German far-right ‘NSU 2.0 trial’ starts in Frankfurt
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German far-right ‘NSU 2.0 trial’ starts in Frankfurt

A 54-year-old man is facing trial for sending dozens of death threats to prominent politicians and lawyers. But some believe the investigation should be much wider — and should examine police circles.

Alleged far-right extremist Alexander Horst M.* went on trial in Frankfurt on Wednesday accused of sending dozens of threatening emails and messages to public figures under the name “NSU 2.0,” apparently in an attempt to assume the legacy of the neo-Nazi terrorist organization known as the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

The original NSU carried out several nail-bomb attacks and murdered at least 10 people between 2000 and 2007 before being uncovered in 2011. Its only known surviving member, Beate Zschäpe, was sentenced to life in prison in 2018, after one of the longest and most complex neo-Nazi trials in German history.

Death threats and bomb threats

In Frankfurt on Wednesday morning, Alexander Horst M. held up his handcuffed hands, both middle fingers raised to the cameras and the courtroom, as he waited for his trial to begin. He confirmed his name but refused to give his address, a routine formality in a German trial, on the grounds that “it’s none of the press’s business.”

The 54-year-old defendant then sat still for the next three hours, often with his arms folded, once briefly admonished by the judge for letting his FFP-2 mask slip below his nose, while the prosecution read out every one of the threatening emails and messages he had allegedly sent between August 2018 and March 2021.

The texts, addressed to prominent politicians, lawyers, journalists, and entertainers, frequently contained a litany of “death sentences,” racist insults, and general hate speech.

There were references to racist conspiracy theories about the supposed “genocide” and “replacement” of the German population, and predictions of a “Day X” — a term often used by the German far-right to refer to a “day of reckoning” when violent conflict will supposedly break out in the country. The letters were often signed  “Heil Hitler,” and the sender referred to himself repeatedly either as an SS officer or the “leader of the NSU 2.0.”

Among the messages were also several bomb threats directed at the Frankfurt High Court as well as a high school named after Walter Lübcke, the local Hesse politician murdered by a neo-Nazi in 2018. No explosives were ever found.

Though several of the recipients of these messages will testify as witnesses during the trial, none were present on Wednesday morning. The Left Party politicians among them, were represented by Hesse state parliament member Hermann Schaus, who has led the socialist party’s inquiries into far-right networks in the state.

“The number of threats is increasing, unfortunately, but most of them are just incoherent letters,” said Schaus. “But this is a different case. These were written by someone who knows his way around the bureaucracy, who can do concrete research, who can express himself well, and who can spread a very different quality of fear and terror than I am used to as a politician. I saw what an effect it had on some of the recipients.”

Was the accused helped by police officers?

For Schaus, and many of the victims, the biggest question of this trial revolves around the suspicion that police officers passed on private details. The letter campaign coincided with the discovery of a far-right chat group among members of the Hesse police’s special commando unit (SEK). Several officers were suspended, and the unit was dissolved in 2021. “We shouldn’t forget that in Hesse alone another 70 investigations in the police were opened as a result of the suspensions in the chat group,” said Schaus.

The letters presented as evidence contain apparent references to this police unit — two years before the scandal surfaced. “Those connections remain unexplained,” Schaus told DW, before accusing the state prosecutors of failing to follow up on those suspicions.

Hesse prosecutors have insisted that, despite thorough investigations, no evidence against police officers has been found. According to prosecutors, the suspect was able to impersonate officials on the phone to trick the police into giving out the personal information.

NSU 2.0 complex

One of the key witnesses in the trial is likely to be Frankfurt lawyer Seda Basay-Yildiz, who represented several victims of the original NSU during Zschäpe’s trial, and subsequently received several death threats from the “NSU 2.0” containing information about her family and a supposedly secret address that was not publicly available.

In an interview last June, Basay-Yildiz recounted that, while she had received many threats throughout her career, she had decided to press charges in this case because “a personal boundary had been crossed.”

“The fax contained my daughter’s name and my private address,” she told local public broadcaster Hessenschau. “I asked straight away: How could the sender have this information about me? On that day I was on business abroad. I came into the hotel and this fax was waiting for me. I was shocked. My child was being threatened and I was thousands of kilometers away from her.”

In a joint statement posted on Twitter on Monday, Basay-Yildiz, Left party politicians Janine Wissler, Anne Helm, and Martina Renner, and cabaret entertainer Idil Baydar and writer Hengameh Yaghoobifarah declared:

“For us, it’s a scandal that the investigation is being carried out against a supposed single perpetrator.”

The defendant is to read a prepared statement in response to the allegations on the second day of the trial on Thursday. He is also facing charges for assaulting a police officer and possessing child pornography discovered at his home during police searches.

The court has set 14 trial dates so far, stretching until the end of April, though more dates are expected to be added.