A woman who worked in Berlin's public prosecutor's office is suspected of having leaked information to one of Germany’s most notorious far-right conspiracy theorists about pending criminal charges against him, according to media reports on Monday.
The Berlin public prosecutor's office confirmed to German public broadcasters ARD and NDR that a 32-year-old employee in its IT department was being investigated on suspicion of having leaked confidential information to Attila Hildmann, one of the country’s most high-profile conspiracy theorists.
Hildmann, who gained a national profile as a celebrity vegan chef before pivoting hard to right-wing extremism, conspiracy theories, and full-blown antisemitism, has been under investigation since 2020 for a number of criminal offences, including incitement to racial hatred and harassment. An arrest warrant was issued in March this year, but Hildmann, a dual German-Turkish national, had already fled to Turkey.
According to a spokesperson for the Berlin public prosecutor's office, the IT worker is suspected of having stolen confidential information about the criminal investigation into Hildmann, and passed it on to him. The worker, who has since been dismissed without notice, was reportedly an active member of Germany’s Querdenken (“Lateral thinker”) coronavirus conspiracy movement, of which Hildmann was a prominent leader, and is also suspected of having visited Hildmann in Turkey earlier this year.
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Despite the belief she acted as a mole for Hildmann, prosecutors do not believe the leak prompted Hildmann to flee the country, but that it had retrospectively confirmed that he was facing charges. That was confirmed by a former confidant of Hildmann’s, who told ARD he left Germany with Hildmann in late 2020 assuming that he would soon face prosecution.
Suspicions about the IT worker arose after she appeared on the radar of officers during a number of police operations, turning up in the orbit of a Querdenken activist. Her employer subsequently analysed its data systems and found she had accessed the files of a number of right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists without justification. Her apartment was searched in July.
The case has raised concerns about the infiltration of conspiracy ideologies, which have been turbocharged during the pandemic, into Germany’s public institutions. In April, Germany's domestic intelligence agency said it had begun monitoring sections of the country’s volatile Querdenken anti-lockdown conspiracy movement as an extremist threat, noting its links with far-right and other networks.
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“It would be very concerning if the suspicion were to be substantiated that an employee of the Berlin Attorney General's Office had passed on information to Attila Hildmann,” said Jan Rathje, an expert on right-wing extremism and conspiracy ideologies at CeMAS, the Centre for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy.
“Belief in conspiracy ideologies is widespread throughout society, but that is why state institutions, in particular, must guard against conspiracy ideologies leading their employees to commit illegal acts.”
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Hildmann is known as one of the most extreme voices in Germany’s conspiracy scene, becoming a leading figure in the Querdenken movement and spewing antisemitic hate online. According to a report published by anti-extremism group Hope not Hate last month, Hildmann became increasingly radicalised as he went deeper down the conspiracy rabbithole during the pandemic, progressing from antisemitic dog whistles to expressing outright hatred against Jewish people.
“Hildmann has been openly spreading far-right and antisemitic content and calling for violence on Telegram for more than a year,” Rathje told VICE World News.
While Hildmann’s extremism has seen him kicked off all major social media platforms, he maintained a major following on Telegram, until losing many of his channels on the platform due to a hack by Anonymous in September. Even before this though, his influence on the German conspiracy scene was waning, said Rathje.
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“His online following seems to consist mainly of right-wing extremists, [German sovereign citizens known as] Reichsbürger, antisemites, and lurkers,” he said. “For the current conspiracy ideological movement, he no longer has the significance he had at its beginning.”