This time, it was not Germany’s far east, immersed in the hardships and frustrations that still plague the states of the former German Democratic Republic 30 years after reunification, but rather in the rich and enlightened Hessen, about 20 kilometers from the financial towers of Frankfurt, in the heart of the European Union.
The Hanau mass shooter seems to have been a 40-year-old bank worker, without a criminal history, unknown to the police, a legal gun owner and completely inconspicuous. One might call him an average Joe.
In response to the massacre that put him on the news, the leader of Alternative für Deutschland, Jörg Meuthen, hastened to stress that this had not been a right-wing or left-wing act, but rather an outbreak of madness, pure and simple. There is no doubt that the writings left by Tobias R., the shooter, show a number of features that we would be inclined to consider psychopathic—however, these converge with ideas found in extreme right-wing circles (not only Germanic), in a kind of shared “common sense,” a shared mythology.
The idea of occult “nationless” powers that govern the destiny of the world, read our thoughts, spy on us and control our lives is a widespread obsession, to varying degrees of intensity. At the end of the day, the doctrine of “ethnic substitution” as a plot by an obscure cosmopolitan elite, of which the white race and European cultural tradition are said to be the victims, even being an obvious manifestation of paranoia, is still invoked in a number of guises by political forces represented in the political institutions, and even representatives of European governments.
In Germany, a movement that has risen up from marginal status in recent times, namely PEGIDA (“Patriots against the Islamization of the West”), not far removed from the more extreme wing of the AfD, has turned this notion into the focus of its propaganda and political mobilization.
This involves much more than just the “language of hatred,” viewed with contempt by nearly everyone. Rather, these are much more complex narratives that combine historical falsifications, doctrines and ideological constructs with social resentment and the diseased, self-victimizing imagination arising from it. In short, this is a constructed, strongly focused and politically enacted “hatred” that essentially revolves around racist discourse in its different gradations. It ranges from the most unhinged ideas of racial purity all the way to the apparent pragmatism of restrictive migration policies.
Neo-Nazism in Germany is undoubtedly a political phenomenon, and yet one cannot fail to recognize a psychopathic component—congenital, pervasive, but far from generic. The “madman” of Hanau, the “lone wolf,” the inconspicuous next-door neighbor, has acted in a well-defined context, consisting not only of racist allusions and xenophobic theories, but also of a significant number of criminal acts: From the murder of the Christian Democrat Walter Lübcke by a right-wing extremist, to the assault on the synagogue in Halle in October, to the recent arrest of members of a neo-Nazi network which was organizing terrorist activities.
For some time now, attacks and arson against asylum seekers, the Jewish community and foreigners in general have been on the rise in the Bundesrepublik. In short, Germany has a serious problem, long underestimated, which is taking the form of a neo-Nazi insurgency, not without inroads among law enforcement personnel and the army.
This without even mentioning the AfD, an extreme right-wing and increasingly powerful political force which is drawing parts of its electoral support from this section of the underground and the grey area surrounding it. In a climate that is favorable to them in many ways, the risk is that the “lone wolves” might turn into a pack—while remaining unpredictable and uncontrollable all the same.
As usual, the alarmed reaction of the political forces and public opinion was unanimous, immediate and unwavering. However, as shown by the recent political crisis in Thuringia, the bulwark against the rise of the radical right is not without cracks. It’s not a rare occurrence that nationalist-type messages emanate from the world of the establishment, ready to be interpreted in xenophobic, if not out-and-out racist terms.
Not to mention the now-widespread claim that the Germans should finally move beyond the issue of their past and the responsibilities deriving from it. It’s a call that some people interpret as the right to openly proclaim themselves Nazis once again.
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