We should not underestimate conspiracy theories that we can all see on the Internet. They can become a motive for action.
First published in a2larm.cz. Written and translated by Simon Kovner
On Tuesday evening, April 7, fifteen-year-old Arkan Hussein Kjo was riding his bicycle near the train station in Celle, Lower Saxony, when twenty-nine-year-old Daniel S. attacked and stabbed him to death. Arkan was from the Yazidi community and fled to Germany with his family when he was ten. Yazidis from the Sinjar region in Iraq were then the target of a genocide unleashed by the so-called Islamic State.
The murderer was detained on the spot by witnesses of the attack and subsequently arrested by the police. However, he is keeping islence in custody and his motive is not clear yet. According to the police, he looked “confused” when detained. However, as journalists from Die Zeit, Michael Trammer and Henrik Merker found out, the attacker was a fan of the QAnon ultra-right conspiracy theory.
Yet another attack
The murder of Celle is thus only one of a series of attacks committed by conspiracy theorists. Earlier this year, Tobias R. murdered ten people in Hannau. The attack was directed primarily against shisha bars where the local Kurdish community was meeting, and the last victim was the attacker’s mother. In October 2019, another striker Sebastian Balliet in Halle unsuccessfully attacked the synagogue and then murdered two random passers-by. Both Balliet and Tobias R. claimed to belong to QAnon before their attacks. The attacker from Halle, who streamed his attack on social media in the video, says, “Hi, I’m Anon, and I think the Holocaust never happened.” Brenton Tarrant, a terrorist from the same Internet environment murdered 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand. Both Balliet and Tobias R. were described as “confused” or “angry” by the German police shortly after the attacks, and the racial motive was only admitted after antifascists and the press put pressure on the police with the weight of evidence. From analyses of Daniel S.’s online activities, the popularity of conspiracy theories and “humorous” sites with anti-Semitic content is obvious, but at the same time he is far from the clear political profiling of the two previous attackers. However, the psychic instability of the attackers must not lead to the ignoring of political motives, as it is often done with extreme right terrorism contrarily to Jihad-motivated terrorism.
On the contrary, the growing trend of a new type of ultra-right terrorism is clearly visible. While classic Nazi terrorists such as the NSU or Stephan Ernst the killer of the mayor of Kassel mayor came from classic ultra-right structures, took part in demonstrations and other extreme right events (often alongside NPD or AFD leaders), new wave members are often without strong contacts to the organized extreme right and their radicalization process is primarily via the Internet. Internet forums such as 4chan, 8chan or Gab have become part of the trend for new ultra-right movements. QAnon’s conspiracy theory came out of this environment, and its central motive is the claim of a deep state conspiracy to remove Donald Trump (a theory that the government is manipulated by secret services and organized crime). Conspirators are gaining popularity by accusing various celebrities of participating in clandestine sexual slavery, in the past they have accused Tom Hanks, Quentin Tarantino and Oprah Winfrey. The theory also includes classic anti-Semitic images, such as the assertion of extracting a life-prolonging substance from children’s blood, or portraying George Soros as a mysterious backstage player who disrupts the world through managed migration. Qanon is the first conspiracy theory the FBI has identified as a potential source of domestic terrorism.
Who is responsible for your fear
This theory has its supporters also in the Czech Republic. While browsing the Internet forums, most of the participants appear to be confused men in their fifties, convinced that drinking bleach will protect them from coronavirus, but as we saw in the example of Jaromír Balda, who tried to derail a train, there is a short step from phantasmagoric theories to the feeling of being threatened and finally taking action. Even the first Czech right-wing terrorist of the new wave suffered from psychological problems, but his main motive was political. And among Czech conspirators, ultra-right views are as common as new age esotericism.
While in Germany anti-fascists have been drawing attention to the danger of “lone wolves” terrorists for several years, in our country this danger is being underestimated. The current situation in which mainstream political parties are trying to gain popularity by fomenting fear and hatred, combined with the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic, can make conspiracy theories more popular. Instead of new Vítkov arsonists (a 2009 attack by Neonazis against a Roma family) or a jihadist attack, we will rather see another act of terror by someone convinced by the Internet and politicians that migrants, feminists, or NGOs are responsible for his fear.