Trial of 3 Friends Accused of Firebombing Refugees Exposes Far-Right Grip in Germany

Alison Smale, New York Times, February 26, 2016

As a volunteer firefighter, Sascha D. was among the crew that rushed to the home of an immigrant family after it was firebombed in this small town in central Germany last summer.

But before he arrived, a court was told this month, Mr. D., 25, who is fond of late-night drinking and right-wing metal bands, and a friend, Dennis L., carefully made the Molotov cocktail themselves, using a pen to push wood shavings into the gasoline-filled bottle.

Mr. L., 31, who liked to daub swastikas on village walls, then hurled it through a window of the street-level apartment of a 34-year-old single mother of three from Zimbabwe who remains so traumatized she still has trouble sleeping, the court heard. German law protects the identity of the accused, meaning that unless there are extenuating circumstances, only first names and initials of surnames are made public.

“If the Negro burns, I will really celebrate,” Mr. L. said afterward, according to Saskia B., 24, who served as the driver for the two but is now testifying against her friends.

Mr. L. denies he made the remark about an attack that injured no one because the room hit was, by good fortune, empty that night. But little else seems disputed in the trial of the three friends on attempted murder charges, a rare prosecution against one of almost 1,200 attacks on refugee shelters–including some 100 arsons–since January 2015.

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The arson attacks have become a German specialty. Just a few such attacks have been recorded in Sweden, and not one in neighboring Austria, despite a similar percentage of new migrants, and a far-right party polling 30 percent or more.

In Germany, the pattern of accelerating violence, experts say, coincides with the emergence of the anti-Islam, anti-immigration group Pegida since late 2014.

“Quite new right-wing extremist groups have long been building on the Internet,” said Andreas Zick, a professor at Bielefeld University who heads its Institute for Interdisciplinary Research Into Conflict and Violence. “The readiness to approve and use violence has gotten stronger and stronger in the last two years.”

In Germany, but also in other countries in Europe, “parallel societies are being formed,” and are taking power into their own hands, he said.

Studies by Dr. Zick’s institute suggest that 20 percent of the population is susceptible to what he depicted as a new nationalist populism, with many citizens shifting far to the right as they feel increasingly powerless and lose faith in politicians and the news media.

A vocal minority nationwide is protesting outside shelters, especially in the east, and committing more assaults on the refugee housing–118 attacks in the first six weeks of this year, the Interior Ministry says.

In addition, the German authorities are noticing a destructive trend: the flooding of refugee homes newly renovated at public expense.

Turning on the taps is unlikely to cause injury or even death, as arson might, but is just as certain to cause hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage and to keep migrants from being moved in.

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