Markus Feldenkirchen

The Attack in Hanau Germany's Failure

Markus Feldenkirchen
A DER SPIEGEL Editorial by Markus Feldenkirchen
A DER SPIEGEL Editorial by Markus Feldenkirchen
The terror attack in Hanau is the most grisly proof yet that the German state has failed to do enough in the fight against the extremist right wing. It's time to change that before it's too late.
The scene of the attack in Hanau

The scene of the attack in Hanau



The terror attack in Hanau  has once again demonstrated the Federal Republic of Germany’s defenselessness. The fight against right-wing extremism and national socialism should really be part of the country’s DNA, its raison d’état. But it’s not, nor has it ever been. Germany can be forgiven a lot, but it cannot be forgiven for negligence in the battle against neo-Nazis and right-wing violence. A country that launched a world war and murdered 6 million Jews on the strength of national-socialist ideology should, at the very least, do all it can to ensure that racism is unable to thrive in Germany. And especially that no one falls victim to racism.

Instead, though, reality is much darker: According to German government statistics, almost 100 people have been killed by right-wing extremists in the country since 1990. The Amadeu Antonio Foundation counts twice as many. And since the massacre in Hanau on Wednesday, 10 more names have been added to the list. At the same time, an increasing number of right-wing extremist groups are forming across the country.

The long list of right-wing extremist attacks in the recent past is shameful. It includes the attempted assassination of politician Henriette Reker in Cologne and the murder of Walter Lübcke, a local politician in Hesse. The mass shooting in a Munich shopping mall, which took nine lives, is also on the list, as is the attempted massacre at a synagogue in Halle. And now Hanau. All of these crimes were committed in in the last five years - and they are only the most widely known acts of violence.

On top of that, a number of violent groups and terrorist associations have been allowed to develop more-or-less undisturbed since 1998. They have names like "National Socialist Underground,” "Gruppe Freital,” "Revolution Chemnitz,” "Combat 18” and "Gruppe S,” the latter a recent discovery. They are ghosts from a dark past, but they were able to prosper in the fertile conditions of Germany’s present.

A Failure of the State

Among those conditions are security agencies that – despite an obligation to stand up to all forms of extremism – chose to focus most of their attentions on Islamism, thus largely overlooking homegrown terror. The fact that Germany has a significant Nazi problem has been ignored and the dangers trivialized for far too long by the agencies and their political overseers. As such, the renaissance of right-wing terror is first and foremost a failure of the state.

Nobody embodies this failure to a greater degree than Hans-Georg Maassen. Even before he was appointed as president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the domestic intelligence agency’s priorities were poorly conceived. Maassen, though – who went on to lead the agency for six years before being replaced in November 2018 – has a weakness for right-wing conspiracy theories and focused most of his attentions on the left and on Islamism. And few seemed particularly bothered by that.

But the re-emergence of right-wing extremism is also rooted in the country’s political discourse. Many media outlets, politicians and security officials have spent weeks discussing the New Year’s Eve violence seen in Leipzig, as though the left-wing thugs who rioted there represent the real danger to the country. That obsession seemed like a bad joke even before the shootings in Hanau. It reflects a widespread inability to distinguish between a minor threat to domestic peace and a major one.

The fact that racist and xenophobic ideas have once again become acceptable is primarily the work of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD). Two days before the Hanau attack, Björn Höcke, who has made a name for himself as a particularly virulent extremist, joined a demonstration of the Islamophobic group Pegida in Dresden. In the speech he delivered there, he spoke of a "vast battle” that will have to be "survived” and "brought to a victorious conclusion.” There may be no direct proof that Höcke or others of his ilk have directly motivated attackers to commit violence. But their racism is obvious to all. And by portraying the German nation as a failing system that must be kept at bay, they have created a climate that legitimizes violence as an act of self-defense. In standing up to these firebrands, we should not just resort to logical argumentation, but also employ all means available to the state.

We, too, as citizens, must act. Those who trivialize right-wing extremism are fond of claiming that attackers such as the one in Hanau are lone wolves. And that it isn’t possible to combat the psychoses of each and every individual. There is some truth to that. On the other hand, though, every so-called lone wolf has family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Each of them bears a share of the guilt for potentially having been a witness to hate speech but failing to energetically confront it or report it to the authorities.

The terror attack in Hanau is a grim reminder of the obligation we all have. Together with politicians, civil servants and other citizens, we must finally fulfill the promise that should really be the German nation’s top priority: Never again!