Walter Lübcke murder: German neo-Nazi admits to killing pro-refugee politician

The main suspect in the killing of regional German politician Walter Lübcke has confessed and apologized in court. Sonja Jordans is following the trial of a crime that highlights the rising threat of neo-Nazi extremism.

Deutsche Welle, Germany/August 5, 2020

A far-right extremist and suspected murderer of regional politician Walter Lübcke confessed in court on Wednesday.

"I shot him," the defendant said in his hourlong statement, which was read out by his lawyer at the start of the proceedings in Frankfurt.

Stephan E., a 46-year-old, is on trial for the shooting of Lübcke, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Lübcke was shot in the head on his porch on June 1, 2019 and died later that night.

Read more: Germany and right-wing extremism — The new dimension of terrorism

Stephan E.'s statement went on to describe his own act as cowardly and cruel. "I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry," were the words directed at Lübcke's relatives. "No one should have to die because of his religion or his opinions or his origin and background."

This apology failed to impress Lübcke's widow and two sons, who are participating in the trial as co-plaintiffs.

Prosecutors said Stephan E.'s motivations were based on his "right-wing extremist hatred of refugees."

Third confession

Lübcke became a target for militant right-wing extremists in 2015. At the time, Germany saw a major increase in the number of migrants coming into the country, and the 65-year-old politician attracted attention as an advocate of efforts to welcome and integrate them.

A video of Lübcke at a town hall meeting in Lohfelden saying that anyone who did not agree with those values was "free to leave the country" was shared widely in far-right circles and drew many threats.

The statement read by the defense attorney on Wednesday was the defendant's third confession. Previously, Stephan E. had confessed twice previously — each time with a different version of last year's crime.

This time, though the defendant's words were short and clear, they were somewhat surprising, including a mixture of what he first stated to the police and a later, modified version in which he blamed his co-defendant. Stephan E. still heavily incriminated his former friend and co-defendant Markus H., but he now admitted to having fired the shots himself.

Fateful night

Stephan E. described what led up to that fateful night last June, when Lübcke was shot on the terrace of his house in Wolfhagen-Istha, near Kassel, a city he represented as district president.

His words made the listeners shiver, describing the quiet but rapid radicalization of a young man. The driving force behind this, according to Stephan E., was Markus H. "He radicalized, manipulated and incited me," E. said in his statement. "And I let it happen to me."

H. procured weapons and joined him in shooting practice in a forest. "He always spoke of civil war-like conditions that would soon prevail in Germany … how Western life in Germany must be defended against Islamization."

Stephan E., who describes himself as a prepper and was preparing for a "civil war," still does not see himself as a Nazi. But he apparently got caught up in the narrative described by H., who had spoken "over and over again" of the fact that the "Merkel government" wanted to take away the freedom of its citizens and wipe them out.

Targets of hate

At some point during the shooting exercises in the forest, H. stuck a portrait of Angela Merkel on the target, as well as a picture of Lübcke. H. described the district president as a "traitor to the people" and a "stooge of Jewish interests." Lübcke was also someone "who, unlike Merkel, could be approached," H. is said to have said.

On the evening of the crime, Stephan E. met H. around 9.30 p.m. with a weapon in his pocket that H. had given him previously. The plan was to wait for Lübcke and confront him. At about 10:30 p.m. they arrived at the Lübcke family's house, then the two of them saw a person on the terrace and the glowing light of a smartphone.

Read more: Killing of Kassel politicians leaves locals aghast

What followed, E. described in short sentences in his statement: "You threaten him with a gun, I'll beat him up, and tell him something about emigrating," H. allegedly told him. Regarding a possible use of the gun, E.'s statement read: "That was definitely an option." H. had also told him that he should shoot if Lübcke moved.

On the terrace, E. pointed his gun at the seated Lübcke "from close range." "Don't move," he said, as the district president was getting up. He came closer and pushed Lübcke back into his chair. When the politician moved again, E. pulled the trigger. "I fired," he wrote. H. said believed Lübcke had been hit in the head. Then they fled.

The accused apologized to Lübcke's family several times, saying that his act was irreparable, but he wished he could undo it, and took responsibility for his actions.

Apologies and 'psychological damage'

Stephan E. added that he intended to attend an exit program for right-wing extremists, and was suffering from being separated from his family. The fact that his daughter, now 16, no longer wants contact with him hurts him a lot. He said he had always been afraid that he would not be a good father for his children, that his own father had been an alcoholic and a thug who had attacked both his mother and him.

Due to the constant physical and mental violence in his parental home, he had suffered "psychological damage" and later panic attacks. In addition, his father had beaten him and forbidden him to meet a school friend of Turkish origin.

Later, Stephan E.'s hatred for foreigners had grown during prison terms for several other violent, including an attack on a knife attack on a Turkish iman from Wiesbaden in 1992. When foreign prisoners found out why he was in prison, they beat him up, he said.

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