In this Nov. 30, 2016 photo Stefan Rochow, a former far right extremist, center, checks documents of refugees in Schwerin, northern Germany. (AP Photo/Frank Jordans)
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Felix Benneckenstein was a rising star on Germany's far-right scene, a young songwriter whose rousing guitar anthems made white nationalism sound romantic and rebellious. But when fellow neo-Nazis attacked a friend, Benneckenstein found the doubts he'd ignored for years coming to the surface.After almost a decade on the far-right fringes, the 30-year-old is now part of a small but effective network of former neo-Nazis helping people to leave the scene.These former neo-Nazis call themselves the "Action Group" and try to meet in person at least once a year. The meetings aren't advertised, and journalists aren't invited because some members fear their identity could be revealed to friends and colleagues unaware of their past. Last month the Associated Press received unprecedented access to the group's two-day retreat at a former police training center tucked away in a wood in the eastern state of Saxony – notorious for its strong far-right presence.About a dozen people – mostly young, mostly male – came to talk about their past and brainstorm ways to reach out to those still inside the neo-Nazi scene. Wagner says the Action Group gives ex-Nazis a way to become involved in political campaigns again where other organizations might reject them due to their past. Unraveling those theories is a difficult but important part of the process of leaving the far-right scene, which Germany's domestic intelligence service says involved some 22,600 people last year.
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