German extremists have infiltrated police departments and have made effective use of the internet to encourage self-radicalisation.

The recent terror attack in the German city of Hanau reflects the broader radicalisation taking place in the West, but also the widely under-acknowledged  institutional racism within German society.

On Wednesday, a white German racist attacked two Shisha bars in the western city of Hanau, killing nine people who belonged to the country’s Turkish and other minorities.

The killer, named as Tobias Rathjen, was found dead later that night alongside his mother, who he also murdered.

Tributes for the dead have poured in from across the German political spectrum with the exception of far-right parties. Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed what she called “the poison of racism” for the killings.

The attack was the latest in a string of attacks in recent years, which have been blamed on the far-right.

In June 2019, politician Kassel Walter Lubcke was shot dead by a Neo-Nazi at his home and in July an Eritrean man was shot and wounded in a racist attack in Waechtersbach

These were followed by the Neo-Nazi shooting spree targeting Jews in the city of Halle, which killed two.

There are also the attacks that are foiled by the security services, such as the arrest of twelve men just a few days before the Hanau terror attack, who plotted to bomb mosques across the country.

In many ways, German far-right terrorism is similar to other far-right attacks in western countries. Like perpetrators of the Christchurch and Oslo terror attacks, Rathjen left a manifesto railing against minorities. 

However, there is also a uniquely German context beyond the obvious legacy of Nazi rule.

Journalist and expert on Neo-Nazism Hanning Voigts told TRT World that Rathjen wanted to see the “inhabitants of whole continents wiped out,” adding that he wanted to see only people of “German descent” inhabit the earth.

The German outlet Taz described the principle of “resistance without leadership", in which committed Neo-Nazis are encouraged not to join specific groups, which can be infiltrated by police officers, but instead take matters into their own hands.

While each attack is individualistic in its planning, they are linked back to one another through the fabric of shared ideology.

It is notable that while the attacks by those individuals have largely been successful, such as was the case in Hanau and Halle, attacks planned as part of an organised cell, have failed, such as with the arrests in February.

Online radicalisation

Whereas past radicalism required active participation and communication with far-right individuals and groups, the internet has opened up a decentralised system in which individuals can be indoctrinated with Nazi ideals.

Karolin Schwarz, the author of Hate warriors: The new global right-wing extremism, told TRT World that there was no shortage of outlets providing a safe platform for radicals

“There are different functions that are fulfilled by different platforms,” she said.

“For internal networking there are chat platforms like Discord. But also large telegram groups and channels, other messenger applications.

“Closed Facebook groups and the like are also used...In principle, every platform is used.”

The German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) further warns of "high risks of radicalisation, mobilisation and conspiracy" on the internet.

Radicalised police?

Another odious feature of German radicalism is the question mark hanging over the extent to which Neo-Nazis have infiltrated the German police.

The 12-person network arrested in February before the Hanau terror attack included an administrative employee of the North Rhine-Westphalian police department.

In late 2018, a lawyer representing victims of the far-right was herself threatened by Nazi sympathisers within the police who went by the name NSU 2.0 (National Socialist Underground). A later federal intelligence service inquiry launched 38 investigations against its own officers.

That same year it emerged that Neo-Nazis in the German armed forces were forming a shadow army with the goal of assassinating German politicians.

German media outlets reported that discoveries of Neo-Nazis within the armed forces were not reported by the Ministry of Defence to the government because of the sheer number involved.

Lack of action

German Muslims have long asked for extra protection from the Neo-Nazi threat and these calls have grown louder after the Hanau terror attack.

No sooner had the media attention over the Hanua shooting died down that the house of Abdurrahman Atasoy, the secretary general of the Turkish-Islamic Federation, was targeted with several gunshots on February 22nd. 

Atasoy has long campaigned for extra security for Germany’s Muslims and had complained of a lack of security.

According to Karolin Schwarz: “The security authorities do not yet have the capacity or knowledge to deal with these new forms of right-wing extremism. 

“The failures of recent years have enabled the extreme right-wing spectrum to further differentiate and establish itself. It is very difficult to deal with this now.”

On Twitter, German Turkish activist Ali Can declared: "Germany has no control over Nazis!”

Source: TRT World