For two decades, Frank Eckhardt has worked to build a rural, self-sustaining utopia in the wooded hills of Cape Breton, and encouraged other German-speaking immigrants to quit the mother country and join him.
But according to the Nova Scotia RMCP, Mr. Eckhardt may have taken things too far with some of his clients who he helped start a new life in Canada.
Mr. Eckhardt, 56, was arrested last week and charged with extortion, after a falling out with a pair of German nationals who moved to Cape Breton on temporary work visas in December, 2020. The RCMP became involved following a rental dispute connected to a gym the pair were running in a leased space in St. Peters, a village near the Bras d’Or Lake.
It’s alleged Mr. Eckhardt threatened to report the couple to immigration officials and have them deported after they attempted to end their lease with him, unless they gave him “money or property,” according to the RCMP.
“They’re here on temporary work visas, so if they can’t make income, they lose that work visa and it makes it very complicated to try to stay in the country,” said Corporal Chris Marshall of the Nova Scotia RCMP, who added police are also trying to speak to other former clients who may have since returned to Europe.
In an interview, Mr. Eckhardt says he tried to help the German couple establish their business, and says they went to police to get out of their lease obligations to him. Four Mounties arrested him in front of his family, which he says was excessive - and he believes was motivated in part because of his past history with the RCMP.
Last year, the land developer was investigated after another pair of German immigrants accused him of giving them Second World War-era Nazi propaganda that denied six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. He acknowledges sharing material that is “not politically correct,” but says the couple had requested that material and were trying to blackmail him as part of a dispute over another property.
They complained to the RCMP, but no charges were laid because the communication was shared through a hard drive, and didn’t meet the definition of public promotion of a hate crime, according to Cpl. Marshall.
Mr. Eckhardt has also drawn attention in Germany for his association with former business partner turned competitor Andreas Popp, another German immigrant who relocated to Cape Breton about a decade ago and is known for promoting extreme political views and doomsday conspiracy theories.
The pair’s past was highlighted in a 2020 story by Germany’s popular Der Spiegel magazine, which examined real estate promotions in Cape Breton that targeted German-speaking buyers who the magazine said shared right-wing ideologies and were seeking “refuge” from modern Europe.
Mr. Eckhardt said that article has unfairly painted him as a racist. He described himself as a critical thinker who reads widely, including books about 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” in Cape Breton.
“They’re all playing Nazi hunter now, but I was never a Nazi,” he said. “I have a lot of politically incorrect stuff, but it’s only for my personal research. It’s just because I’m interested in lots of things, and I like to hear different sides and opinions.”
He said he has the right to his own opinions, as unpopular as they may be, and believes he’s being unfairly targeted because of his German background. Vandals have attacked his business and signs since reports about him began circulating, he said, but believes police have not taken his complaints seriously.
“Are I and my family suddenly the new Jews just because we are white, blond and blue-eyed?” he said. “Will we be [forced] to wear a swastika patch soon?”
According to his website, Mr. Eckhardt was “beguiled” by Cape Breton about two decades ago, applied for permanent residency, and started a company to help other German-speaking immigrants do the same. In a woodlot outside of St. Peters, he’s building a self-sustaining, off-the-grid community called the Cape Breton Eco Village, complete with ponds, fruit trees, a greenhouse and its own 5,000-watt solar power generating station.
His world view is that mainstream society has gone wrong and governments are becoming “increasingly authoritarian,” and he urges “like-minded people” to find alternative ways to live. “Gradually more and more people are slowly realizing that there is something wrong with our society,” his website reads.
Mr. Eckhardt is not a registered real estate agent with the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors, although he sells property that he owns or co-owns. He stresses on his website he is also not an immigration consultant, although he offers advice to prospective German-speaking newcomers on everything from Nova Scotia’s school system to establishing new business ventures, for a fee.
In 2015, an Austrian family went public with complaints about Mr. Eckhardt, after they were ordered to leave the country by the Canadian Border Services Agency. They claimed the developer was advising them on obtaining Canadian citizenship, and told them they’d have no problem once they completed a property sale for which he would receive a commission. Mr. Eckhardt denies this.
Juergen Gindner, another German-Canadian land 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 extreme right-wing ideologies, plays host to seminars in Cape Breton for prospective buyers where they discuss issues of “finance, economics, health and spirituality.”
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