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West German terrorist and lead member of the Red Army Faction, which was dubbed the Baader-Meinhof Gang by the press.

A consummate dandy and future icon of terrorist chic, Baader was a bit of a mama's boy. Born in Munich in 1943, he did poorly in school and was denounced by his grandmother as "having no backbone" - but his mother doted on him nonetheless, dreaming that he might become a journalist or a reknowned homme de lettres. As he grew older he became popular with girls, who were attracted to his swarthy skin, blue eyes and long eyelashes.

As a young man, he half-heartedly decided to attend art school, where he half-heartedly studied pottery, of all things. He faked having lung cancer to try and elicit sympathy, but he failed at this too.

He went to Berlin and interned at the conservative paper Bild-Zeitung, whose offices he would one day bomb. Sucked into the orbit of the student movement, he met Gudrun Ensslin, a shrill and idealistic young woman who was supposedly descended from Hegel. She was attracted to Baader, who wore skintight velvet pants and eyeliner - his style was a sort of cross between a character from a Caspar David Friedrich painting and an archetypal anarchist bomb-thrower.

They joined the ranks of the Frankfurt SDS (which was known for its vicious Stalinist streak) but eventually broke with their too-moderate comrades. The great myth about Baader is that he was a dumb thug, a petty criminal given a cause by his pretty blonde New Leftist girlfriend. It's true that he had none of the interest in theory that his comrades like Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof displayed - supposedly whenever Ensslin would talk about the state, he would scoff: "it's a shat-in shithouse." Baader didn't pen their communiques (that was Meinhof's area) or pick over the intricacies of Marcuse and Marighella, but he was no fool. As a kid he'd read, as all the young men of his generation did: Nietzsche, Sartre. And he was certainly intelligent, maybe even gifted.

So they planted bombs, incinerating two Frankfurt department stores and baptizing themselves into a life of crime as would-be revolutionaries. Baader was eventually captured by the West German police, but Ensslin, Meinhof, Irene Georgens and Ingrid Schubert staged a daring escape from the Dahlem Institute for Social Research (which Baader had conned the court into letting him visit, claiming to be researching a book with Meinhof) on May 14, 1970.

They wasted no time fleeing to Jordan, where they visited a training camp of the Palestine Liberation Organization. They learned how to shoot AK-47s, but a cultural clash developed immediately between the RAF and the PLO: Baader refused to take off his fashionable trousers even while crawling through the dirt, and one of the members of the RAF sincerely complained that they should install a Coca-Cola machine in the camp. The female RAF members took to sunbathing topless, which agitated the young men of the PLO, some of whom had never seen a naked woman before. The camp commandant, an Algerian, was not pleased. "This is not the tourist's beach in Beirut," he said.

For two more years they criss-crossed Germany, bombing targets and evading the police ("the bulls," in the parlance of the times). In 1972 Baader was captured with Holger Meins in a Frankfurt parking garage, in a shootout that dominated the news and left Baader with a shattered thigh bone.

Baader languished in Stammheim, where his caring mother visited him and read to him from Uncle Tom's Cabin. A hunger strike by the RAF against their prison conditions - a strike which Baader objected to from the beginning - led to the gruesome death of Holger Meins.

In 1974, Jean-Paul Sartre (at the height of his sometimes embarassing Communist fellow traveller phase) visited Baader in prison. They communicated poorly, sharing no common language (Daniel Cohn-Bendit was suggested as a translator, but this came to naught). Sartre gave an underwhelming and poorly-received statement to the press, and Baader claimed that all he got from the Frenchman was "an overwhelming impression of age" (Tom Vague sees this as clear evidence of Baader's connection to nascent punk rock).

German Autumn came in punk's heroic year, 1977, signified by the hijacking of a Lufthansa jet and the kidnapping of Hans-Martin Schleyer by the RAF's second generation. The hijacking was foiled by West Germany's then-young GSG-9 anti-terrorist team, formed in the wake of the Black September attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Word of the hijacking's failure reached Schleyer's captors, who executed him. Word reached Stammheim, and the next morning the guards found three dead: Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe of gunshot wounds and Ensslin hanging from a noose fashioned out of her bedsheet. Irmgard Möller survived four stab wounds to the chest and claimed the deaths were extra-judiciary executions by the West German state - many young leftists believed her.

When Baader suggested that books would be written about him and the RAF, someone asked what the title should be. He replied: "the gun speaks." In an odd endnote, a fictionalized version of Baader appears as a minor character in Steven Spielberg's film Munich, unwittingly assisting an agent of the Mossad in tracking Black September.



SOURCES CONSULTED:

- Aust, Stefan. The Baader-Meinhof Group: Inside Story of a Phenomenon. Bodley Head, 1987.
- Becker, Jillian. Hitler's Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang. Michael Joseph, 1977.
- Vague, Tom. Televisionaries: The Red Army Faction Story 1963-1993. AK Press, 1994.

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