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Hanau attacks: Alternative for Germany party slammed for 'legitimising deadly racism'

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Mourners at a vigil for the victims of a shooting in Hanau
Mourners at a vigil for the victims of a shooting in Hanau   -   Copyright  AP
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The shooting in Hanau, Germany, on Wednesday night, which left nine people dead at two Shisha bars, is just the latest in a string of high-profile acts of violence in the country.

The far-right AfD party quickly attempted to distance itself from the 43-year-old suspect, whose dead body was found near his mother’s after a manhunt.

In doing so, it tweeted out the killer’s online manifesto.

For one anti-racism campaigner in Germany, the AfD is very much at the root of the issue. Karen Taylor, the chair of European Network Against Racism (ENAR), says there is a “whole web of potential violent terrorists” linked to this democratically elected party.

She says the AfD is legitimising underlying racism in Germany. And she lays out the dangers in stark terms: “It’s racism and racism that kills.”

Investigators think the suspect had a far-right motive for the killing. The AfD, which rose to prominence in 2017 as it became the third-largest party in Germany with 94 seats in the Bundestag, has been accused of cosying up with extremist groups.

“We have a racist party in the Bundestag, a party which is outspoken about their racist view of the world, that’s not shy of spreading it and being engaged with far-right groups which have been forbidden by our constitution,” Taylor tells Euronews.

For Taylor, while Germany has been very open in talking about its Nazi past, it hasn’t dealt with the racism that lay beneath it. “For a long time, it was impossible to raise the topic of racism and structural racism in the system. Even attacks which had racist connotations, they were not perceived as such,” she says.

People of colour, she says, feel it every time they leave the house. “It’s not new for them - there are no-go areas in Germany.”

Far-right incidents in Germany

  • February 2020: Shooting in Hanau leaves nine dead, appears to have been carried out by far-right terrorist
  • February 2020: 12 arrested over far-right terror plot
  • October 2019: A far-right extremist attempts to enter a synagogue in Halle, then kills two, broadcasting the attack online
  • June 2019: Walter Lübcke, a CDU politician is assassinated by a far-right extremist

“No doubt the AfD has normalised dehumanising rhetoric, and racism especially in the party’s far-right wing,” says Daniel Koehler, the Director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies.

He points out a court ruling made it legally acceptable to label the AfD’s leader in Thuringia, Björn Höcke, a fascist.

“He’s deeply racist, fascist, and with his platform as an MP he has some influence,” he said.

But with the AfD a democratically elected force in German politics, other parties face a “fight for the hearts and minds of the population,” he says. They cater to a wide array of people “on a platform of fear, existential threat, and anger and hatred against established parties and politics”.

Koehler says the AfD pushed the narrative of the existential threat posed by immigrants at the height of the refugee crisis, which in turn saw an increase in violence.

Right-wing violence is on the rise in Germany, but Koehler warns its important to differentiate what happened in Hanau from organised terror. “As far as we know he was not part of an organised neo-Nazi group. His manifesto includes racism, and conspiracy theories, indications of mental health issues, so it’s important not to place the Hanau attack in the same category.”

Yesterday’s attack does, however, fit ideologically with a quicker readiness to use violence against foreigners, he says.

The fight against the far-right

The German authorities have stepped up their fight against right-wing extremism, with sweeping changes to the intelligence and law enforcement agencies announced at the end of last year.

For Koehler, the arrests of suspected far-right terrorist plotters last week shows the early warning mechanism does work and is effective.

“In the last five years they’ve found a high number of far-right terror groups, many have been put on trial, so the authorities have massively increased their capacity to detect.”

Lone actors, however, are a different story. They’re isolated from any group, often radicalised online, and are much harder to detect.

Taylor welcomes the increased focus on the far-right by the authorities as a sign to the people who are most targeted that there is progress. However, she says there is still a strong resentment among many towards the authorities for a perceived lack of action.

'Some are living in fear'

While German authorities grapple with the issue, those from communities targeted by right-wing terrorists feel less safe with each attack.

“I know people who live in Hanau, one of them, his whole family is afraid. He’s from a Turkish background, it could have been his family killed. For them, it’s scary to know they’re being singled out, someone is coming after them, and apparently our security forces and police are helpless at this point,” says Taylor.

Koehler says the discourse around police protection for vulnerable communities, such as a greater police presence at mosques, is important to give them reassurance that the state takes their safety seriously. “Some people are living in fear, it definitely has a shocking and devastating effect on minority communities who do not feel as well protected as others,” he says.