The Halle, Germany, Synagogue Attack and the Evolution of the Far-Right Terror Threat.

AuthorKoehler, Daniel

On October 9, 2019, at 11:54 AM, the alleged shooter Stephan Balliet allegedly sat in his rental car on a parking lot close to the Jewish community center and synagogue in the eastern German town of Halle and started his livestream on the gaming platform Twitch. He allegedly used a smartphone attached to a helmet for that purpose. At 11:57 AM, he published a link to the Twitch livestream on the social media picture network site Meguca, where he allegedly uploaded his manifesto. (1) Meguca, the now-defunct (2) niche network site, contained general-purpose discussions and was "loosely affiliated with 4chan's (a) anime board." (3) According to Twitch, only five users actually saw the livestream in real time. It took the platform administrators 30 minutes to find and delete the video. By then, it had been watched by approximately 2,200 viewers. (4) Notwithstanding Bailliet's later confession (which is discussed below), these details and all the other assertions about the case that follow must be regarded as allegations as they have not--to date--been proven in court.

Balliet arrived at the synagogue at 12:01 PM. At this time, 51 people were inside the building celebrating Yom Kippur. It is alleged that after several failed attempts to force entry into the building through the main door and a side gate using his firearms and improvised explosive devices, Balliet shot and killed a 40-year-old woman who happened to walk by. The perpetrator was now clearly agitated and frustrated as he also shot his car's front tire by accident. When Balliet allegedly attempted to shoot a second person who had stopped to render help to his first victim, his self-made fully automatic weapon jammed multiple times as can be clearly seen in the livestream. Abandoning his main target, Balliet drove away from the scene in a seemingly aimless fashion. He then came across a Turkish kebab restaurant approximately 656 yards away. It appears he spontaneously decided to stop and continue his attack at 12:10 PM, where a second victim, a 20-year-old restaurant guest, was shot and killed. At 12:16 PM, police officers arrived at the scene and engaged Balliet in a firefight during which he received a minor neck injury and was able to escape. At 1:00 PM, Balliet changed his car in the neighboring village of Wiedersdorf where he allegedly shot and seriously injured two victims who refused to give up their vehicle to him. Unable to use their car, he moved on to stealing a cab and attempted to flee southward toward Munich on the highway until he caused a traffic accident with a truck and was arrested at 1:38 PM approximately 25 miles from the attack site and without further resistance. (5)

This article outlines what is known about the perpetrator of the Halle attack and his motives and ideology. It then describes how the attack both evidences and reflects trends seen in extreme right-wing terrorism and terrorist violence more generally.

One of these is the internationalization of far-right terrorism. While right-wing extremist groups and terrorists have long been very well connected internationally, their main target audience usually was their home nation. With the increasing use of livestreaming, English-language manifestos, and social media platforms as the main facilitator of personal networks, right-wing terrorism is shifting more toward a global stage.

Another trend is the emergence of "hive terrorism," where extremist activists who are part of fluid networks of likeminded individuals without previous connections to organized extremist milieus more or less spontaneously mobilize to violence and are therefore difficult to detect.

A third trend is lone terrorists improvising their own weapons for attacks, making it unnecessary for them to obtain or purchase weapons from other parties and therefore making their attack plots more difficult to detect. This has been seen in Islamic State-inspired attackers' use of vehicles and knives in attacks. As outlined in the article, the Halle attacker appears to have crossed a new threshold by self-manufacturing the guns he used in the shooting. His livestream appears to show him firing two of the self-manufactured firearms that he had described and photographed in his manifesto. (6) Investigators have not publicly stated whether they believe he made the weapons alone or received outside help in making them.

Whether or not he received such help, the Halle attack appears to be the first time a terrorist had used self-manufactured firearms for an attack.

The Perpetrator, Motives, and Ideology

The perpetrator of the Halle attack was allegedly German national Stephan Balliet. Born in 1992, he experienced the divorce of his parents at the age of 14. (7) He graduated from high school in 2010 and served in the German military in an armored infantry battalion as one of the last conscription cohorts between 2010 and 2011. (b) There are no reports of any extremist or otherwise concerning behavior during his military service. (8) At the age of 22, Balliet started and dropped out of university programs in chemistry and chemical engineering after only a short time, possibly due to health issues. (9) In 2018, he applied to become a professional soldier in the Bundeswehr but never showed up to the job interview for unknown reasons. (10) In the months before the attack, Balliet was living with his mother who later described him as socially isolated. (11)

In his confession, Balliet stated his motives were anti-Semitic in nature but denied being a neo-Nazi. (12) According to his lawyer, Balliet blamed a Jewish conspiracy for his social and economic failure. (13) In his interrogation, he also blamed his lack of intimate partnerships on foreigners (14) and referred to Jewish-invented feminism in the livestream. He said he shot and killed the female passerby outside the synagogue and the male diner at the Turkish restaurant out of panic after he failed to enter the synagogue. (15)

Further indication of Balliet's ideological motivations can be found in his statements during the livestream. In the first introductory remarks before starting his car to drive up to the synagogue, Balliet explained that he believed the Holocaust never happened. He then proceeded to claim feminism would be responsible for decreasing birth rates and subsequently for mass migration. All of this, in his view, was the doing of "the Jew."

Balliet's 16-page English language manifesto, (16) which he posted to Meguca before the attack, was broken up across three PDF files. There was a section in one of the PDF files called "The Objective," which outlined his main goals:

"1. Prove the viability of improvised weapons; 2. Increase the moral [sic] of other supressed Whites by spreading the combat footage; 3. Kill as many anti- Whites as possible, Jews preferred." Balliet also included gaming-like "achievements" according to the number of killed victims. Even though anti-Semitism clearly dominates the text, Balliet wrote that he did consider attacking a mosque or antifa center because of what he saw as their less robust protection. According to his manifesto, in the end, he decided his main target would be the Jewish community because he viewed them as supremely responsibility for all societal problems. Most of the manifesto consisted of descriptions and pictures of his self-manufactured weaponry.

The perpetrator appears to have been motivated predominantly by a mixture of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and anti-feminism. His rhetoric both in the livestream and the manifesto does not contain many classical references or codes typically associated with white supremacism or neo-Nazism. On a more subtle level, nevertheless, it is possible to trace at least elements of broader extreme right-wing ideological components. For example, Balliet references the "Zionist Occupied Government" (ZOG) in his manifesto and the first background song played in the livestream, "Powerlevel" by the cover rapper Mr. Bond, is filled with standard neo-Nazi references, such as "master race" or the "black sun." He also jokes during the video: "Nobody expects the internet SS," referring to the Nazi "Schutzstaffel"...

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