliakos later said the party’s voters were “the equivalent of 30-40 army divisions.”
The party has further boosted its ratings over the past year by organising food handouts for impoverished Greeks, and until recently polled more than 10 percent of the vote, making it the third most popular party in the country.
Now denying any neo-Nazi affiliation, Golden Dawn has mercilessly attacked mainstream parties as “traitors” and “thieves”, tapping into widespread anger towards the conservative and socialist governments that brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy in 2010.