Last week’s attack on a synagogue and kebab shop was only a blip in the news in the United States. On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a fascist tried to storm a synagogue in Halle, Germany. Failing to get through the synagogue’s security door, he murdered a bystander on the street and then another in a nearby kebab shop.
For many people, this is yet another racist and anti-Semitic attack among innumerable others. But looking at the details, it is the latest in a sequence of six attacks in less than a year. And there are likely to be more to come.
An Overlooked Trend
Every year, the far right murders dozens of people in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks these numbers closely, says 413 have been murdered by the U.S. right between 2007 and 2018, including 49 last year.
But these blocks of numbers obscure the patterns within them. The murders include racist prison gang hits, random street arguments that escalate, internecine quarrels and murder-suicides which include family members. Others are the product of conscious plans of right-wing terrorism — plans involving bombings, massacres and assassinations.
Right now, there are two overlapping linked sequences of far-right massacres. The first is a series of misogynistic killings intended to spur an “incel rebellion.” “Incel,” or “involuntary celibate,” is a term used by male supremacists who believe they are entitled to sex and relationships with women, but are being denied those rights because women don’t want to date or have sex with them. This developed out of a much larger online subculture often called men’s rights activists. These incel-perpetrated misogynistic killings include the 10 people killed in May 2014 shootings in Isla Vista, California; 10 more in an April 2018 van attack in Toronto, Canada; and two killed in November 2018 in a Tallahassee, Florida, yoga studio.
The second sequence of far-right massacres includes killings that are committed by fascists who have developed a “toolkit” — a specific way to carry out and publicize the attacks. Eighty-eight people have been killed in these six attacks alone, which have taken place in the United States, Germany and New Zealand.
There is overlap between the incel and fascist subsets. They use similar social media platforms, often look to the same past massacres for inspiration, and carry out their attacks in similar ways.
The attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018, in which 11 were killed, was the first of six linked fascist attacks in the past year. The perpetrator posted on social media beforehand, fixating on immigration as his core popular issue, while blaming a Jewish conspiracy for it.
The largest massacre was the March 2019 attack in Christchurch, New Zealand on two mosques which killed 51. The perpetrator established the toolkit by posting a manifesto on the message board 8chan and livestreaming the attack on Facebook. (8chan was established in 2013 as a more racist version of 4chan message board, which originally birthed the “alt-right.”)
The April 2019 attack on a synagogue in Poway, California which resulted in one death, was the first attempt to emulate Christchurch. The perpetrator put a manifesto on 8chan and attempted to livestream it — although it did not work.
In August, a massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas killed 22. The perpetrator again issued a manifesto on 8chan saying he said he wanted to kill Mexican immigrants.
Seven days after El Paso, in Baerum, Norway a fascist killed his adopted sister, who was born in China, and attempted to attack a mosque. He also issued a statement on EndChan and 4chan, and tried to livestream his attack, although he was unsuccessful.
And then, on October 9, a fascist in Halle, Germany attacked a synagogue and kebab shop, killing two people. He also put out a manifesto on social media and livestreamed it, saying beforehand, “Feminism is the cause of declining birth rates in the West, which acts as a scapegoat for mass immigration, and the root of all these problems is the Jew.” His statement was in English, showing his desire to reach an international audience.
As with other radical social movements, which are inevitably unable to achieve their expansive goals in a short period of time, the revived white nationalist movement has split into different wings. One wants to go mainstream, while the militants are promoting a campaign of terror. After many white nationalists were kicked off U.S.-based social media platforms, they have regrouped on Telegram, an app on which nearly anything goes — so much so that it is where ISIS has disseminated propaganda. There they have many channels, some with thousands of followers, which openly distribute bomb-making manuals and firearms tips.
A number of far-right groups active on Telegram advocate terrorist strategies, including The Base, Sonnenkreig Division, Feuerkrieg Division and Atomwaffen Division. Affiliates of the latter have killed five people since May 2017.
Today, this militant wing has a set plan to offer followers. They are exhorted to “Read Siege,” a neo-Nazi book which encourages terrorism. These white nationalists hold the belief of “accelerationism,” which says that things have to get worse (i.e., more massacres) before they get better (fascist revolution). Telegram is the militant wing’s secure communications network. And their action toolkit is ready: Pick a target of immigrants, Muslims or Jews; write a manifesto; and livestream your massacre. Last, whether they live or die, perpetrators will be praised as “saints” by this network.
Confronting Increasing Fascist Attacks
It’s true that U.S. law enforcement has finally started to pay attention to the far right. Immediately after El Paso, a wave of arrests started and hasn’t stopped. Neo-Nazis and other Far Right activists stockpiling weapons, and people who threatened to commit attacks, have been apprehended. Four members of the Atomwaffen Division and Feuerkrieg Division were arrested since the El Paso massacre. Another Atomwaffen Division member had their firearms seized. 8chan itself finally went offline that month, and apparently will not re-appear in the same form.
But for many reasons, law enforcement won’t be able to stop this violence. These fascist militants have hunkered down in a safe corner. There are some things that can dampen enthusiasm for this tendency: massacre attempts which end in failures, like in Norway; the shutting down of livestreams; and raids on people stockpiling weapons and making threats. So, too, might revulsion from their movement’s supporters.
However, successful acts, like the livestream of the German attack — as well as events which act as triggers for the right wing in general — may inspire further massacres. The most likely trigger is an impeachment of Donald Trump. These militants—although they generally do not support him—are likely to portray this as a crushing of legal, “play-by-the-rules” white nationalism, and will proclaim the only course of action left is terror.
An increase in law enforcement’s involvement should not obscure the reality of this violent fascist moment: There is no reason to believe these six attacks will not be followed by more which use the same toolkit. Platforms like Facebook and Twitch are trying to address the livestreaming problem, but there is not an immediate solution. Telegram isn’t going to suspend fascist channels unless governments step in to force them. And there are just too many fascists who’ve worked themselves into a murderous frenzy to think that a few arrests will have much of an effect.
These attacks are connected, and their common threads are not going away. We must see with clear eyes what is already happening around us in order to think strategically about how to confront white nationalist violence moving forward.