German authorities are already grappling with the recent murder of a pro-refugee politician believed to have been carried out by a far-right extremist. Now, they’ll have to deal with two new threats of deadly right-wing violence.
On Wednesday an email containing death threats was sent to two pro-immigration German mayors, Henriette Reker and Andreas Hollstein, warning that the recent killing of Walter Lübcke, was only the first strike in a wave of “impending purges.”
Both of these politicians have received threats before, and both have been the victim of violent attacks by right-wing extremists: Reker, mayor of Cologne, was stabbed in the neck while on the campaign trail in October 2015, while Hollstein, mayor of Altena, was attacked in the same way two years later. But the latest messages, arriving just weeks after Lübcke, a pro-immigrant politician, was fatally shot execution-style in his home in Kassel, have stoked national alarm as Germany confronts the rising threat from its increasingly radicalized far-right.
VICE News obtained a copy of the threat, from a group or individual calling itself the “Staatsstreichorchester,” which was CCed to a number of anti-extremist organizations and German media outlets and had the subject line, “Murder of Henriette Reker and Andreas Hollstein.”
“It is our goal, as our name implies, to overthrow the state and to cleanse it of scum like you, the Jewish filth, and all the other foreign parasites,” said the email from the group, whose name is a play on the German words for “coup” and “string orchestra.” The email demanded the payment of 100 million euros by the end of August to avoid being targeted, before signing off “Sieg Heil and Heil Hitler.”
Police investigating the threats say they believe it came from the right-wing extremist scene, but have yet to establish whether there is any connection with Lübcke’s death. On Saturday, authorities arrested a 45-year-old right-wing radical identified as Stephan E., named by German media as Stephan Ernst, in connection to Lübcke’s killing, after DNA found on Lübcke’s clothes matched a sample taken from Ernst after he tried to blow up a refugee shelter in 1993.
Security has been increased for both Reker and Hollstein.
Hollstein has been a target for the far-right since his town was awarded Germany's first National Prize for Integration in May 2017 for taking in 100 more refugees than it was required to by law.
“For years, I’ve gotten hate mail and threats. It’s ugly, but we have to [deal with] this,” he told VICE News. “My opinion is we’ve got to be an open society and we don’t accept violence.”
“For years, I’ve gotten hate mail and threats. It’s ugly, but we have to [deal with] this”
The emails to the mayors are far from the first time the “Staatsstreichorchester” has issued death threats to pro-immigration or anti-racist targets. Simone Rafael of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, a German organization that works to combat the far-right, said her group had received about six emailed threats from the group so far this year.
She told VICE News that it was difficult to assess whether the latest threat was credible, or an attempt to troll and intimidate politicians and groups seen as ideological enemies. But the killing of Lübcke had cast it in a more chilling light, she said.
Lübcke’s murder comes after years of warnings that the far-right, increasingly radicalized since the migration influx of 2015, would one day follow through on its threats to kill politicians perceived as pro-immigration. Lübcke had been a target for far-right hate since he was filmed saying, during a heated meeting in 2015, that those who didn’t share humanitarian values were free to leave the country — comments that have been widely circulated in online far-right networks ever since.
The killing of the 65-year-old politician, a representative of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has renewed scrutiny over the state’s ability to monitor the growing threat from its estimated 12,700 violence-oriented right-wing extremists — and fuelled fierce political debate over who bears responsibility for stoking prejudices to deadly levels.
Leading figures in Lübcke’s CDU have blamed the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the country’s main opposition, for fueling a climate of hate. Party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is widely seen as being groomed as Merkel’s successor, condemned the AfD’s “hate and incitement,” saying its rhetoric had “lowered inhibitions so much that they result in pure violence. Former CDU General Secretary Peter Tauber also accused AfD politicians of being “complicit” in Lübcke’s death.
The AfD responded furiously to the remarks, with Alice Weidel, one of the party's parliamentary leaders, tweeting that her CDU critics were "using a murder to discredit political rivals,” and co-leader Jörg Meuthen saying the allegations were “repulsive and evil.”
While politicians debate his alleged actions, Ernst is refusing to talk to police, who are trying to establish whether he acted as a lone wolf or as a member of an organized terror network. Although Ernst is reported to have had extensive ties to extremist networks, including neo-Nazi militant group Combat 18, and a history of xenophobic violence, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency says he dropped off their radar a decade ago.
“We currently have 12,700 rightwing extremists willing to use violence in Germany, and it’s difficult to have an eye on them all,” the agency’s head, Thomas Haldenwang, said Tuesday.
Cover Image: A portrait of Walter Luebcke, the administrative chief of the western city of Kassel, is on display next to his coffin during a memorial service in Kassel, western Germany on June 13, 2019. (SWEN PFORTNER/AFP/Getty Images)