What is the purpose of this trial?
We have video evidence of the crime, we watched it. The defendant has acknowledged without a doubt that he is the perpetrator of the crime and even takes pride in it.
With much of this ‘burden of proof’ removed from the equation, there is a palpable attitude in this courtroom of ‘let’s tie this up’ rather than probing further and identifying which questions are still to be answered.
But this trial has a greater purpose and bigger meaning. To understand and challenge the conditions and contexts that made this act possible, conditions that will, unless addressed, continue to engender further crimes of this nature.
As co-plaintiffs many of us have been trying to understand this event since the day it happened. For our part, we’ve dug deep into the root of online radicalisation, the looming and once again growing presence of far right extremism in Germany (and globally), the embedded sexism, racism and hegemonic masculinity that all comes into play here.
We have become involuntary experts on these topics – despite the personal impact, despite our other commitments. jobs, study, family, friends, not to mention a global pandemic. This shouldn’t have fallen to us. But as the trial goes on it is clear that it has. And we are exhausted.
To see the so-called actual experts – the prosecution, those co-plaintiff lawyers who didn’t want to investigate the ideology any further and worst of all the criminal investigators such as the BKA,– neglect the opportunity to properly assess what happened here – the why as well as the how – has felt dismissive, naïve and painfully short-sighted.
While we spent our time trying to understand the crime, it was shameful to observe the criminal investigators who passed the buck to their colleagues, claimed they weren’t responsible for such things and refused to investigate anything beyond their narrowly prescribed remit. Obvious and clear associations with other attacks like Christchurch were diminished.
Listening to the agents of the BKA report on their investigation and respond to questions from the court was reminiscent of “Ich habe nur Befehle befolgt”. Not an ounce of responsibility assumed, not a hint of initiative or broader understanding conveyed by their approach. There is no doubt in my mind that their passivity and indifference towards right wing extremism will do nothing to prevent further crimes of this nature and is highly indicative of the ignorance that has enabled this type of terror to flourish in our society.
We’ve patiently and silently sat through their excuses, their shortcomings, their bumbling incompetence.
It is no understatement to say that their outright negligence has caused us further pain and should be a source of shame for German institutions of authority.
In this trial, we have been disappointed time and again – by failure to moderate the racist language deployed by the defendant and replicated by some of the lawyers during this trial, by the total lack of accountability on the part of the BKA, by the exclusion of certain voices/co-plaintiffs, and most recently by the struggle to have highly relevant expert witness heard by this court. We the co-plaintiffs have instead taken great pains to apply serious pressure so that these voices are heard and some, of course, those on the broader reaching consequences of right wing terror and the internet were not accepted.
Despite all of the nonsense we’ve had to deal with, this is not about us. But in many ways, it is not really about him either. He is completely forgettable and in fact after the sentencing is over he will most likely be forgotten – even by his online peers. Instead there is a bigger picture here that is being wilfully ignored.
This attack was just one in a growing list of attacks in Germany and the West. It is one of many incidents of violence against minorities that have happened in the past decade, and its aim was explicitly to be celebrated and replicated just as Christchurch, Oslo, and Poway are. It was purposeful in its set up, in its trolling of its victims, of the criminal investigators, of the court. It was directly addressing a global community that is known for its toxic masculinity and its racism. This attack was textbook and a clear product of imageboard culture. The failure of the German state to recognize this is all the more damning and quite frankly pathetic.
How can it be that the abundant connections to Christchurch are dismissed because the defendant was less extensive with regard to ideology or as the agent of the BKA put it:
Hier lässt sich feststellen, dass der Attentäter von Christchurch umfangreich schreibt… Das ist im pre action report nun nicht der Fall…
As if the same racist ideology becomes less harmful dependent on volume or verbosity.
How is it possible that investigators with no knowledge of gaming culture were assigned to investigate just that?
This attack was widely deemed one of the worst antisemitic attacks in the post-war era and as far as I can tell the BKA responded by putting inexperienced graduates on the case.
References to memes and inside jokes were missed because a shallow understanding seemed “sufficient”, according to representatives of the BKA.
The incompetency of the BKA is so clear, that the defendant was laughing in their faces for their lack of understanding.
How can a man build his own arsenal, kill two people, injure and attempt to kill many more, and his motivations, the environment that shaped him are then not meticulously dissected?
Frankly those co-plaintiffs and researchers who put together the Halle Timemap resource did a better job – and this was entirely volunteered work, time and resources.
This trial has only served to expose an outdated understanding of how individuals are radicalised and how the far right organises itself, evidenced by the court’s obsession with trying to find in-person offline interaction with neo nazi groups by the perpetrator. When none such were found no further attempts were made to understand the community that produced and encouraged him.
As we all migrate our lives to the online realm how can it be so unclear to this room that entire communities and social identities exist exclusively online and have done so since well before Corona?
He is quite plainly part of a community.
This community has a defined language, culture, and code. It gathers regularly online, exchanges ideas, knowledge, and resources, and is highly organized. It is a community, that after the attack, has recognized this man as their own. They have a clear understanding of who belongs and who does not, and time and again they have shown they are willing to act on their beliefs.
This trial could have shed light on the global networks of right-wing extremism that continue to operate within Germany. It could have helped us, as a society to formulate a response to extremist violence. A response that goes beyond “nie wieder”. It is happening again and again and again and these are not isolated incidents – though they are treated as such.
We’ve seen here that the system would rather rely on the comfortable trope of the Jewish victim and the fringe neo nazi. There is a reluctance to hear black and Muslim voices and to treat them with the same importance and validity, to acknowledge the racism they experience.
This trial could have been an opportunity to confront the racism in our society. To, for once, not minimize right-wing terror but to acknowledge that its roots stretch beyond this one man, this courtroom, this country.
This trial was an opportunity, as it turns out 4 months later it was an opportunity missed.