On November 18, 2020 the 21st day of the trial against the confessed attacker of Halle took place in Magdeburg. As the last witness of the trial, the sociologist Matthias Quent was heard as an expert witness. He testified about the ideological motives behind the act and contextualized it in the history of right-wing extremism and global right-wing terrorism. The hearing of evidence was then concluded by the presiding judge Mertens. The day ended with a detailed closing statement by the Attorney General’s Office, which requested as sentence life imprisonment with subsequent preventive detention.
The day began with the opportunity to comment on the renewed and modified application by the joint plaintiff Kristin Prietzyk, to have the sociologist Matthias Quent summoned as an expert witness. Despite some legal concerns on the part of the Attorney General’s Office and the defense, it was finally agreed to hear the chairman of the “IDZ Jena”. Quent first emphasized that the discussion about the motives for such a right-wing terrorist attack must consider several levels: the individual level, the motive-related coherences and the overall social context. He pointed out that the history of right-wing terrorism is characterized by certain continuities: The ideology underlying such acts is usually based on the construction of internal and external enemies. The internal enemies are accused of letting in the external enemies in order to “destroy the reine Volk (pure people).” This idea is directly connected with antisemitic fragments of ideology, that is, the idea of a Jewish world conspiracy responsible for the “disintegration” of the people by the external enemies. In his remarks, he focused particularly on the new-right conspiracy narrative of the “Great Exchange” to which the attacker of Halle and the attacker of Christchurch referred. The accused had repeatedly made it clear that he suspected a Jewish conspiracy behind feminism and “mass migration,” which he considered an attack on the “white race.” This ideology, according to Quent, is in an antisemitic, racist and fascist line of tradition. Already the National Socialists or the Ku Klux Klan had similar fantasies when they claimed an alleged “racial suicide.”
Besides these enemy images as a “negative reference group”, terrorists also construct positive reference groups. These include like-minded people who would be approached and motivated to commit imitative acts. A terrorist attack is not about combat acts in the classic sense, which aims to conquer territory. Rather, the focus is on communication – it is about setting an example, intimidating the enemies and mobilizing one’s own group.
Quent also emphasized the ideological and, in part, operational links between right-wing terrorist attacks around the world – from Utoya and Christchurch to Munich and Hanau. RAin Prietzyk asked the expert for a sociological perspective on the term “lone wolf”, which is often used by the press to characterize the accused. Quent replied that there were quite solid definitions of this term in political science. He pointed out, however, that the term comes from the neo-Nazi scene itself and also belongs to a form of self-representation. The term also denotes a certain tactic, since it is more difficult for law enforcement agencies to catch individually acting perpetrators who prepare themselves alone. He himself preferred the term “lone actor”, but he warned against the misconception that this type of perpetrator comes from a subculture and is a socially isolated person – such actors, he said, also radicalize themselves in certain networks.
Following the statement by Matthias Quent, the presiding judge declared that the request to consult another neurological expert is rejected. The request had been made the day before by the defense to prove that the accused had been affected by an acute case of migraine with aura during the execution of the crime. In the opinion of the Senate, the expert Prof. Dr. Leygraf had, however, already convincingly and comprehensively justified that the accused had not suffered from perceptual disorders during the entire execution of the crime. The chairwoman then concluded the hearing of evidence.
In the afternoon, the Attorney General made his closing statement. Federal Prosecutor Kai Lohse described the attack of October 9, 2019, as “resembling a nightmare” and called it “one of the most repulsive antisemitic acts since World War II.” In the indictment, the Attorney General’s Office had assumed a racist, xenophobic and antisemitic motive. Lohse added that with regard to the Incel movement, references to a misogynistic ideology could also be found. The question of whether the accused was a lone attacker could be answered affirmatively in the legal sense without further ado. In the non-legal sense, however, the attacker certainly placed himself in relation to other perpetrators. The accused had linked the attack with the National Socialists’ genocide: “He consciously placed himself in the tradition of the perpetrators at the platform of Auschwitz.” In addition, he had consciously wanted to place his murderous deed in a series of similar horrific attacks by filming and publishing the attack. He wanted to motivate imitators and, as in a video game, he wanted to kill as many people as possible.
After these introductory words on the motivation of the attacker, Prosecutor Birkenholz once again explained in detail the different phases of the execution of the crime. Afterwards, Senior Public Prosecutor Schmidt explained the evidence that supported the statements made. The events of the attack were documented in detail on video and were objectively conceded by the accused in the same way as they were shown in the pictures. The accused only denied in some cases the assumed circumstances on the internal aspects of the crime. These were establishing the intention to kill Mandy R., the intention to kill when throwing the nail bomb at the kebab restaurant, and the intention to kill in the case of Jens Z. and Dagmar M. In all these cases, the Attorney General’s Office contradicted the accused’s account and stated that the accused must have expected possible fatal consequences for his respective victims. Furthermore, the Prosecution rejected the accused’s assertion that he was not sure whether the synagogue was possibly an unvisited monument and also declared it meaningless with regard to the determination of the facts of the crime.
Senior Public Prosecutor Schmidt also explained why the Attorney General’s Office would not accept a murder attempt to the detriment of Ismet Tekin and Aftax I. Ismet Tekin had been on the sidewalk near the shooting exchange between the accused and the police. According to Schmidt, there is no proof of deliberate intent on the part of the accused, and one cannot automatically conclude from the general dangerousness of his behavior that he necessarily meant what he did in this case. This would apply even more so if he had no knowledge of the concrete danger to the victim – therefore it was irrelevant whether he would have welcomed it had he hit Tekin. It was not proven that Tekin was visible to the accused – the accused was at that moment determined to eliminate the police officers in order to be able to flee.
In the case of the victim Aftax I., there was no evidence of intent to kill either, so Schmidt. The accused had hit Aftax I. with his car during his escape – the Attorney General’s Office speaks of a traffic accident. There was an objective reason to overtake quickly on the opposite lane instead of braking – one could therefore not assume that he only changed lanes because he saw Aftax I. and wanted to kill him. Moreover, it could not be established that the accused had decided during the driving sequence to consciously hit the injured party. Due to the character of his other statements, it would have been expectable that the accused would have admitted directly to a racist murder attempt. Also in the sound recording of the crime, he had not commented on the event, but rather conveyed, that at that moment he was only concerned with a quick escape. In addition, the exact course of the accident cannot be reconstructed conclusively, so it is irrelevant whether the accused would have been content if the person concerned had died.
At the end of the trial day, Federal Prosecutor Lohse requested a sentence of life imprisonment for the accused. In addition, a special severity of the guilt would have to be determined and a subsequent preventive detention should be ordered.
The hearing will continue on December 2 with the final speeches of the joint plaintiffs.