When Far-Right Hatred Turns Into Terrorism


The man responsible for the massacre in Hanau was not only a racist, but also a confused and clearly troubled person. He may have acted alone, but he was part of a global network of web-based hatred. By DER SPIEGEL Staff



A bullet at the site of the massacre in Hanau: “Right-wing extremism and right-wing terrorism are currently the greatest threat to our democracy.” Michael Probst/ AP

There’s Mercedes K., 35 years old, a saleswoman. She lived for years with her parents and her 10 siblings in the Kesselstadt district of Hanau, Germany, a neighborhood populated by people from many nations. Members of her family, who are part of the Roma ethnic minority, say they had never experienced any problems until now, that everything had been peaceful.

On Wednesday night, Mercedes K. was sitting in a corner store on a square called Kurt-Schumacher-Platz, next to Arena Bar, eating a salad. Shortly after 10 p.m., a man stormed into the shop, and began firing shots. Mercedes K. died instantly.

She was one of 10 victims that night of a crime that has once again raised old questions that are still haunting Germany. Why does the country so often find itself helpless in the face of the threat of deadly violence from the far right?

Mercedes K. was the final victim of Tobias Rathjen, a 43-year-old man who held a degree in business administration and had trained as a banker. He first shot and killed four people at Hanau’s Heumarkt square and injured several more before moving on to a shisha bar called Midnight and a café called La Votre.

He then proceeded to get into his car and drive to Kesselstadt, where he killed another five people.

All of his victims were first- or second-generation immigrants.

Rathjen then drove home and, according to the preliminary details in the investigation, killed his bedridden mother before shooting himself.

An Increase in Deadly Far-Right Crimes

The massacre in Hanau is part of a string of crimes that included the assassination — in the same state — of Kassel District President Walter Lübke and the attempted attack on a synagogue in Halle in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. All are signs of an increase in deadly crimes in Germany with far-right extremist motives. The frequency, intensity and brutality are also growing. Walter Lübcke was the first politician to fall victim to a right-wing terrorist attack in Germany since World War II. And the deaths in Hanau have now produced another troubling benchmark: It has been years since any individual racially motivated attacker has killed so many people in Germany. The crimes of the past year have left some wondering if Germany is reliving the kind of terror spree committed by the far-left Red Army Faction during 1977, famously known as the “German Autumn,” only this time by the far right – if it is living through a “German Winter” of 2020.

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