Right-Wing Extremism? The Puzzling Murder of a German Politician

The brutal murder of a politician in central Germany has led to widespread speculation about the motive and the identity of the perpetrator. Some see it as retaliation for his pro-refugee stance, but investigators have their doubts.
View of Walter Lübcke's home

View of Walter Lübcke's home

Foto: Ralph Orlowski/REUTERS

When it seemed like the rumors couldn't get any crazier, along came the name Andreas Temme. The former intelligence officer is known for having been been chatting on a dating site in an internet café in the central German city of Kassel in 2006 as -- or just before -- the café manager Halit Yozgat was murdered by neo-Nazi members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) terror group just a few meters away.

If one believes compact-online.de, a website that often spreads absurd theories popular among right-wing extremists, Temme might be connected to the death of Walter Lübcke, the district president of Kassel. The 65-year-old member of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) was shot to death last weekend in an incident has left the police initially stumped about the crime's motives and perpetrator. And that has left the door wide open for conspiracy theories.

The Temme narrative was predicated on the former intelligence officer having had informants in the Islamist scene. According to the theory, former Interior Minister Volker Bouffier (CDU) had supposedly prevented these informants from being interrogated. And Bouffier, as everyone knows, was responsible for Lübcke's 2009 appointment to district president.

The story makes zero sense, of course, but it was probably launched as a kind of defensive operation. After all, ever since Kassel prosecutors announced on Monday that Lübcke had been shot, countless online forums have been pointing the finger at the right-wing extremist scene.

Back in fall 2015, Lübcke began receiving death threats from right-wing extremists and self-anointed "reichsbürger" -- a far-right group that rejects the legitimacy of the modern German state. At a heated town hall that fall about the establishment of refugee housing, Lübcke had argued that building humane shelters for refugees was a question of "values." And those who didn't share those valued, Lübcke said, could "leave the country at any time."

An internet storm quickly brewed but then passed just as quickly. A few months ago, though, things heated up again after Erika Steinbach, a former CDU parliamentarian turned right-wing apologist, tweeted the old Lübcke quote as a way of fulminating against the CDU. The result was yet more threats against the political leader in Kassel.

The investigators are looking into a variety of possibilities. "We are investigating in all directions," Hesse Criminal Police President Sabine Thurau said after the killing. Leading Hesse investigators emphasize that they take the situation extremely seriously, adding that the police could not repeat the vast failures that characterized the investigations into the NSU murders.

Between 2000 and 2007, neo-Nazis Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos murdered nine people with immigrant backgrounds and one police officer in various parts of Germany. During the investigations into those crimes, security officials essentially ignored the possibility that a right-wing extremist group could be behind them.

In the Lübcke case, authorities are eager to avoid even the slightest suspicions that they are repeating the mistakes of the past. But they are also exasperated by the many conspiracy theories they are being bombarded with. Some on the internet argue the Israeli secret service might be responsible for Lübcke's death. Others say it was the mafia, as was temporarily noted on Lübcke's Wikipedia entry.

"The many speculations are not making our work any easier," says Torsten Werner, the spokesman for the special commission tasked with solving Lübcke's murder.

Looking for Clues

By Thursday evening, the approximately 50 officers of the special commission hadn't found any clues pointing to organized crime nor had they uncovered solid connections to the right-wing extremist threats. Indeed, an initial examination of the crime scene following the Saturday night murder in the northern Hesse municipality of Istha indicated the shooting may have had a more personal motive.

Lübcke was found at 12:30 a.m. on the terrace of his house by his adult son, bleeding profusely from a head wound. Attempts to reanimate him were unsuccessful and the CDU politician died in a nearby hospital two hours later.

The investigators were quickly able to exclude the possibility of suicide. There were no traces of gun powder on Lübcke's hands and no weapon nearby. The police officers believe the perpetrator fired at short range with a small-caliber handgun, based on the ammunition used and the examination of Lübcke's head. The investigators believe it was not the kind of weapon generally used by professionals. But, they added, in the region around Istha, located about 20 kilometers west of Kassel, many people have access to small-caliber weapons of that kind -- including hunters and gun-club members.

The scenario described by investigators goes something like this: On the night Lübcke was murdered, the Istha "wheat festival" was taking place only about 50 to 70 meters from his house and could easily be seen. The festival included music and, according to investigators, "a lot" of alcohol was consumed. Although Lübcke didn't attend the festival that evening, witnesses saw him, apparently in the best of moods, laughing with guests on his terrace. The visitors left by 11 p.m. at the latest. The public broadcaster Hessische Rundfunk reported that Lübcke and his wife stayed home that evening to babysit their young grandchild.

The politician's home is at the edge of the town, situated next to fields and a narrow, dark street. The property is not gated. Anyone who might have seen Lübcke that evening on his terrace would have had no difficulties accessing the property and the terrace.

The police are hoping that a festival-goer may have noticed something, since the event was still going on at the time of the killing. The police even turned to a German TV show to ask for footage and images that may have been taken that evening during the festival. If a gunshot can be heard on one of the videos, it would helped determine the exact time of the killing. The officers are also looking for possible conflicts between Lübcke and a festival visitor.

The police spokesman Werner said on Thursday that 80 tips had thus far been submitted, but not of them represented a particularly promising lead. Investigators believe that the motive could have been an acute argument or a longer-term conflict that came to a head in the drunken festival atmosphere.

Meanwhile, officers have gone through Lübcke's email in the regional council office on the search for threats that may have been sent recently. Lübcke was also a despised figure among wind power opponents, who were angry at his approval of wind turbines. Some also blamed Lübcke for the lax approach policymakers have taken with the potash conglomerate K+S, which spent decades pumping salty wastewater into the ground of northern Hesse, allegedly causing serious environmental damage.

One investigator said they could not currently exclude the possibility that a right-wing extremist or a radical wind-power opponent had carried out the killing. But, he added, he would rather the Lübcke case not be transformed into a huge political issue in the midst of an ongoing investigation. At the moment, he said, it's still just a criminal case. Albeit a rather mysterious one.

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