Countering the Radical Right

Germany’s terrorist attack: migrant communities have lost trust

The central question that politics, security authorities and society are still failing to answer: who will protect us from right-wing terrorism?

Barbara Manthe
21 February 2020
"Right wing terror threatens our society" during a demonstration on February 20, 2020 in Berlin, in memory of the victims of the right-wing terrorist attack in Hanau
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Picture by Friedrich Bungert/Geisler-Fotopr/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved
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The racist attack in Hanau on 19 February 2020 has left Germany with the question of whether the problem of radical right terrorism has been wrongly addressed so far. After the murder of Walter Lübcke in June 2019 and the anti-Semitic attack in Halle in October the same year, the Hanau attack was the third fatal crime in just nine months. The series of attacks seems to be an expression of a radicalised right-wing terrorist milieu that inspires perpetrators like the attacker of Hanau to their deeds.

Some observations

The assaults were very targeted and aimed to hit a specific target or victim group: A politician known for his pro refugee policy, such as Lübcke, the planned attack at the synagogue in Halle, and against shisha bars in Hanau, which are publicly identified as immigrant places. These targets are highly symbolic and are directed against very specific population groups. Thus, in most cases, right-wing terrorist attacks are by no means directed "against everyone" or committed randomly, but correspond to the specific radical right logic of the perpetrators. In all three cases there is no doubt about the mindset of the suspected perpetrators, which was, among others: racist, nationalist, anti-Semitic or misogynous.

The perpetrators in Halle and Hanau were obviously inspired by attacks in other countries. The use of social media, the writing of a legitimizing manifesto, and the modus operandi - to commit the act by shooting the victims in public - has been a recurrent practice over the last ten years, for example in Breivik's murders in Norway (2011) or the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand (2019).

However, there have also been acts of radical right terrorism in German history that have great similarities with the crime in Hanau: In June 1982, for example, the neo-Nazi Helmut Oxner entered a Nuremberg discotheque, which was known for that many African-Americans and other immigrants were regular guests. He shot two African Americans in the disco and then another Egyptian in the street. Three other people were injured. Similar to the killings in the shisha bars, Oxner specifically sought out a place where he knew his victims were attending.

The reactions of high-ranking politicians, on the other hand, leave no concrete indications as to how the challenge of radical right terrorism can be addressed in the long term

The media debates about the attack in Hanau are politically charged. Radical right hatred, violence and terrorism are often addressed by many journalists and the attack is identified as a political crime. The fact that this is worth mentioning is shown by a look at other crimes - such as the massacre on the Olympia Shopping Centre in Munich in July 2016, when an 18-year-old murdered nine people for racist motives. This radical right terrorist attack gave rise to years of struggle over whether or not it should be considered politically motivated.

The reactions of high-ranking politicians, on the other hand, leave no concrete indications as to how the challenge of radical right terrorism can be addressed in the long term. On the one hand, action should be taken more consistently about toxic migration debates as well as radical right agitation on the Internet, on the streets and in parliaments . On the other hand, the covert structures of militant neo-Nazis, where strategies of armed struggle are discussed and weapons are procured, also pose a serious problem.

Related story

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The case of far-right group Combat 18 has prompted a wider re-examination of far-right extremism and the utility of bans.

Whenever radical right terrorism was very strong in the Federal Republic of Germany, such hidden structures existed, even if not every perpetrator had direct contact with them. But they are one of the biggest nurse cells for radical right terrorism. The ban of Combat 18 in January 2020, for example, came years too late according to many observers.

The reactions of many politicians seem quite distant and detached

The debate also includes disturbing statements by decision-makers, which are unlikely to strengthen the confidence of those concerned in state and political institutions. Sigmar Gabriel, former SPD federal chairman and former vice-chancellor, served a clear whataboutism when he tweeted a few hours after the Hanau attack:

“The enemy of #Democracy stands on the right: It cannot be denied that left-wing chaotic people are beating up policemen, setting cars and garbage cans on fire and repeatedly causing high property damage. All bad enough and not to be trivialized. #hanau”

Even though Sigmar pointed out the danger of radical right violence in the following tweet, the dominant reference to damage to property by leftists was enormously irritating.

However, the attitude of Hans-Georg Maaßen, who was President of the domestic intelligence service from 2012 to 2018, appears particularly problematic. Recently he has positioned himself clearly on the far right; after the crime in Hanau he tweeted:

"Socialist logic: perpetrators are always on the right, victims always on the left. You don't have to deal with Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ulbricht... because they were Nazis. The catch is, in this thinking, they are themselves right-wing. Antifa=Nazis."

The confidence of German immigrants in state institutions fighting radical right violence has been lastingly disrupted since the discovery of the NSU in 2011

Even if Maaßen claimed that the tweet was not related to Hanau, the timing of the tweet alone, its polarizing language and its openly political statement is unsettling.

The confidence of German first, second or third generation immigrants in state institutions fighting radical right violence has been lastingly disrupted since the discovery of the NSU in 2011, not least because in recent years radical right networks in the police, the armed forces and intelligence services have repeatedly been exposed.

What is clearly lacking here is a transparent and in-depth examination of these structures and the disclosure and criminal prosecution of the people behind them.

Even though there is a lot of attention on the attack in Hanau, the reactions of many politicians seem quite distant and detached. Real sadness and consternation was more likely to be felt during the solidarity rallies that took place throughout Germany after the attack. Above all, the Kurdish community mourned, because many of the victims were of Kurdish origin.

In many statements people say they are stunned, angry and afraid, but also there is a feeling of insecurity and loss of confidence in state protection: Who will protect us from the right-wing terrorists is a much-expressed question. And this is actually the central and most urgent question to which politics, security authorities, and society do not provide an answer.

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