About 10,000 people marched through the streets of Hanau, Germany, on Sunday carrying Turkish flags and photos of the nine people killed in a mass shooting last week. The attack on migrants stoked fears of a larger problem of far-right violence in the country.
On Wednesday, 43-year-old Tobias Rathjen shot nine people, five of them of Turkish descent, at two hookah bars in Hanau, a commuter town near Frankfurt. One of the victims was five months pregnant. Police later found Rathjen and his 72-year-old mother dead in his home. In a manifesto posted online, Rathjen called for the “complete extermination” of many “races or cultures in our midst.”
The day after the attack, thousands turned out at candlelight vigils in Hanau and other German cities, chanting “Never again” and “Nazis out.” Hanau Mayor Claus Kaminsky told the demonstrators on Sunday that those who seek to divide their society will fail “because we are more and we will prevent that.”
Racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant extremism has motivated several attacks in Germany in the past year. Police arrested a suspected neo-Nazi in the shooting death of a pro-migration regional lawmaker in June. In October, a 27-year-old man tried to storm a synagogue in the eastern town of Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. He killed two people outside the building after failing to get through the door. The gunman had expressed anti-Semitic views before the attack.
Last Tuesday, police announced they had rounded up 12 men, including an administrative police clerk, for planning to attack mosques in 10 German states. Authorities are still monitoring about 53 people associated with far-right movements who have violent tendencies.
Then on Monday, a 29-year-old German man drove a Mercedes station wagon into a crowd at a Carnival parade in the small town of Volkmarsen in central Germany. The crash wounded 35 people, about half of them children. Police have not said what motivated the driver, who is still in the hospital with a head injury. But the attack has the country on alert for more acts of domestic terrorism.
Protesters accuse the far-right Alternative for Germany party of indirectly encouraging such violence with its policies and the racist rhetoric of some of its members. It has grown into the country’s largest opposition party in recent years following the arrival in Germany of nearly 1 million migrants from outside the European Union since 2015.
The party blames refugees for making Germany unsafe and calls for the forceful deportation of foreigners. The German government has the party’s youth wing under constitutional watch, a monitoring process for groups with “extremist ambitions.” The party released a statement saying it rejected any links to the shooting in Hanau, noting that the gunman suffered “from paranoid hallucinatory schizophrenia.”
Patrik Hermansson of Hope Not Hate, a group that monitors the far-right, told The Guardian German security forces are just now starting to confront the reality of extremist threats: “In some cases, extremists have had links with the police and the military.”
Fearing copycat attacks, German officials have increased the security presence at mosques and public areas like train stations. Security forces are also preparing for possible reprisals after the Hanau shooting.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer insisted the government had already stepped up its fight against far-right extremism, noting its increased recruiting of domestic intelligence agents and a recently approved bill to crack down on hate speech and online extremism. He called for additional “medical report or confirmation” for holders of firearms permits to ensure “that everything is in order there and that the mental instability of a person does not become a danger to the general public.”