On February 19th it was the one-year anniversary of the right-wing attack in Hanau where nine people lost their lives. Hanau was not the only right-wing attack that has shaken Germany in the last years, but while the attack in a shopping mall of Munich in 2016 was still discounted as a shooting incident involving a mentally unstable person, Hanau marked a turning point in media coverage. For the first time, the attack was named for what it was: a racist murder.
The police recently published the crime statistics for 2020. It reported a historic high in right-wing actions. The numbers even surpassed right-wing crimes committed in 2016 when the refugee influx was almost unbearable for the state.
The report reads like a dystopian novel: a right-wing supporter attacks his neighbor with a screwdriver because he reported him to the police for doing the Hitler-salute, an arson attack on a Jewish bar, distributing right-wing leaflets on the respective solidarity rally, immense increase in swastika graffiti, more right-wing supporters asked for gun-permissions than ever before. The AFD, a party that holds seats not only in the national parliament but also in the state parliaments and local councils trivializes the Holocaust on several occasions.
Although police stated that the majority of these racist and anti-Semitic acts can be traced back to single perpetrators, they underline that these numbers represent the ongoing radicalization of the people.
These numbers say: the pandemic radicalizes.
The intelligence service stated that the significant increase of right-wing supporters during the pandemic is concerning for the national security of Germany.
What happened in Hanau was a culmination of everyday racism.
Where racism, antisemitism and xenophobia come from has been the subject of countless studies and while they differ in methodology and outcome they all conclude that fear plays a big factor in the development of discriminatory viewpoints. Renowned Swiss psychologist Verena Kast says that when in a state of fear people tend to turn to authority figures who seem to have a grip on life. They represent a rigid system where everything has a purpose and everything is arranged for the people, which gives them a sense of security in times of uncertainty.
Instead of turning inwards and coping with the fear they adopt someone else’s ideology. Those systems don’t meet life’s complexity, but they are easy to understand, well organized and provide stability. When combined with aggressive paroles they not only satisfy the people’s longing for security but deliver them a scapegoat, as well.
Fear is a powerful tool to manipulate people and redirect them politically. The feeling of helplessness makes people liable to trust questionable leaders and their ideologies.
And right now, we live in times of uncertainty. The spread of the virus, insufficient medical care, shutdowns, lockdowns, closed borders, economic instability and the unpredictability of when this will end is a strain on the nerves.
The right-wing scene knows how to take advantage of this.
The intelligence service observes that just like the rest of us, the right-wing scene uses the world wide web for connecting and staying visible for its supporters.
Also, part of the radicalization takes place in the numerous protests of Covid deniers. On these protests, the organizers not only spread conspiracies about the virus but about the Jewish community and Migrants as well.
The boundaries of what is acceptable to say and what is off-limits were shifted, the Holocaust was trivialized and anti-Semitic symbols were held up high.
Refugees were portrayed as transmitters of the virus and the routes refugees have to undertake to make it to Europe are called the ‘virus routes’.
Smaller parties like the ‘Der III. Weg’ (translates to ‘the third path’) or ‘Die Rechte’ are represented there as well and use those protests to recruit new members.
‘Der III. Weg’ is the fastest-growing right-wing-organisation of Germany. It knows exactly how to reach its target group. It aims for districts that are known to be socially weak and feeds into the narrative that migrants and refugees receive the help from the state that was intended for low-income 'German’ families. They provide these families with free soup kitchens, sports facilities, clothing donations, organize hikes and make them feel ‘seen’. Their approach is classic right-wing grass root work and apparently effective.
While right-wing acts increase, so does solidarity. Sprayed swastikas on walls were either quickly reported or removed by the people themselves. Cobblestones commemorating Jewish victims of World War II were repeatedly cleaned, so the names were visible again. The Nazi-bar ‘Zapfhahn 88’ in Berlin was closed on an initiative of the community. Volunteers formed the research organization ‘AFD-Watch’ to keep an eye on what the party says at rallies.
It remains to be seen if solidarity alone can fend off these recent developments or if Germany needs to issue stricter laws to take away the stage for right-wing voices. This would restrict freedom of expression, a virtue the nation holds in high regard. Not least because of the actions of the right-wing in the first half of the 19th Century.
Mirzana is a german volunteer in Praxis organisation involved in the International Holocaust Remembrance day campaign.