Danger of the lone wolves. A small analysis after the Hanau case (21st February 2020)

My analysis in English about the recent right-wing inspired lone wolf attack in Germany (Hanau)
- a deeper analysis is in my book on the topic (just published, Springer, 2020)

Danger from “lonely wolves”: The perpetrator from Hanau was among us


The attack in Hanau shows that the authorities are not prepared for the new type of right-wing terror. In fact, the “lone wolves” are the greatest security threat.
Are we getting a debate after Hanau that we should have had since the NSU terror cell was exposed in 2011? Are we blind in the right eye, since we suspect Islamist arsonists behind every terrorist attack? An unpleasant political debate threatens us, as the first political reactions already show. CDU boss Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and SPD boss Saskia Esken now speak of “firewalls” against the AfD – whatever that should bring. The unfortunate choice of words does not do it justice and further drives the division of the country.

The danger of right-wing terrorism became clear as early as 2019. In March, an Australian, after years of planning in Christchurch, New Zealand, murdered 51 believers in two mosques and broadcast the deed live on Facebook. In June, the first right-wing murder of a politician in the history of the Federal Republic caused horror. Hessian right-wing extremist Stephan E., who was no longer on the radar of the security authorities, murdered Walter Lübcke, President of the Kassel government. And on October 9, 27-year-old Stephan B. tried to enter a synagogue in broad daylight in Halle and arbitrarily murdered two people after the failure. He took a role model from the perpetrator of Christchurch and also streamed the act live. Students from Halle received the video via Whatsapp and other messenger services.

And now the Fanau von Hanau. Here, too, there is a 24-page manifesto written in German, layouted and provided with graphics. There is also a YouTube video, which is aimed at American citizens in very good English. The perpetrator was among us, a member of a rifle club. He was meticulous and terrifyingly rational. This can also be seen in victim selection, a typical feature of right-wing terrorism. This is also targeted, it is aimed at people with a migration background, which distinguishes terrorism from a killing spree that occurs spontaneously and arbitrarily. Right-wing terrorists are PR strategists in their own right, they think about the spread of their deeds even before the attacks.

This type of perpetrator of the right-wing extremist so-called lone wolf has been known to the world public since July 22, 2011. After years of planning, the Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people, including many young people, after a diabolical choreography. Hanau’s perpetrator, Tobias R., a middle-aged man, sees himself under surveillance by an intelligence agency. As the Austrian “press” reports, he had previously sent his manifesto to the authorities. It is easy to conclude that he had a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia. Like the perpetrator from Halle, he also suffered from personal frustration. What is striking in both cases is an apparently disturbed relationship with women. Breivik also hated women, but lived with his mother like Stephan B. and Tobias R.

Manifesto is steeped in conspiracy theories

But de-politicization of the deeds falls short. Tobias R. lists a number of states that would have to be eliminated – from Morocco to Turkey and the Philippines. And in the next step there should be a “fine cleaning”, which will also affect “your own people”. The video is also steeped in conspiracy theories that come from right-wing extremism. After that there is a secret government that controls everything.

For a long time, even experts assumed that terrorism was a group phenomenon. Security agencies have spent at least 50 years creating new law enforcement tools, assuming that terrorism is a cell-based chain of command. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution also long rejected the term “lone wolf”. But the fact is: destroying group dynamics, infiltrating organizations and breaking weak links in a chain of command suddenly seems superfluous in the fight against isolated individuals. Now we are living in the age of individual terrorism. Already in 2011, the then US President Barack Obama said after the “Breivik” case that the “lonely wolves” were the greatest threat to the security of the United States. This also applies in this country, even if it is not openly admitted.


Florian Hartleb teaches at the University of Applied Sciences of Saxony-Anhalt Police. He is the author of the book “Lonely Wolves. The new terrorism right-wing lone perpetrator” and was an expert for the city of Munich after the assassination attempt on July 22, 2016.


The authorities are not prepared for the new type of right-wing terror, as the Munich act shows. German-Iranian David Sonboly murdered nine people with a migration background on July 22, 2016, exactly five years after Breivik. Then, like the perpetrator of Hanau, he directed himself. Only after more than three years did the Bavarian authorities recognize the political background of these acts and classify them as politically motivated crime – a blatant example of how right-wing terrorist acts are “depoliticized”.

The training of the police and judicial authorities should, however, take into account that someone can be a right-wing extremist who does not belong to any party or organization. After the Sonboly case, Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann still contested this. And the society itself is also addressed. Conspiracy theories are rampant, a movement like the Reich citizens, who like the perpetrator believe in dark powers and surveillance by a US-led secret service, is gaining massive popularity. This is where the question of how modern societies see themselves arises. To prevent attacks like Hanau’s, you should develop finer sensors for narcissistic patterns and right-wing extremist messages. Schools should already deal with conspiracy theories.