Hundreds of extremists practise shooting at German firing ranges

Documentary reveals findings about right-wing groups by German intelligence services

epa08232126 Mourners place candles and flowers at the Unity Memorial as people attend a vigil after the Hanau terror attack at the St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 20 February 2020. According to the police, the alleged perpetrator of a terror attack in Hanau was found dead with a second dead person in his apartment. The number of victims killed at two crime scenes in the late night of 19 February increased to nine, so that the police speak of a total of eleven deaths.  EPA/MAXIMILIAN VON LACHNER
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Hundreds of right-wing extremists are taking shooting practice at German firing ranges despite their known radical links, a documentary reveals.

The findings by investigative programme Kontraste raised alarm bells after a string of far-right attacks that have rattled the country in recent years.

German politician Walter Luebcke was murdered in 2019 by a right-wing extremist who had practised at a firing range before shooting Mr Luebcke in the head with a pistol.

The culprit in a racist attack in Hanau in 2020, in which nine people were killed at two shisha bars before the gunman shot his mother and finally himself, was also known to be a legal gun owner.

Despite these precedents, known extremists are still allowed to practise shooting and more than 300 of them are believed to use their weapons at firing ranges, according to the programme broadcast by ARD.

It cited internal findings by German intelligence services which said most of them were right-wing extremists or self-described “Reich Citizens” who reject the legitimacy of the post-war German state.

Some were said to belong to the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party or even banned groups such as Combat 18, which draws its name from the initials of Adolf Hitler and their numerical position in the alphabet.

Others were linked to hardline factions of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the first far-right movement in decades to be represented in parliament.

Marcel Emmerich, an MP from the Green party and chair of its interior policy committee, called for rules at firing ranges to be tightened in the wake of the findings.

“There need to be clear rules and security checks on people who use firing ranges, to ensure that right-wing extremists cannot practise shooting,” Mr Emmerich said.

The programme said that some of the shooters turned to firing ranges in other countries, such as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and the Netherlands to avoid the attention of German authorities.

Germany’s ruling parties have described right-wing extremism as the greatest threat to the democratic order, in a country where the memory of the Nazi period still casts a long shadow over political debate.

The Reich Citizens have long attracted scrutiny from intelligence services, not least for their involvement in anti-lockdown protests during the pandemic that brought together a variety of extremists and conspiracy theorists.

Although not necessarily right-wing extremists, they reject the authority of the modern German government, using the term “reich” to refer to an older German state that became extinct after the end of the Nazi dictatorship.

Updated: August 16, 2022, 2:30 PM