Mass Shooting in Hanau, Germany: What We Know

  • February 20, 2020
hanau shooting

Photo credit: Kal Pfaffenbach/Reuters

On February 19, 2020, Tobias Rathjen, a 43-year-old German man, allegedly shot and killed nine people at two shisha (hookah) bars in the German city of Hanau, near Frankfurt. Police discovered Rathjen and his mother shot to death in their home. 

Based on Rathjen’s manifesto and the targeting of locations frequented by non-white migrants, Germany’s Federal Prosecutor's Office has linked the attack to far-right extremism. 

In remarks following the attack, German Chancellor Angela Merkel referred to the “poison” of racism and hate, and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that “rightwing extremism has once again become a danger for our society.”

ADL’s Center on Extremism, in partnership with extremism researchers at Berlin’s Amadeu Antonio Foundation, has analyzed the attacker’s 24-page manifesto and other online materials allegedly posted by Rathjen.

Rathjen appears to have held many paranoid beliefs, and was mired in conspiracy theories, and his manifesto repeatedly returns to racist and anti-immigrant themes. He also wrote disparagingly about women.

While we have no evidence at this time that Rathjen had explicit ties to the white supremacist movement in Germany, his manifesto did highlight a number of white supremacist themes.

Achievements of “German” people (vs. non-white immigrants):

White supremacists promote the idea that white people are responsible for “the West’s” history of scientific and cultural achievements, while non-whites contribute little or actively damage the societies they inhabit. Rathjen wrote:

How is it possible that such ethnic groups are even in my country? These people are outwardly instinctively to be rejected and, moreover, have not proved to be efficient in their history. On the other hand, I got to know my own people as a country from which the best and most beautiful things that this world has to offer are born and grow out of.

Focus on crimes committed by non-white immigrants and complicity on the part of the “native” population:

White supremacists and other racists typically blame immigrants, particularly those from developing countries, for increased crime, and argue that that white people who ignore this threat are complicit in the destruction of their societies. Early in his manifesto, Rathjen writes:

Already 20 years ago I came to the conclusion during the analysis of the problem of why Germany tolerates the constant crime of foreigners: the delinquent foreigners are only one side of the coin, because on the other side there are Germans who are either ignorant or too weak or too stupid to solve the problem…

Promotion of the expulsion and destruction of non-white ethnic groups, races and cultures that he deems problematic:

In his manifesto, Rathjen explicitly names the groups that should be expelled from Germany and appears to advocate for genocide. The “peoples” he believes “must be completely destroyed” hail from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the complete Saudi peninsula, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines. He adds, “And that would only be the rough cleaning. Then the fine cleaning must come…” Rathjen also writes:

We now have ethnic groups, races or cultures in our midst that are destructive in every respect….these people should not be there at all…An effort to achieve a complete expulsion of these people from our country can no longer be a solution, because the existence of certain ethnic groups is in itself a fundamental error and the problem is only being shifted to future generations.

Anti-Muslim sentiment as well as a focus on difference between the races:

Like white supremacists, Rathjen believes that non-white races, particularly those who follow Islam, have been destructive toward Western society. He also believes that race differences and performance differences between races contributes to the problem. Rathjen writes:

As of today, however, very few races have emerged positively; other races and cultures have not only made no contribution here, but are destructive - especially Islam

In a video he posted before the attack, Rathjen’s conspiratorial mindset is evident; he believed he was a victim of mind control, that he had a connection to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he influenced Donald Trump to focus on “America First, Buy American and Hire American.” Rathjen appears to have had an obsession with controlling the fate of America, and released a video urging Americans to take action against “invisible secret societies” and “deep underground military bases,” where people were enslaved, and children were being tortured.

On his personal website, Rathjen linked to videos and websites belonging to several U.S. and Canadian New Age conspiracy theorists and researchers who believe in alien abductions and UFOs and speculate about the existence of a global cabal engaged in mind control and child sacrifice.