The Germany Yom Kippur Attack Is A New Kind Of Anti-Jewish Terror
The anti-Semitic motive of Stephan B. could not have been clearer. Dressed in military fatigues, he attempted yesterday to shoot his way into the synagogue and then Jewish cemetery in Halle, Germany, as members of the small, religiously conservative community made up largely of those with roots in the former Soviet Union gathered on Yom Kippur.
As he filmed his rampage on Twitch, broadcasting his deeds to the world, Stephan B. (as he’s been named by German media) rambled that “feminism is the cause of declining birth rates in the West, which acts as a scapegoat for mass immigration, and the root of all these problems” — wait for it — “is the Jew.”
The things that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. As Bari Weiss argues quite rightly in her recent book on the subject, Jews have for centuries found themselves at the center of “an ever-morphing conspiracy theory in which [they] play the starring role in spreading evil in the world,” be it capitalism and Bolshevism, be they rich or poor, assimilated or isolated, Zionists or otherwise.
Now, for Stephan B., it is feminism and immigration for which the phantom Jew is responsible. As Johan Schloemann noted in this morning’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, conspiracy theories, in particular those linking the American philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros to immigration into Europe, are in the air right now. Consider the far-right Hungarian government’s elaborate campaign against Soros or the time the disgraced former Austrian Freedom Party politician Johann Gudenus pondered the “firm rumors” that Soros’s NGOs were financing said mass migration.
Stephan B. is also a Holocaust denier, according to German media, and there is too a specifically German context to what Schloemann called the “return of hate,” the re-emergence of a certain kind of anti-Semitism that was never entirely eliminated. But a week prior to the Halle attack on the Day of German Unity, which celebrates the peaceful reunification of east and west into a single federal republic, around 1,000 right-wing extremists including neo-Nazis marched through Berlin. German politicians, meanwhile, were quick to make the link to the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party and statements some of its leading lights have made about the German past.
German anti-Semitism and contemporary conspiracy theories thus form the background music to yesterday’s events but the precise nature of the attack indicates that there is a larger context here — not merely a German one but something rather more international and uncontrollable.
Again, according to German media, as Stephan B. carried out his attack, he made note of other recent example of extreme right-wing terrorism and specifically Brenton Tarrant, the man apprehended as the Christchurch terrorist who shot dead 51 people and injured 49 more at a mosque and Islamic center in New Zealand earlier this year.
As Marie-Astrid Langer notes in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the parallels between Christchurch and Halle are obvious. A single assailant, soaked in either extreme-right, white supremacist, and in turns anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic ideology, radicalized by and extremely active online including and especially social media, taking a weapon and going to or into a place of worship, Jewish or Muslim, with the hope of murdering as many believers as possible, sharing their deeds online in the process (Tarrant used Facebook Live to broadcast his deeds; Stephan B. Twitch) in the hope of inspiring others. In his manifesto, which he drafted and published in English, Stephan B. reportedly wrote, “If I fail and die but kill a single Jew, it was worth it. After all, if every White Man kills just one, we win.”
Stephan B. is far from the only copycat case, as Langer too contends. The gunman identified as John Timothy Earnest, who in April shot up the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, murdering one woman and injuring three other people, published his manifesto on 8Chan, in which he praised the Christchurch terrorist and blamed Jews for the “genocide” for the “white race,” writing, “I would die a thousand times over to prevent the doomed fate that the Jews have planned for my race.”
The El Paso gunman who killed 22 people in a Walmart in August also wrote in his manifesto, “In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto. This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” After he was apprehended, the Pittsburgh shooter who killed 11 people and injured seven at the Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018 told authorities that “he wanted all Jews to die and also that they [Jews] were committing genocide to his people.” The bombastic language, the dirty and destructive ideas, the deadly methods, and the desire to recruit others are all perpetuating themselves online.
The implications, then, of the Halle attack are daunting. The challenge of these interconnected and yet lone wolf extreme-right terrorists is tremendous, one that can only be tackled at the national and perhaps even international level in order to choke off the spread of extremism online and regulate access to firearms. For Jewish communities, too, it highlights the importance of police protection of synagogues during services and on high holy days and the need for communities to self-organize in cooperation with state and local authorities in the manner of Britain’s Community Security Trust to provide their own security and record and report anti-Semitic incidents where possible.
Even in such hopeless times, there is something to be done.
Liam Hoare is a freelance journalist and critic based in Vienna.