Violent far-right extremist groups on the rise in Germany

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  • Far-right groups are on the rise in Germany and are gaining more traction politically as things turn more violent.
  • At Issue takes on the G20 summit and Canada’s hope of finally getting a word in with China. 
  • As Canada’s icebergs melt and scientists work to anaylze the impact, Chris O’Neill-Yates spots a particularly fascinating iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. 
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Germany’s resurgent far-right

German authorities are warning about the rising risk of far-right terrorism following the targeted murder of a pro-immigrant politician.

Walter Luebcke, a prominent member of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who led the regional government in the central city of Kassel, was found dead in the garden of his home on June 2. He died from a single gunshot to the head. 

Yesterday, Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, announced that a far-right extremist had confessed to the “political murder” after DNA traces linked him to the scene.

Stephan Ernst is well-known to police. He served time in prison for the attempted bombing of a refugee hostel in 1993, and later received a probationary sentence for breaching the peace during a neo-Nazi march. The 45-year-old reportedly told investigators that he targeted Luebcke after coming across pro-migrant and refugee comments that the politician had made during a 2015 town hall meeting. A video had been shared in several far-right forums. 

Today, police arrested two more men in connection with the case, saying that they provided the .38-calibre pistol used to kill Luebcke. The men were allegedly aware of Ernst’s politics, and the possibility that he would use the gun to murder a public figure, if not the specific victim.

Ernst says he acted alone, but authorities aren’t sure if they believe him, given that he was said to be in contact with extreme-right political parties and the neo-Nazi group Combat 18 — an organization that the Canadian government yesterday added to its list of banned terror groups.

“We will continue to work hard to establish whether there were accessories or even accomplices. We owe that to the public,” Seehofter said yesterday. 

Germany’s intelligence service, the BfV, published an annual report today estimating that there are now 24,100 right-wing extremists in Germany, 12,700 of whom are classified as “violence-oriented.” Last year, the service catalogued 48 “extreme acts” of right-wing violence — 20 more than the year before — including six attempted murders. 

Seehofer says that the risk of more attacks “is high.” 

And earlier this week, German prosecutors formally charged eight men who had been detained since October, accused of forming a far-right terror cell in the eastern city of Chemnitz. The men, aged between 21 and 31, were reportedly attempting to buy semi-automatic weapons with an eye to carrying out an attack in Berlin that they hoped to blame on left-wing groups, thereby buoying the fortunes of populist and anti-immigrant parties. 

Chemnitz was the site of violent protests late last summer as right- and left-wing groups clashed in the wake of a fatal stabbing that police blamed on two refugees from Syria and Iraq. 

Angela Merkel’s government is vowing to devote more police and money to the fight against far-right extremism in Germany, with the chancellor saying that the battle must be waged “without any taboo.”

But there’s a political dimension at play as well as the Christian Democrats try to blunt the momentum of the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which won 11 per cent of the vote in last month’s European Parliament elections.  

The AfD is most popular in the formerly Communist east, and recent polls put it ahead of the CDU in two of the three states that will hold elections this fall, raising fears that the party may soon have access to the levers of power.  

Some Christian Democrats have accused the AfD of creating the conditions for Luebcke’s murder by legitimizing hateful language and inciting violence. The party isn’t doing much to dispel that notion, with an AfD member of the Bavarian parliament pointed remaining seated this week as his colleagues rose for a moment of silence in memory of Luebcke. 

International concern is mounting, too. 

Last week, George Soros’ Open Society Foundation announced that it plans to expand its operations in eastern Germany, linking up with local partners to fight the rise of hate crimes in the region.

And there are reports today that a German political delegation that is currently visiting Israel for a cybersecurity conference was disinvited to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, and had a government welcome reception cancelled because of the presence of an AfD member.

However, there is plenty of opposition to the far-right within Germany.

Earlier this month, centrist and left-wing party supporters banded together to stop the AfD from electing its first mayor in the eastern town of Görlitz, propelling a Romanian immigrant to victory instead.

And this past weekend, townsfolk in Ostritz, made sure that a far-right music festival was thoroughly unenjoyable, by conspiring to buy up all the beer at a local supermarket. 

A court had already prohibited the sale of alcohol at the concert, and police confiscated more than 4,200 litres of beer from attendees. 

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A note to readers

After close to 380 editions and 12 million email deliveries, this is my final week of National Today newsletters, as I’m moving on to some other writing opportunities at CBC News.

I want to thank you all for subscribing and reading, and for all the feedback that you’ve sent my way over the past 20 months.

The National Today is going to take a break for the summer and then return in September, refreshed and revitalized under new management.

Please keep reading.

At Issue on Canada’s China problem

The world’s largest trading nations are gathering at the G20 summit in Japan this week, and as At Issue Producer Arielle Piat-Sauvé writes, Canada is hoping to squash its beef with China.

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to meet with other world leaders in Japan over the next few days for the G20 summit, there’s one leader he’s hoping to finally get a chance to talk to — China’s Xi Jinping. 

We know the Canadian government’s request to talk about the two Canadians detained have all gone unanswered (quite literally), but thanks to alphabetical seating, it looks like the two leaders won’t be able to avoid one another this time around. Or this could all make for some awkward body language.

Rosemary Barton, Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne analyze political news during a taping of the At Issue panel. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Canada’s frosty relationship with China is just one of the topics we’ll be discussing on At Issue tonight as we look ahead to the key issues you should be keeping an eye on — even after you put that out of office notification on. 

Is China something we’ll still be talking about come October’s federal election? What about climate change and pipelines? 

Remember, it was just last week that the federal government approved the Trans Mountain expansion project for the second time. The political arena can be unpredictable. 

And as Chantal Hébert suggests in her column, even the best-laid federal election plans can quickly come undone.

That being said, the House of Commons has adjourned for summer break, MPs are about to head off on their pre-election BBQ circuits and that means At Issue is also going to be taking a short hiatus. 

So I want to take a moment to say thank you. You guys have continued to engage with us through questions, emails and tweets. It’s been a busy and exciting year and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Hope you can tune in tonight to catch our supersized At Issue panel, as Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne, Althia Raj and Paul Wells join Rosie. 

Until then, take a minute to watch the panellists get a little more personal.

We’ll see you in a few Thursdays from now — or whenever there is big enough political news to sound the At Issue alarm.

All rocks, no roll 

Canada’s icebergs are shrinking, and scientists are trying to map the global ramifications for coastal communities. As National Reporter Chris O’Neill-Yates dove into the story, she was struck by a particularly fascinating iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The arrival of spring in Newfoundland and Labrador heralds the arrival of icebergs and with them tourists from all over the planet.

Until you actually see one up close, it is difficult to conceptualize the true beauty of these colossal chunks of ice that — in scientific terms — “calve” from the vast ice sheet spanning 1.7 million million square kilometres and covering 80 per cent of Greenland. 

Adding to the sensory delight is the sound of rivulets of water running off into the ocean, and the play of light on their surface, creating hues of greens and blues that could only be reproduced by the most gifted artist.

A massive iceberg from Greenland is seen off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador covered in rocks and debris due to the fact that it had not yet flipped over. (Chris O’Neill-Yates/CBC)

There was a time in my memory when icebergs were the bane of every fisherman’s existence. But today, many of those fishermen and the coastal communities they live in depend on the arrival of icebergs to cater to a growing tourism industry.

On a windy, rainy day in June, my videographer, Eddy Kennedy, and I boarded Derm Hickey’s tour boat in Bonavista, along with a few intrepid tourists who braved the bracing weather conditions to see one of the most unusual icebergs reported anywhere this season.

As we approached this massive iceberg, the difference was clearly visible and it was also one of the largest I have seen.

On top of the berg, it looked as if loads of rocks and soil had been mysteriously dumped there. Boulders teetered on the edge as if they were about to topple into the ocean below. It was truly an extraordinary sight and Hickey — keeping within a safe distance — circled the iceberg to give us some better views. 

I was so intrigued, I needed to know more, so I contacted iceberg expert Stephen Bruneau at Memorial University to get an explanation. Bruneau said the rocks and debris fell onto the surface when the iceberg was grinding along through a valley before it got to the ocean.

All the debris typically falls off when an iceberg flips over, but this one did not roll before making it to Newfoundland.

This berg looked grounded on the bottom of the ocean, so everything on the top will eventually end up in the water of Bonavista Bay. 

And, as a Newfoundlander, I have seen many icebergs, but this one was truly a delight to see up close.

  • WATCH: Chris O’Neill-Yates story on the global impact of melting icebergs here.

A few words on…

… why the future is plastics. 

Quote of the moment

“I was thinking of the students in the class, like, how do they feel about seeing their teachers in armour? I’m still in shock about it.”

An anonymous, Ottawa-area teacheron her elementary school’s requirement that she wear protective sleeves on her arms to guard against attacks by students with severe behavioural issues. 

What The National is reading

  • Air Canada to buy Transat for $13 a share (CBC)
  • Venezuela’s Maduro says foiled coup included assassination plan (Euronews)
  • Cocaine bust, looming typhoon add drama to already tense G20 summit (Washington Post)
  • 5th Atlantic right whale found dead in Gulf of St. Lawrence (CBC)
  • Dalai Lama: Trump lacks moral principle (BBC)
  • Merkel seen shaking again in Berlin (Deutsche Welle)
  • There will be crime in space. How should we handle it? (Slate)
  • Spanish women detained after telling police that a hitman ripped them off (El Pais)

Today in history

June 27, 1995: Disney scores the right to market RCMP products

Once upon a time, anyone could make use of the iconic image of Canada’s Mounties. And they did, “from the cheesy to the sleazy,” — pro-wrestling and porn films, respectively, per this report. Striking an exclusive deal with Disney to market licensed products was supposed to put an end to that. But the idea of giving an American company control of a piece of Canada’s heritage was controversial. Although some would certainly denigrate the RCMP as a Mickey Mouse outfit. 

The RCMP signs a controversial licensing deal with Walt Disney to market the Mountie image worldwide. 2:52

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