Synagogue Attacker Who Killed Two Had Planned Far Bigger Massacre

German authorities charge suspect with murder after Wednesday’s live-streamed assault in country’s east

BERLIN-—The German man detained after a live-streamed and ultimately botched attack on a synagogue that left two dead in Germany’s east was charged with murder on Thursday after what authorities described as a terror attack.

But as more details about the 27-year-old suspect and his plan emerged, it became clear that Germany had narrowly escaped a far bigger massacre.

Witness accounts, information from authorities and the suspect’s own writings and recorded statements, painted a portrait of a determined extremist who was, by his own admission, ultimately thwarted in his plans for globally broadcast carnage by shoddy preparations.

“What we witnessed yesterday was terror,” General Federal Prosecutor Peter Frank told journalists as he unveiled the charges. The accused, he said, “had intended to cause a massacre.”

Mourners gathered around a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles in the market square in Halle on Thursday, a day after the attack. PHOTO: HENDRIK SCHMIDT/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The man, identified by a security official on Wednesday as Stephan Balliet from the state of Saxony-Anhalt, tried and failed to enter the locked gate of the synagogue in the city of Halle around midday on Wednesday, according to authorities and witnesses.

He then turned around, shooting dead a passerby and killing a patron at a fast-food restaurant, streaming the entire episode on the Twitch online service using a camera fixed to his helmet.

The live-streaming of the attack showed the suspect wanted to cause a global impact, Mr. Frank said, following the example of recent attackers such as Australian Brenton Tarrant, who allegedly killed 50 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was inspired by others and wanted to inspire others, Mr. Frank said.

In written documents that security experts said they believed Mr. Balliet had posted online before the assault, the suspect describes his motivations, his tactics and the makeshift weapons he had built to execute his attack.

In the documents, written in English and seen by The Wall Street Journal, the author uses familiar far-right tropes, expressing hatred of Jews, Muslims and liberals. The bulk of the documents, however, detail plans to attack the Halle synagogue and the various handmade guns and explosives created for the operation.

The author lists three objectives:

  1. Prove the viability of improvised weapons,”
  2. Increase the moral [sic] of other suppressed Whites by spreading the combat footage,” and
  3. Kill as many anti-Whites as possible, jews preferred.”

Florence Keen, a research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London, said the documents bore similarities to manifestos of other hate-crime perpetrators, including conspiracy theories about alleged threats against whites.

Blyth Crawford, a fellow research fellow at the center, said “the end of the manifesto, detailing his ‘achievements’ and tasks, really exemplifies the ’gamification’ of these kinds of killings.”

The suspect’s reliance on handmade weapons, including two automatic guns and a shotgun, and sketchy planning seems to have played a role in limiting the toll victims.

In a recording of the live-streamed video seen by The Journal, the man can be heard swearing as his guns repeatedly jam and fail to fire. Earlier in the sequence, he expresses surprise at finding the gates of the synagogue locked and frustration after 15 minutes of trying and failing to force his way in.

After the bungled attack, authorities said, the suspect shot dead a woman on the street and drove to a nearby kebab shop where he killed a customer who can be heard on the video crying for his life. The attacker is repeatedly shown aiming at passersby but failing to fire his makeshift guns.

I will die like the loser I am,” he explains at one point, apologizing to viewers for not causing more casualties.

According to German officials, Mr. Balliet killed a 40-year-old German woman from Halle and a 20-year-old German man from Merseburg, who was identified by the fan club of local soccer team HFC as Kevin S.

After a brief shootout with a police car more than 20 minutes into the attack, the suspect drove off, stopping on the outskirts of the city where he tried to swap his car, and shooting and wounding two people in the process, according to a witness.

Kai Henze, 36, owner of an auto shop, Kai’s Garage, in Landsberg, east of Halle, said he was working when he heard a shot outside. Two minutes later, a man entered, pointing a gun and saying he was a wanted criminal, had just shot two people and needed a car.

“I threw him the keys of a taxi that I had just here for repair. Then he said ‘I know you will call the police now, but please give me 10 minutes,’ and threw two €50 bills on the street for me and then quickly drove away with the taxi.”

Mr. Henze said he then attended to the two victims nearby, a couple around 40, before calling the police. Mr. Balliet was arrested soon after.

Details of the suspect are slowly emerging.

Ursula Siebenhüner, 68, from the village of Ahldorf, said Mr. Balliet lived alone with his mother, a teacher, in the neighboring hamlet of Helbra.

A German official who declined to be named said Mr. Balliet had been among the last Germans to do compulsory military service before it was abolished. He had served six months to the end of March 2011 in Hagenow, where he didn’t stand out in any way.

Holger Stahlknecht, state interior minister of Saxony-Anhalt, said the suspect wasn’t known to German intelligence agencies prior to the attack.

A man described as Mr. Balliet’s father told the Bild tabloid that Mr. Balliet had been a loner with few friends and spent most of his time online. “He was always blaming others for everything,” the man said.

Neither Mr. Balliet’s mother nor his father could be reached for comment.

Mr. Balliet faces two murder charges, nine counts of attempted murder and several charges related to other crimes, the prosecutor said.

While the attacker appeared to have acted on his own, authorities said they were still investigating whether he had support or if anyone had prior knowledge of the attack. The suspect was due to appear in the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe later Thursday.

German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said the attack had shown that far-right extremism was “one of the biggest threats we are currently facing.”

Jane Mayer, “Dark Money”

In her fourth book Mayer draws on court records, extensive interviews, and many private archives to examine the growing political influence of extreme libertarians among the one percent, such as the Koch brothers, tracing their ideas about taxation and government regulation and their savvy use of lobbyists to further an agenda that advances their own interests at the expense of meaningful economic, environmental, and labor reform.

Can Germany Survive Its World Cup Defeat?

My neighbor Peter told me that losing to South Korea has implications for the nation’s soul.

.. Peter suggested that there were implications for the nation’s soul itself, with the team’s exit from the tournament reflecting a wider sense of unease. Chancellor Angela Merkel is right now fighting for her political survival at home, where she’s facing pressure to be tougher on immigrants and refugees, both within her own party and from the right-wing Alternative for Germany party.
..  I wrote in this newsletter about how the far right views the ethnically diverse national team.
.. She was worried that the team’s defeat would play into the far right’s self-pitying, us-versus-them worldview. “I just hope that some of those flags disappear now,” she said, “and the nationalism right along with them.”
.. four years ago, German television had broadcast a live stream of the national team’s plane on its way to the World Cup in Brazil. Everyone had been more optimistic then, in football and in life. It would have been good for Germany if the team had gone through to the next round, he said, “because the atmosphere in the country is not that nice, and sometimes sports can help.”

How Viktor Orban Bends Hungarian Society to His Will

Billboards. TV campaigns. Radio programs. The anti-immigrant government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban uses different levers to influence public opinion, particularly on the subject of the European refugee crisis.

Even school textbooks.

On page 155 of the latest 8th-grade history textbook, students are told that Mr. Orban thinks refugees are a threat to Hungary — and then encouraged to believe he is right. “It can be problematic,” the book concludes, “for different cultures to coexist.”

.. the far-right leader’s message is now woven into the school curriculum.

.. His party’s appointees or supporters dominate many artistic institutionsand universities. A growing number of plays and exhibitions have had nationalist or anti-Western undertones. Religious groups and nongovernment organizations critical of Fidesz have seen funding dry up.

.. promoting a narrative of Hungarian victimhood and ethnocentrism.

.. For many far-right populists on both sides of the Atlantic, the Hungarian leader is revered.

“He’s a hero,” Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former strategist, said this month, while touring Europe. He described Mr. Orban as “the most significant guy on the scene right now.”

.. he met with Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who created the Stanford Prison Experiment, the controversial 1971 study of authoritarianism, which explored how ordinary people would respond when placed in positions of power.

.. how Mr. Orban has attempted to influence the civil arena through like-minded culture warriors.

.. biggest beneficiaries tended to be groups with religious and nationalist

.. since an elected government represents the will of the people — and since civil society should strive to fulfill the people’s will — then civil society exists to carry out a ruling party’s manifesto, rather than to challenge it.

.. the government sent an opinion survey to every Hungarian household that claimed Mr. Soros was leading a project — named the Soros Plan — to force Hungary to admit thousands of migrants, dismantle its border fences, and in the process “diminish the importance of the language and culture of European countries.” It was demonstrably false.

.. During the 1980s, Mr. Orban was a young liberal activist who studied civil society at Oxford University

.. “I would like,” Mr. Illes recalled Mr. Orban telling him, “to destroy all NGOs in this country.”

.. “Most theaters,” she said, “have a socially unengaged message,”

.. “It’s important for us to emphasize our identity because we could lose it in a few moments,” Mr. Dorner said in an interview, citing anxiety about immigration by “the Africans, the Middle Easterners.”

.. the academy ignored and even condemned critics of Mr. Orban such as Gyorgy Konrad, a renowned author. Instead, it awarded monthly stipends in perpetuity to artists like Gyozo Somogyi, best known for depicting Hungarian military heroes

.. When the University of Debrecen awarded an honorary doctorate last August to Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president and an ally of Mr. Orban, four academic departments protested the decision.

.. Yet in response, the university leadership launched an investigation into their dissent.

.. Officially, the loss of each department’s financial autonomy has been presented as a cost-saving measure.

.. the real aim was to curb the academic autonomy of each department.

.. money was nevertheless found to sustain two entirely new academic institutions.

.. The first — Professor Patyi’s National University for Public Service — was set up to train civil servants, policemen and soldiers

.. The second, a think tank called Veritas, has a more demonstrably political aim. Its main mission is to provide revisionist interpretations of 20th-century Hungarian history — including the reign of Miklos Horthy, the autocrat who led Hungary before and during the Second World War.

.. He described the deportation of Jews under Horthy in 1941 as a mere “police action against aliens.”

..  the new preamble to the Hungarian Constitution — a controversial text which implies that Hungarian nationality is exclusively Christian, even though Hungary has a substantial Jewish minority.

As West Fears the Rise of Autocrats, Hungary Shows What’s Possible

Several men urged caution. But Viktor Orban, the prime minister-elect, disagreed. The voting result, Mr. Orban continued, had given him the right to carry out a radical overhaul of the country’s Constitution.

.. Nearly eight years later, Mr. Orban has remade Hungary’s political system into what one critic calls “a new thing under the sun.” Once praised by watchdog groups as a leading democracy of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, Hungary is now considered a democracy in sharp, worrisome decline.

.. Through legislative fiat and force of will, Mr. Orban has transformed the country into a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party political culture.

.. At home, he is pushing new legislation, this time to place financial penalties on civil society groups that help migrants.

..  He is arguing that Europe’s postwar liberal consensus “is now at an end” — and his vision is being emulated in Poland

.. Mr. Orban is emblematic of a strongman age. He has courted President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and praised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. In 2016, he became the first Western leader to endorse the Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump.

.. “Orban has pioneered a new model of single-party rule that has spread through Eastern Europe

.. defended Mr. Orban’s actions as a determined effort “to get rid of the remnants of communism that are still with us, not only in terms of institutions but in terms of mentality.”

.. Mr. Orban is undeniably popular with many Hungarians

.. he also has positioned himself as a buffer against what he portrays as modern-day threats: such as European Union bureaucrats; or George Soros, the liberal Hungarian-American philanthropist; or, above all, migrants who seek to settle in the country.

.. Migration fits into a wider agenda about the protection of the Hungarian people,” said Andras Biro-Nagy, a politics lecturer at Corvinus University of Budapest. “He’s protecting us from everything.”

.. Weeks later, Mr. Orban and his lieutenants began a legislative assault on the Hungarian Constitution, curbing civil society and, to less fanfare, diverting billions of euros in European Union and federal money toward loyal allies.

.. First, he moved simultaneously to curb the Hungarian media and the judiciary. Next came the erosion of the country’s checks and balances, which has helped Mr. Orban share the spoils of power with close friends and important businessmen.

.. And then, came the electoral process. The restructuring of Hungary’s election system, including a redrawing the electoral map

.. During the next five years, Fidesz used its two-thirds majority in Parliament to pass more than 1,000 laws, many of them enacted after a few hours of debate — and often presented by low-ranking lawmakers who had neither written nor read them.

.. The laws allowed Mr. Orban to appoint his own candidates to lead the country’s two main media regulators, while simultaneously giving those regulators more power to fine and punish independent news outlets. (Most of those outlets have subsequently been bought by allies of Mr. Orban.)

.. Mr. Orban put ex-Fidesz politicians in charge at several institutions, including the State Audit Office, which monitors government expenditures, and the State Prosecution Service, which oversees criminal prosecutions. His supporters also now control the board overseeing the National Fiscal Council, an independent body scrutinizing economic policy.

.. Yet it is Hungary’s judiciary that has perhaps been most affected.

.. Judges had to be nominated by a committee staffed by representatives of all the parties in Parliament — ensuring that all judges were chosen by consensus.

.. But Fidesz voted to give itself complete power in choosing the candidates. Eight years later, the court is made up entirely of judges appointed during Fidesz’s tenure.

.. Homelessness is once again a crime in Hungary.

.. “It’s not a totalitarian system,” Judge Szepeshazi said. “But it’s very autocratic.”

.. Mr. Orban has been able to accrue so much power in Budapest partly because he met little effective opposition from Brussels

.. The main problem was that the founders of the European Union never considered the possibility that a member state would backslide, and did not create procedures to deal conclusively with such an event, Ms. Reding said.

.. Mr. Orban has subsequently claimed to have tricked European officials into believing that he had made substantive changes, even though they were largely cosmetic, a tactic he has publicly described as the “dance of the peacock.”

.. Voting districts that had historically leaned to the left were reshaped to include around 5,000 more voters than districts that traditionally leaned right, according to an analysis by polling specialists at Political Capital, a Hungarian think tank. This meant that leftist parties needed more votes to win a seat than Fidesz did.

.. “All the characteristics and features on the surface are of democracy,” he added. “But behind it there is only one party and only one truth.”