Close to 10,000 people gathered in central Germany on Thursday to protest far-right extremism after an avowed neo-Nazi confessed to murdering a pro-migrant politician.
The crowd held banners promoting diversity and criticizing far-right violence as they flooded a square outside a regional government building to mourn local politician Walter Lübcke, who was well known in his country for supporting refugees, Deutsche Welle reported.
Bishop Martin Hein of the Evangelical Church of Kurhessen-Waldeck, who spoke at Lübcke’s funeral earlier this month, said there was no room for far-right violence in his community.
“Whoever violates the dignity of people, in violence or in words, puts himself outside our democratic community. There are no ifs, ands or buts,” Hein told Deutsche Welle.
Lübcke, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, was shot to death at close range on the terrace of his home in Istha on June 2. The 65-year-old was the president of the Kassel regional council.
Stephan Ernst, a 45-year-old far-right sympathizer who was once part of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany, was arrested for the murder two weeks after Lübcke’s death, based on DNA evidence from the crime scene. Ernst confessed on Tuesday that he was responsible for the murder, German officials announced on Wednesday. Ernst said he carried out the killing because of Lübcke’s support for refugees, according to the German news site Spiegel Online.
Lübcke attracted the attention of far-right, anti-immigrant groups in 2015, when he suggested during a town-hall-style meeting that people who don’t want refugees in Germany were free to leave the country. A video of Lübcke’s comments recently resurfaced online, The New York Times reports.
“One has to stand up for values here,” the politician said in the video, according to The Guardian. “And those who don’t do so can leave this country any time, if they don’t like it. That’s the freedom of every German.”
In 2015, Merkel assumed a welcoming stance toward migrants and refugees, allowing nearly 1 million to resettle in Germany. But the attitude angered some voters, who reacted in 2017 by propelling a far-right party into the Bundestag’s lower house for the first time. Since then, the government has placed restrictions on asylum applications and increased deportations.
Ernst has a history of violence toward immigrants and was active in online far-right communities, according to The New York Times. In 1993, he reportedly tried to detonate a pipe bomb outside a refugee shelter.
Although Ernst claims to have acted alone in killing Lübcke, officials are investigating whether he was connected to any right-wing extremist networks.
On Thursday, German police announced the arrests of two more men they suspect were accessories to the murder, based on Ernst’s statements. One is accused of selling Ernst the handgun, while the other is accused of putting the seller in touch with Ernst. Investigators believe the two men knew Ernst harbored extremist views.