On Tuesday, July 21, 2020, Ursula Mertens, presiding judge at the Naumburg Higher Regional Court, opened the main hearing against the suspected assassin of Halle with a delay of almost two hours. Due to increased security precautions and for capacity reasons, the trial will be held in the Magdeburg Regional Court building.
The Federal Prosecutor Kai Lohse, read the indictment, which accuses Stephan B. of a total of 13 legally independent acts. Among other things, he is accused of having killed two people – the victims Jana L. and Kevin S. – for base motives and insidiously. In addition to the 52 attempted murders of those present in the synagogue at the time of the crime and multiple cases of physical abuse, he is accused of having committed an act ruled by national socialistic thinking in a manner that is likely to disturb the public peace (Holocaust denial). In addition, he is accused of an attempt to kill a person with means dangerous to the public in order to make another crime possible, as well as attempted predatory extortion.
According to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the accused approached the synagogue on 9 October 2019 just before noon, armed with eight weapons and numerous explosives, “in order to carry out an assassination attempt on the visitors of the synagogue” – with the intention of “killing as many people as possible”. According to Lohse, he acted out of an “antisemitic, racist and inhuman disposition”.
Following the assassination attempt in Christchurch, New Zealand, he had planned the attack months in advance and built firearms and explosives himself. He had filmed the attack with two cameras and published a link to a livestream shortly before the attack as well as links to three self-written documents. The Office of the Federal Public Prosecutor referred to the English version of the document, which contained a call to kill all Jews. He wanted to encourage others to do the same. At the beginning of the stream he denied the Holocaust and described Jews as rats as well as the root of some alleged problems. He allegedly assumed that because of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur there were particularly many people in the synagogue, whom he allegedly intended to kill.
After the reading of the indictment, the defendant began his admission. He avoided personal questions, e.g. about his family history, or answered them curtly. To justify his one-worded answers, he argued that such questions are aimed at preventing acts such as his from happening in the future, which is not in his interest.
Instead, in court – and in the presence of many survivors of the assassination attempt – he openly presented his radical right-wing world view. He said that in 2015 he decided to do nothing more for this society, because this society had done nothing for him and replaced him “with Muslims and N***”. The presiding judge then warned the defendant in response, and made it clear that she did not want to hear such inhuman statements in the courtroom and threatened the defendant with exclusion from the trial.
It was not long before the defendant openly displayed his antisemitic world view: “The Jews are the main perpetrators of the white genocide”, B. claimed, referring to the conspiracy ideology of the “Great Replacement”, which is widespread also in the alt-right. He also claimed that he deliberately chose the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur. According to the defendant’s antisemitic imagination, Jews would on this day “pray that they will not have to abide by contracts next year as well”.
In addition, the significance of “gamification” in the context of right-wing terror became clearer: B. stated that he had shot the passer-by Jana L. also in order to avoid “embarrassing” himself in front of his online audience. In his statement he also referred to the assassination attempt of Christchurch, which had inspired him. Later, the defendant said, “The broadcast [live stream] was much more important than the action itself”.
Overall, the defendant was characterized by a strong tendency for self-staging. Proudly he repeatedly gave details about the number, type and nature of the self-made weapons, ammunition and explosives he had built, and explained why they did not have the lethal effect he had intended. He showed no remorse, but stated that he regrets having attacked who, in his view, were “false” – i.e. white people. The accused openly admitted his antisemitic and racist intention to kill the visitors of the synagogue and the kebab restaurant several times. He also mentioned that he had decided not to kill a Black person by car during his escape in order to avoid endangering himself.
Through some remarks, the presiding judge revealed a marked lack of understanding of the functioning of antisemitic thought. She thus addressed the defendant, saying it was a pity he did not visit the synagogue on an open day. Such a statement suggests that an antisemite might be easily perplexed by “positive” experiences, which would make them question their murderous idolization. Moreover, the judge’s remark seems highly cynical in the context of the defendant’s preceding statement, in which he stated that he would have committed the act differently – and thus possibly with a murderous “success” – if he had known about the construction at the synagogue.