Nikolaos Michaloliakos, 55, the leader of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party that the government is trying to break through legal means, has dominated political attention since the extremists won 18 seats in Parliament in 2012 on the back of an anti-immigrant anti-bailout platform, but had to rise from obscurity first.
The party won a miniscule 0.29 percent of the vote in the 2009 elections won by then-PASOK Socialist leader George Papandreou, who was hounded out of office in 2011 in the face of unremitting protests, strikes and riots against the austerity measures that Golden Dawn blamed for ruining the country.
Little was known about Golden Dawn at the time, which was seen by most Greeks as a collection of anti-Semitic Holocaust-denying nutcases and hooligans, epitomized by their leader, prone to rants like Adolf Hitler, a man he admired and whose seminal work, Mein Kempf, he kept at his headquarters while denying he was a neo-Nazi.
Despite being a repeat convicted felon, he leads Golden Dawn’s deputies in the Parliament where they have conducted outbursts and been expelled for rowdy behavior and are known to carry guns. The party’s symbol is an ancient Greek meander, which resembles a Swastika.
Michaloliakos claims to have completed studies at the Faculty of Mathematics of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Hs wife, Eleni Zaroulia, is also a member of Golden Dawn and an histrionic supporter of the tenets espoused by her husband who blames Americans, Jews, immigrants, bankers and international conspiracies for the problems of the world and Greece. Their daughter, Ourania, is following in their footsteps and was arrested during a party motorcycle rally.
When he was 16, Michaloliakos joined the nationalist 4th of August Party of Konstantinos Plevris, an ultra-nationalist homophobic who supported the military junta in 1967 that overthrew democracy and instilled a seven-year reign of repressive dictatorship that saw many Greeks imprisoned, beaten and murdered before they were brought down after a student uprising galvanized Greek public opinion against them.
Michaloliakos also participated in the Athens local organization of EOKA-B, a Greek-Cypriot paramilitary organization. He was arrested for the first time in July 1974, during a protest outside the British embassy in Athens, against England’s support of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
He was arrested again for assaulting journalists covering the December 1976 funeral of Evangelos Mallios, a policeman who allegedly tortured people during the Regime of the Colonels and was assassinated by the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, Michaloliakos was released on technical grounds.
While he was in prison, Michaloliakos met the leaders of the Greek military junta of 1967-1974, who, like Hitler, he worshipped. After that he joined the Army and became a commando of the special forces.
He was arrested again in July 1978 after he had become a member of a far-right extremist group, and sentenced to one year imprisonment in January 1979 for illegally carrying guns and explosives. He was thrown out of the army for that.
After he was released, he launched the Chrysi Avgi (Greek for “Golden Dawn”) magazine that showed National Socialist beliefs. It ceased publication in 1984, when Michaloliakos joined the National Political Union, and took over the leadership of its youth section, after a personal order of imprisoned junta leader Georgios Papadopoulos. In January 1985 he broke away from the National Political Union and founded the Popular National Movement – Chrysi Avgi.
Michaloliakos remained the leader of Chrysi Avgi until he announced its disbandment in November 2005 after clashes with anti-fascists. From 2005-07 he and his followers switched to the the Patriotic Alliance that he soon took over.
Golden Dawn first showed up on the political radar screen late in the 1990s and since then has tried to gain popular support with extreme nationalism. The party won a seat on the Athens City Council in 2010, largely on the back of a huge vote against immigrants in poor neighborhoods. He said the Holocaust of World War II never happened but didn’t explain where six million Jews who disappeared went.