For two decades Frank Eckhardt worked to build a rural and self-sufficient utopia in the wooded hills of Cape Breton and encouraged other German-speaking immigrants to leave the motherland and join it.
But according to the Nova Scotia RMCP, Eckhardt may have gone too far with some of his clients whom he has helped start a new life in Canada.
Mr Eckhardt, 56, was arrested last week and charged with extortion, after falling out with two German nationals who moved to Cape Breton on temporary work visas in December 2020. The RCMP responded to Following a rental dispute related to a gym the two were running in a rented space in St. Peters, a village near Bras d’Or Lake.
It is alleged that Mr Eckhardt threatened to report the couple to immigration officials and have them deported after trying to end their lease with him, unless they gave him ‘money or property, âaccording to the RCMP.
“They are here on temporary work visas, so if they cannot earn an income, they lose that work visa and it is very complicated to try to stay in the country,” said Corporal Chris Marshall of the Nova Scotia RCMP, who added that police are also trying to speak to other former clients who may have since returned to Europe.
In an interview, Mr Eckhardt said he had tried to help the German couple set up their business and they approached the police to evade their lease obligations to him. Four constables arrested him in front of his family, which he said was overkill – and he believes he was motivated in part because of his background with the RCMP.
The real estate developer was investigated last year after another German immigrant couple accused them of giving them WWII Nazi propaganda denying that six million Jews were had been killed during the Holocaust. He admits sharing material that is “not politically correct” but says the couple requested the material and were trying to blackmail it in a dispute over another property.
They complained to the RCMP, but no charges were laid because the communication was shared via a hard drive and did not meet the definition of publicly promoting a hate crime, according to Cpl. Marshal.
Mr Eckhardt has also drawn attention in Germany for his association with former business partner-turned-competitor Andreas Popp, another German immigrant who moved to Cape Breton a decade ago and is known to promote extreme political views and doomsday conspiracy theories.
The couple’s past was highlighted in a 2020 article by popular German magazine Der Spiegel, which examined real estate developments in Cape Breton targeting German-speaking buyers who the magazine said shared right-wing ideologies and were looking for a ” refuge âagainst modern Europe.
Mr Eckhardt said the article had unfairly portrayed him as racist. He describes himself as a critical thinker who reads a lot, including books on the Holocaust and the Third Reich, but says that doesn’t make him a neo-Nazi or someone trying to establish a ” right-wing German colony âin Cape Breton.
âThey all play Nazi hunter now, but I was never a Nazi,â he said. âI have a lot of politically incorrect stuff, but this is only for my personal research. It’s just because I’m interested in a lot of things, and I love hearing different points of view and opinions.
He has said he has the right to have his own opinions, however unpopular they may be, and believes he is being unfairly targeted because of his German origin. Vandals have attacked his business and brands since information about him began to circulate, he said, but believes police have not taken his complaints seriously.
“Are my family and I suddenly the New Jews just because we’re white, blonde, and blue-eyed?” ” he said. “Will we be [forced] soon to wear a swastika patch? “
According to his website, Eckhardt was “wowed” by Cape Breton about two decades ago, applied for permanent residence and started a business to help other German-speaking immigrants do the same. In a wooded area outside of St. Peters, he’s building an off-grid self-sufficient community called Cape Breton Eco Village, complete with ponds, fruit trees, a greenhouse and his own 5,000-watt solar power plant.
His worldview is that mainstream society has gone wrong and governments are becoming “more and more authoritarian,” and he urges “like-minded people” to find other ways to live. âGradually, more and more people are realizing that there is something wrong with our society,â one read on its website.
Mr. Eckhardt is not a registered real estate agent with the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors, although he does sell property that he owns or co-owns. He points out on his website that he is also not an immigration consultant, although he does offer advice to potential German-speaking newcomers on everything from the Nova Scotia school system to starting new businesses, for a fee.
In 2015, an Austrian family made complaints against Mr Eckhardt public, after being ordered to leave the country by the Canada Border Services Agency. They claimed that the developer was advising them on obtaining Canadian citizenship and told them they would have no problem once they closed a property sale for which he would receive a commission. Mr. Eckhardt denies this.
Juergen Gindner, another Canadian-German real estate developer in Cape Breton who works with Mr Popp, said the association between German-speaking land buyers in Cape Breton and far-right views has been unfairly characterized. He said Mr Popp, who has denied promoting far-right ideologies, holds seminars in Cape Breton for potential buyers where they discuss issues of “finance, economics, health and spirituality.”
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