Martin Lichtmesz, 9/11 Truthers, and the “Horseshoe Theory”

Martin Lichtmesz is one of the more readable writers for the German New Right, a loose grouping of nationalist-conservative/reactionary/white supremacist (pick your term) writers and publicists who, according to their own self-image, are not at right-wing extremists at all, merely patriots trying to recover a wholesome and natural sense of identity, tradition, and pride among German-speaking peoples. To this end, they oppose immigration, the EU, innovations in gender ideology, and what they call the “cult of guilt” in Germany concerning the Holocaust. Their opponents — who are legion — consider their ideas little more than watered-down, repackaged National Socialism. The “German New Right” is considered too radioactive to be treated normally by German mainstream media — they get plenty of attention, but it’s always wrapped in a package of editorial disapproval.

Their brand is an updated form of Spenglerian cultural pessimism, tricked out with signals of culture and distinction, such as Greek tags and references to Cicero. They want you to know that they have nothing in common with knuckle-dragging skinheads, although they generally decline to distance themselves from the more vomit-drenched precincts of the German right-wing scene. For example, the main organ of the New Right, the publishing house Antaios, publishes (g) the Der Stürmer-esque diatribes of Akif Pirinçci, a German novelist of Turkish heritage who began his career with books about crime-solving cats (admit it, the idea is a work of genius) before turning to book-length attacks on — to use the sort of language you’ll find in his writings — limp-wristed faggots, hairy-legged lesbians, and shiftless, filthy immigrants who should all be shipped back where they came from.

Lichtmesz, an Austrian, is not in that grimy basement league. He avoids open racism, sexism or anti-Semitism, and I have no direct, conclusive evidence that he endorses any of those positions. Name-calling isn’t what I’m all about. It also helps that Lichtmesz has interests other than reactionary tub-thumping, such as film reviewing and more general cultural critiques. He avoids the white-knuckle tone typical of the far right (and, of course, the far left). Most of his tweets are harmless, some thought-provoking, and his prose is often nicely-drawn. Lichtmesz also has a keen eye for the self-delusions, double standards, and lack of self-awareness which you often find within the filter bubble of the European urban center-left. A book he co-authored in 2017, Mit Linken Leben (Living with the Left) (g) even attracted some cautious praise from mainstream critics. Especially during the 2015 wave of migration to Germany, Lichtmesz and his cohort often sounded quite a bit more reasonable than mainstream journalists, who — as many of them have ruefully conceded (g) — jumped onto the bandwagon of the centrist German ruling elite and propagandized openly for open borders (or something very much like it). The German New Right also makes legitimate arguments against excessive delegations of sovereign authority to the European Union. These are legitimate complaints, shared by many conservatives and even others. Yet Lichtmesz is still considered persona non grata in mainstream circles. Why? He surely doesn’t consider himself an extremist, only a man who’s not afraid to stare reality manfully in the face and report what he sees.

But then sometimes the mask slips; you see the glitch in the matrix. The first glitch is Lichtmesz’ ties to white supremacists. Lichtmesz is a close ally of Martin Sellner, the head of the Austrian branch of the “Identitarian Movement“, a white-supremacist organization whose American offshoot was present in full force at the notorious 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” March, during which participants chanted “Jews will not Replace Us“. Sellner himself was formerly an open neo-Nazi, and was sentenced in 2006 for putting a Swastika sticker on a synagogue. He claims he’s reformed since, but then again, he would, wouldn’t he? He is also engaged to Brittany Pettibone, a US conspiracy nutcase who considers herself a foremost expert on the insane “pizzagate” conspiracy theory:

Until recently, Brittany Pettibone was best known as one of the “leading authorities” on Pizzagate — the debunked conspiracy theory that went viral in 2016 claiming that high-profile Democrats were running a satanic child sex trafficking ring out of — yes — a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve become known for [being] one of the many people investigating Pizzagate,” Pettibone, then 24, told an alt-right podcast host in late 2016. “Many people have a reason to believe that [the pizza shop] is potentially a front for a child trafficking pedophile ring.”

“High-profile Democrats running a satanic child sex trafficking ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.” Just let that sink in.

Now of course you could call this all guilt by association, which it is. But still, some associations are more damning than others. So let’s go to Lichtmesz in his own words, giving a speech to the American Renaissance Conference, a white-nationalist organization:

What sort of publication is American Renaissance? I think its tag cloud taken directly from its website should give you a pretty good idea:

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Spicy stuff! American Renaissance and the New Century Foundation are run by Jared Taylor, author of a book called “White Identity: Racial Consciousness in the 21st Century“, who believes this, in his own words: “The ultimate goal is to have at least a portion of the United States where whites are the recognized majority and in which their culture is recognized as the dominant culture and where they can live free from the embrace of people unlike themselves.” He claims he wants all of this to happen without coercion. Quite the humanitarian. In any event, American Renaissance and all its works and deeds are considered absolutely, 100% off-limits in the USA, even by absolute rock-solid nationalist conservatives and right-wingers. They’re permitted to spread their message, which is right and proper as a matter of free speech. But the only people who voluntarily associate with them on a deep and sustained basis are obsessives driven by racial resentment.

And Lichtmesz not only retweets AmRen posts, he’s also written an entire book (in German) called “Racism: The American Nightmare“, which draws heavily on American Renaissance stories and statistics. The theme of the book, in the words of the publisher Antaios, is as follows: “Lichtmesz is certain: We will be made into racists to the extent that we deny [racial] differences.” Well, that’s certainly…interesting. But let’s take a charitable view of Lichtmesz. The stiff corset of political correctness and woke ideology is a problem, and American race relations do indeed leave much to be desired. European and German immigration policy is a disaster, as I have argued here and elsewhere (g). Perhaps Lichtmesz is just delivering a much blunter version of these arguments. Sure, he sometimes crosses the line into irrationality and resentment, but perhaps he’s still worthy of being taken seriously. Although his English is good, perhaps he doesn’t quite understand what American Renaissance is all about, or perhaps he believes in speaking to groups whose ideas he disagrees with.

Maybe, just maybe. Until you learn that Lichtmesz is a 9/11 truther! Yes, you read that right, 9/11 truthing is apparently still a Thing, 19 years after the fact. I learned this when I saw Lichtmesz retweet from the Swiss conspiracy theorist Daniele Ganser:

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Ganser notes with pride that his new book, Empire USA, is currently #1 on the Swiss bestseller list in, er, “non”-fiction. That says a lot about Switzerland, none of it good. Ganser is also a 9/11 truther who travels all over the German-speaking world giving speeches (at €27 a pop (g)) to largely extreme-left audiences in which he claims the American government intentionally destroyed the World Trade Center complex. At least I think that’s his version, perhaps he’s just a LIHOP man, who knows, who cares? As soon as uncle Jimmy (who was dropped on his head as a child) says 6 million Jews weren’t killed in the Holocaust, do you really care what his preferred estimate is?

Ganser’s main bugaboo is the old chestnut that WTC7 was destroyed by a “controlled demolition“, a claim he recycles (g) in Empire USA. But once again, let’s be charitable towards Lichtmesz. Perhaps he simply agrees with Ganser’s scathing critique of US foreign policy, some of which is doubtless on-point. And Lichtmesz’ Twitter bio contains the standard disclaimer “Retweets aren’t endorsements”. So does Lichtmesz buy into 9/11 truthing?

Alas, yes. After I shot an arrow of snark at Ganser’s new book, Lichtmesz replied “How sweet! There are still a few Internet hillbillies who still believe the official 9/11 story.”

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And then we were off, on the good old debate. Reminded me of old times, in the mid-2000s, in which seemingly half the Germans I met believed in some version of a 9/11 conspiracy theory. I was already very well-informed about 9/11 just because I’m me, but I decided to sit down and read all the official reports and the critiques carefully, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I wasn’t; there’s nothing there.

9/11 skeptics operate the same way that Holocaust deniers and JFK nuts do:

  1. Ignore the colossal juggernaut of evidence supporting the “official” version.
  2. Start the “anomaly hunt”: look for the kinds of open questions and inconsistencies that inevitably crop up in any complex investigation.
  3. Once you’ve found a few anomalies, confidently proclaim the official version “discredited”.
  4. Now you have a choice. Either you can:
    1. Embrace your own conspiracy theory (the ballsy move); or
    2. Sagely proclaim (the non-ballsy move) that you don’t know what happened, but it certainly wasn’t the (obligatory scare quotes) “official” version. And (stroking chin) who can ever know for sure? Who can say they have all the answers? How can we know anything about anything? What is reality?

People who can think straight instantly notice the missing step. You can’t simply claim you’ve destroyed the colossal juggernaut of evidence just because you found a few gaps or inconsistencies, just as you can’t destroy a building by knocking out a few windows (see what I did there?). The only way you can refute a colossal juggernaut of evidence is by showing that all of it, or nearly all of it, is fundamentally unsound. No 9/11 truther has ever come close, which is why nobody really pays attention to them anymore.

The other flaw of this type of conspiracy theory which people who can think straight immediately recognize is: How was a conspiracy involving thousands, if not tens of thousands of people kept secret? As the National Institute of Standards pointed out in its definitive report on the collapse of WTC 7, to demolish a 47-story building with explosives would have required months of careful preparation:

Preparations for a blast scenario would have been almost impossible to carry out on any floor in the building without detection. Preparations would have included removal of column enclosures or walls, weld torches to cut column sections, and placement of wires for detonation. Occupants, support staff, and visitors would have noticed such activities, particularly since they likely would have occurred around more than one column.

This is just the amount of obvious preparation, involving hundreds of workers, which would have been required to destroy one building. Now multiply that by a factor of 10 to account for the “planned demolition” of the other, much larger towers, and the Pentagon attack, plus arranging for the plane crashes as a decoy, sending out warning calls or emails to insiders, falsifying evidence, paying bribes, etc.

Overall, thousands of people — welders, engineers, demolition experts, air-traffic controllers, software programmers, security guards, police, truck drivers, and people from dozens of other professions — would have been needed to arrange the planned demolition of the Twin Towers and WTC7 and the fake (or decoy) plane crashes. Every one of these people would have had to know they were involved in extremely suspicious activity which they either knew was intended to murder thousands of innocent people, or could easily suspect was intended to accomplish this goal. And afterward, these thousands of conspirators would have watched their own handiwork result in the death of almost 3,000 innocent people. Even if Steve the welder didn’t know before the attacks why he installed that mysterious box next to a support column in WTC7, he certainly would know afterwards. And he’s just one of 50? 100? 200? 2000? welders on the wrecking crews in New York and Washington, D.C.

And since then, according to all 9/11 truthers including Lichtmesz, all of these people have remained silent. Not a single one has come forward in almost 20 years, despite this incident receiving more press coverage and attention than almost any other event in the recent history of the human race. Not a single one of these thousands of conspirators has ever been proven to have said anything to anyone about their role, not even to their wives or close friends. Not one. As any rational observer immediately recognizes, that is simply impossible. There’s no evidence that any conspiracy that massive has ever gone undetected in human history, and no such evidence will ever come into existence. This is the crucial flaw behind all allegations of massive conspiracies.

Lichtmesz’s 9/11 truthing, without any other evidence, already shows he isn’t capable of recognizing glaring logical errors. It shows that his resentments and obsessions (anti-Americanism) can trump even the most basic fact-checking mechanisms built into the human mind. Which means no argument he makes can be trusted. Would you allow a surgeon who believed in the four humors theory of the body to operate on you? Would you hire a lawyer who believed the moon landing was faked? Would you get into an Uber driven by a driver who tells you traffic signals are a conspiracy targeted against her to reduce her wages? Sure, there’s a chance these people might be able to function well occasionally — even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while — but you sure as hell won’t hire them. Let other people play that game of Russian roulette. It’s the same with Lichtmesz and so many on the far-right. We now know that he’s incapable of thinking straight on at least one major issue. How many others are there?

Which finally brings us to the “horseshoe” theory (g). This is the theory, discussed actively in recent months in Germany, that the extreme right and extreme left come together on many issues, like the two ends of a horseshoe. 9/11 is a perfect example. The European far-left hates America because it’s the homeland of “hypercapitalist” oppression and maintains a global profit-driven empire based on violence and the threat of violence. The European far-right hates America for those reasons too (usually), plus the fact that the USA is a artificial, deracinated construct inhabited by racial mongrels who are constantly at each other’s throats. In the place of true (that is, European) culture, the USA substitutes a cheap, cynical worship of money, most of which is controlled by you-know-who. Ganser himself is an anti-American obsessive who has fans both on the far left (the majority of his lecture audiences, according to this article (g) entitled “The Audience Was Even Worse”) and the far-right.

How do we know he has fans on the far right? Here he is discussing his ideas with the German right-wing extremist Jürgen Elsässer (who was formerly a left-wing extremist, see horseshoe theory) and the most notorious neo-Nazi in Germany, Karl-Heinz Hoffmann:

Hoffmann founded the notorious “fascist terrorist gangWehrsportgruppe Hoffmann (Military Sports Group Hoffmann), a now-banned paramilitary organization whose members committed numerous crimes, including the assassination of Jewish publisher Shlomo Lewin and his partner in Erlangen in 1980. Lewin had gained international renown, and the everlasting hatred of the Hoffmann group, for publishing articles critical of them.

Wait, but surely you can’t blame Hoffmann for the deranged actions of one of the members of his fascist terror gang, can you? Well, the killer, Uwe Behrendt, wasn’t just a member of the Hoffmann gang. He was its vice-president (g), and lived in Hoffmann’s house, from where he departed to murder Lewin, who lived nearby. Then he returned to Hoffman’s house and reported: “Boss, I also did it for you.” Behrendt then admitted he’d screwed up by leaving Hoffmann’s girlfriend’s sunglasses at the murder scene. Hoffmann then burned Behrendt’s clothing, helped dispose of the murder weapon (which had a silencer Hoffmann admitted to helping build), and arranged for the killer to flee to Lebanon, where the Hoffmann group had ties to the Fatah organization.

Hoffmann soon followed him. Behrendt then (apparently) committed suicide in Lebanon, preventing his trial for Lewin’s murder in Germany. Quite convenient for Hoffmann, who, of course, denied any advance knowledge of Behrendt’s plan. Crocodile tears streaming down his face, Hoffmann bemoaned the “senseless murder of innocent people”. Hoffmann himself was tried but not convicted for ordering Lewin’s murder. Hoffmann was also implicated, but never charged, in the 1980 Oktoberfest bombing (g) which — surprise surprise! — was also committed by a Hoffman group member, who died in the blast. Hoffman himself was convicted of aggravated assault, kidnapping, forgery, and weapons offenses in 1984 and sentenced to nine years in prison. Ganser is happy to share the stage with this man, and uses the interview with Hoffman to push one of his other favorite theories, that the bombing was conducted by members of a Gladio stay-behind “secret army”. Hoffman is of course happy to join in Ganser’s musings, which cast suspicion away from him.

That’s the kind of company Daniele Ganser keeps. And Lichtmesz, along with most of the German hard left and hard right, endorses Ganser’s 9/11 conspiracy theories.

So there you have it: Right wing nutjobs and left-wing nutjobs dancing together in peace and harmony around a maypole of bullshit.

The History of Maypole Dancing – Active Arts

I’d call that pretty strong confirmation of the horseshoe theory.

Christin and Her Murderers — Inside a German Murder Trial

I have another blog in which I mainly talk about German law. I wrote this post for that blog, but I think the case is so interesting it deserves a spot here, too.

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Poster seeking information in Christin R.’s killing

The public radio station for Berlin-Brandenburg recently released an 8-part podcast — “Christin and Her Murderers” exploring a German murder case. The podcast yields interesting insights into German criminal trials, mainly because the authors — Martina Reuter und Uta Eisenhardt — got unusual access to the main players in the case: Judges, detectives, lawyers, and even three of the defendants agreed to interviews. This may not raise any eyebrows for an American or a Brit, but this level of access is very unusual for Germany. Germans tend to be very protective of their private sphere, and German law helps them protect it.

First I’ll provide a rundown of the murder case itself, then look at the investigation and trial.

I. The Murder of Christin Rexin

The facts are mundane in some respects, but startling in others. We start with Christin (pronounced like “Christine” in English) Rexin. She was a 21-year-old woman from Lübars, a quaint village near Berlin. She loved working with horses, and was doing an apprenticeship on a nearby horse farm, the Goldnebelhof (Golden Fog Farm!). One day, a mother and son showed up to express interest in buying the place. The mother, Cornelia, worked at a bank. Her son Robin was a competitive rider on the German equestrian circuit, and owned a number of valuable horses. Robin and his mother held discussions with the farm’s owners, a divorced couple, and arranged to buy the farm, with tentative financing from a bank.

Robin and his mother Cornelia thus became Christin’s employers. The financing for the purchase fell through after a few months, but Christin fell in love with Robin, the young, self-assured businessman who loved horses as much as she did. Soon they were a couple, although the stories Robin told about his background seemed a bit inconsistent, and he was something of a braggart. His mother had meanwhile stopped paying Christin’s salary and social-insurance contributions. It became clear that Robin and Cornelia were having financial problems. They were actively trying to sell some of the valuable horses they owned. In November 2011, Christin agreed to take out a €250,000 life insurance policy in her own name with Robin as the beneficiary. Robin’s mother Cornelia would pay the premiums. They claimed their financial advisor had recommended this step as a routine precaution. Christin eventually became engaged to Robin, and the family group began searching for another horse farm to rent or buy.

And then, on April 4, 2012, something quite bizarre happened: While Cornelia and Christin were spending time in Cornelia’s kitchen, Cornelia stabbed Christin in the back. Christin defended herself. The knife wound was severe, but not life-threatening. Cornelia claimed she had stabbed Christin during a “blackout”. Needless to say, the stabbing put something of a damper on the marriage plans. Nevertheless, Christin still agreed to see Robin, although not at his house or with his mother. Meanwhile, Christin pressed charges against Cornelia, but the police — incredibly — suspended prosecution, believing her convenient story of a blackout.

Meanwhile, Christin, her family, and friends kept discovering inconsistencies in just about everything Robin said: his supposedly deceased ex-wife kept posting on Facebook, he claimed to have participated in riding tournaments where nobody remembered seeing them, etc. He even claimed to have served in a secret special forces regiment in the German Bundeswehr in Afghanistan whose mission was to “kill and destroy” (g). Robin appears to have had some charm and self-confidence, but was also clearly a pathological liar. Nevertheless, Christin refused to break off all contact with him. Meanwhile, his mother kept taking out more and more life insurance policies on Christin, eventually adding up to more than €2 million Euro. It was unclear who signed these extra policies in Christin’s name.

Through the equestrian scene, Robin befriended Tanja, a young, horse-loving butcher with a troubled past growing up in care homes. After laying on a bit of charm, he came right out and said he wanted to help her kill someone to collect insurance money. In another plot twist too ludicrous for fiction, she agreed on the spot. She later claimed she had been manipulated and controlled by Robin, but didn’t deny he had promised €50,000 to her and whoever else she was able to recruit. For the second attempt on Christin’s life, Robin gave Tanja champagne laced with potassium chloride. Tanja was supposed to feign interest in buying one of Robin’s horses and, when the deal was concluded, offer her champagne to drink. After a few sips, however, Christin poured it out, claiming it tasted off. The second attempt to kill Christin thus failed.

For the third attempt to murder Christin, Robin and his mother pulled out all the stops. Robin, much to his later regret, texted Tanja that “the third time cannot be allowed to fail.” Robin asked Tanja if she knew someone who might be willing to pull off a hit. She said her brother Sven, a petty criminal who had spent time in prison, probably would. Sven in turn recruited Steven, who also had a criminal record, and a plethora of “social problems” so vast he lived in an assisted-living facility. Together, they lured Christin to a parking lot late at night in her hometown of Lübars, and one of the crew (it’s still not certain which one) strangled her to death.

The case wasn’t difficult to solve, although investigators had a hard time proving exactly who had played which role. They immediately focused on Robin, and discovered that his mother had stabbed Christin some months beforehand. They quickly twigged to Tanja’s involvement, and through her Sven and Steven. All five were charged with murder or abetting murder (which carry the same punishment under German law).

II. The Investigation and Trial

The podcast explores the detectives’ tactics and the court proceedings in detail, something which is surprisingly rare in Germany — a country which is obsessed with (generally unrealistic) murder mysteries. When you’re arrested for a serious crime in Germany, you will be interrogated by the police. They are obliged to inform you that you are required only to identify yourself. You are not required to answer any further questions without the presence of a lawyer. Yet the rules are nowhere near as strict and arbitrary as they are in the UK or the USA. Interrogations do not need to be recorded, as in the UK; detectives prepare a written record based on memory. Nor do police need to recite a specific speech concerning a suspect’s rights and obtain a formal written waiver, as they usually do in the USA. German police can advise you that you’ll fare better in court if you cooperate, and invariably do so. They often try to establish a friendly and laid-back tone to the interrogation. Suspects are not handcuffed or restrained unless they seem to present a threat. German courts probe deeply into how cops get confessions, so third-degree tactics — lies, threats, manipulation, especially violence — are seen as counterproductive, and rarely used.

To build rapport, a detective might chat at length about common interests such as soccer or food or television. One detective who questioned Robin quizzed him about horses, because he was genuinely interested in horses, and Robin knew quite a bit about them. What could be more natural? Later, he told the reporters about Robin: “Oh sure, I knew he was lying in lots of what he said to me, but then again, he’s got a right to do that.” One key in the questioning of Tanja was the fact that one of the detectives smoked. He joined her outside the precinct for smoke breaks, and appealed subtly to her conscience, person-to-person.

The main purpose of interrogations is to obtain a confession. If that proves impossible, then detectives try to pin the suspect’s story down early, so that they can later point out inconsistencies if they arise. A caveat: As is the case anywhere, police tactics vary in Germany depending on the officer is and the suspect. All the suspects in this case were ethnic Germans, and many had no previous criminal record. Thus, they almost certainly received gentler treatment than, say, an immigrant with a long criminal record and limited German. In fact, this case seems to contain a specific example of what you might call “German privilege”. It’s difficult to imagine that the local authorities would have suspended prosecution in a serious stabbing case based merely on Cornelia’s uncorroborated claim that she had a “blackout” if the Cornelia had been a foreigner, rather than a well-spoken German lady who worked in a bank. But even with this caveat in mind, stories of brutal third-degree interrogations are rare in Germany. German police simply don’t have the win-at-all-costs mentality that often drives American police to bend or break the rules they feel restrict them. If a suspect strictly refuses to cooperate, they’ll just give up trying to get a statement, and hope other tactics will solve the case.

Nevertheless, German police do get suspects to talk about the crime, and often to confess, with surprising frequency. There are a few reasons for this. First, German law is quite lenient in international comparison. A suspect in a country which imposes 10 years in prison for crime X is going to be much more circumspect than one in a country where crime X is usually punished by 2 years with a suspended sentence. Second, German judges are often suspicious of confessions, and will explore the circumstances under which they were given. This is part of the “duty of investigation” (Pflicht zur Erforschung) which requires judges to independently establish all relevant facts of a case. Did the suspect confess to protect or appease a third party? Does her confession square with the known facts of the case? If not, why not? Even a full confession which squares with the facts will not prevent a later full examination of the facts of the case, during which the defense will be able to make its own arguments. Even if a case is settled by a plea bargain, the judge is still obliged by law (g) to carefully examine the circumstances of the confession, although some overburdened judges cut corners here.

Perhaps the most important reason for the high rate of confessions in German cases is that suspects know they will receive more favorable treatment from the judge in their case if they come forward. In the Christin R. case, Tanja, Robin, and Steven all decided to talk to the police. Tanja gave a full account of everything that happened, saying she wanted to “get the pictures out of her head”. Steven — who talked so quickly and with so much slang that detectives had trouble keeping up with him — corroborated much of what Tanja said, but claimed Robin, not he, had strangled Christin. Robin, for his part, provided a carefully curated and selective account, confirming facts which he knew could be verified, but denying any murder plot. He had also tried to carefully arrange an alibi for himself by visiting a gas station.

After a long investigation came the trial. It was held before a Schwurgericht, an untranslatable term which is officially rendered into English as a “criminal division with lay judges”. It originally meant court with twelve “sworn” jurors, but is now composed of three professional judges and two lay judges (Schöffen). It is reserved for the most serious offenses involving the death of a victim. It is still not allowed to record criminal trials in Germany, but the podcast’s authors were in the courtroom and provided a careful account. The trial opened, with the reading of the indictment. Directly after this, the court turns to the defendants and asks them to provide their personal information.

After they have done so, the court asks them if they want to make any comment on the case. At this point, an Anglo-Saxon criminal defense lawyer’s hair would catch fire. Speak informally, directly to the judges in the case, right there in open court? Clearly, we are in another procedural universe here, one with many fewer strict rules and formalities than in England or the UK. Of course, defendants aren’t obliged to make a statement at the beginning. German law respects the presumption of innocence and the right to silence. In this case, Tanja decided to make a full statement in open court at the beginning of the case. She explained her version of exactly how the crime occurred, and expressed remorse. She had been advised to do this by her lawyer, with an argument like this: “You already said all this to the detectives, so the judges are going to find out about it anyway. This way, you get out ahead, portraying yourself as the only member of the conspiracy willing to come right out and be honest from the beginning, come what may. This will help speed the trial and earn the judges’ respect.”

After the initial statements comes the wearisome task of establishing what happened. As noted, German courts have an independent duty to probe as deeply as possible into all the circumstances of a crime. The judges dominate the proceeding, directly questioning witnesses and commissioning expert testimony. There is no clear “prosecution” and “defense” case — each side merely intervenes occasionally to highlight facts it considers helpful to its side. Trials often last for months or even years — they’re not held day after day, but rather in a sporadic series of sessions. In the Christin R. case, there were numerous seemingly minor inconsistencies in the testimony and evidence — Tanja said the attacker was wearing a certain color jacket, but another witness said it was a different color. Fiber evidence was inconclusive. There was no DNA evidence. In an Anglo-Saxon courtroom, these minor weaknesses would become fodder for back-and-forth argument by the lawyers. But in German courtrooms, the judges are obliged to try to resolve these seemingly minor inconsistencies in mind-numbing detail.

Finally, after the relevant facts had been established, Robin and his mother Cornelia decided to testify. In German courtrooms, defendants are not obliged to testify under oath because, as any professor or lawyer will tell you, “they’re going to lie anyway, and have a right to do so.” As best they could, Robin and Cornelia tailored their account to match the facts — Robin’s damning Internet searches for poison were meant to protect his horses from eating the wrong weeds; Cornelia had taken out all those life insurance policies merely as a precaution; Robin only wanted to sell Tanja a horse and had no idea of “her” plan to murder Christin. To call their versions unconvincing was an understatement.

Eventually, after all the suspects were heard, and the judges retired to deliberate. Eventually, they returned their verdict (g). All five of the defendants — Tanja, Robin, his mother Cornelia, Tanja’s sister Sven, and his friend Steven (who probably actually committed the murder) were found guilty. Robin and his mother were sentenced to life in prison with a special finding of especially severe culpability (besondere Schwere der Schuld), which means they will have to stay around 25 years behind bars. Sven and Steven were sentenced to life without a special finding, which means they’ll become eligible for release in around 15 years.

As for Tanja, the judges made use of §46a of the German Criminal Code, which allows sentence reduction if the offender “voluntarily disclos[es] his (sic!) knowledge” of the offense. She received not a life sentence, but a term of fourteen and one-half years. With good behavior, she might well be released in half that time. Some of the defendants appealed their conviction, but on 9 March 2016, the Supreme Court of Justice (g) dismissed the appeals as “evidently unfounded“. At this point, the verdicts and sentences became formally legally binding.

As I mentioned above, Cornelia, Robin, and Steven all agreed to be interviewed from prison. This is quite rare in Germany, both because prisoners generally want to avoid calling attention to themselves, and because prison authorities often deny access to prisoners because it may “hinder resocialization”. Robin and Cornelia apparently wanted to increase their chances of early release by making a show of coming to terms with their sentence. However — at least from the edited excerpts presented in the podcast — they still seem to deny the charges against them.

Interestingly, the authors of the podcast, after all their research, believe that important aspects of the case still remained unsolved, and attribute this to gaps in the investigation and the judges’ examination during trial (g). I personally don’t see this, from an American or British perspective, the evidence is much more than adequate for conviction. German law punishes abetting the crime identically to committing it, so the various levels of involvement are not particularly important, as long as there is evidence the abettors had a common purpose and plan. But the German criminal justice system is oriented toward finding out the entire truth, as far as possible.

The Curious Case of “Owl”, the Unknown Prisoner

German environment activists have been protesting the planned destruction of a part of the Hambacher Forest to allow the expansion of a coal mine. There have been many arrests, injuries, and even a death (a journalist fell from one of the treehouses activists have built).

One of the activists was tried and convicted of attempting to kick a police officer. The first remarkable thing about this case is that, at the time of the assault, her hands and feet were bound (g). Officers gave conflicting accounts of how exactly she planned to kick one of them in this position. Another odd thing is that the judge gave her an extremely harsh sentence by German standards, 9 months’ imprisonment without probation. She was just released from prison.

But the most curious thing about the case, at least to me, is that the court never found out who she is. She had no identification with her when she was arrested, and refused to cooperate with police and court attempts to identify her. She’s still known only as Eule (Owl). I know of no other criminal case ever in which the defendant was arrested, put on trial and prosecuted, without their identity ever being confirmed.

This shows you, on the one hand, how powerful Germany’s obsession with privacy can be. If you’ve never been arrested, your fingerprints will not be on file anywhere. Even cops can’t force you to reveal your identity, or take other steps to investigate and determine who you are. So if you stubbornly refuse to cooperate, there’s no way even the combined force of the German state can find out who you are.

On the other hand, this seems like yet another rule of German criminal law which is going to have to be tightened. This case involved an arrest at a protest, which isn’t a major threat to public safety, in my view. But what if word gets around that you can hide your identity from the state forever? Do we want violent criminals to be able to be convicted, and even serve their sentence, and then be released in to the community without anyone knowing who they are?

I’ve argued here before that German criminal laws were written in an era in which Germany was a relatively homogeneous, tight-knit society with a broadly-shared sense of right and wrong, high social trust, and low crime levels. Believe it or not, German criminal law is based on the idea that accused criminals will cooperate with the system, and in return the system will treat them more like wayward family members than dangers to society. Confess, my son, and we will help you get back on the right track.

This system was never designed to foil active attempts to undermine it by clever, determined criminals — especially foreigners who don’t share, and may not even be aware of, the presumptions and ethical world-view of the average German. If Germany wants to achieve meaningful sanctions and deterrence of these folks, it’s going to have to tighten its laws.

My Contribution to the Enlightenment Now

A friend who’s reading Steven Pinker’s defense of the European Enlightenment, Enlightenment Now, alerts me to the fact that I am name-checked on page 210:

pinker name check.JPG

Nice to encounter a fair and reasonable summary of your work in a best-selling book, especially one whose argument you find congenial.

If you’d like the longer version of this argument, you can buy, or borrow, or otherwise acquire my 2010 book, Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in Global Perspective. And if you’re wondering: Yep, it’s written for non-lawyers.