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Anti-semitic attack in Halle The „Gamification“ of Terror – when hate becomes a game

Bei Angriffen mitten in Halle an der Saale in Sachsen-Anhalt sind 2019 vor einer Synagoge und in einem Döner-Imbiss zwei Menschen erschossen worden. (Quelle: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas)

In the end, he went to a nearby kebab shop. His attempt to throw a hand grenade into the store fails, so he entered shoots at the store and opened fire around him, killing one customer. He then fled the scene in his rental car. All the while, these offences were streamed live on the platform Twitch, through a mobile phone camera which was attached to his helmet. Spectators of this terrible livestream are therefore put in his shoes,  they see and hear what Balliet sees and hears as it is happening. Twitch is a streaming platform for gamers. The games, often first-person shooters, are viewed and tracked by other players. And the cruel video by Stephan Balliet looks just like a first-person shooter game.

At the beginning of this terrorist act he can be heard saying: „Feminism is the cause of declining birth rates in the West, and this serves as a justification for mass-immigration, the root of all problems are the Jews“. This rehearsed speech, explaining his right-wing extremist worldview, is given in English. After that he switches to speaking German. But why would he give this, in his view, very important statement, in English? Balliet is addressing his community and the language they use is English. „The perpetrator from Halle seems to come from an extreme right subculture, that networks and is politically radicalized through forums, platforms for gamers, image boards and the app Telegram“ says journalist Roland Sieber, who has been pointing out the danger of this scene for years. Right-wing extremists, racists, antisemites, and men’s rights activists use a variety of digital forms of communication to celebrate and propagate their ideology and network.


The International Role Models

There is evidence to suggest that Stephan Balliet’s actions are in the tradition of Brendon Tarrant, the assassin of Christchurch, who killed 51 people in a New Zealand mosque on 15th of March 2019. Tarrant also streamed his act live on the internet. He left a „manifesto“ on the Imageboard 8chan with the title „The Great Replacement“. Tarrant ‘s bloodthirst was in turn inspired by the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011 in Norway for racist reasons. Just as for Stephan Balliet, the birth rates held a key role in Tarrant’s right-wing world view.

John Earnest, the assassin from Poway in California (USA) who opened fire in a synagogue on April 27th 2019, killing a woman and injuring three people, also announced his action on 8chan. The first comments on the forum? „Get the high score“ – „break the high score“. Earnest was encouraged to kill more people than died in previous terrorist attacks. Earnest also published an antisemitic and racist letter in which he alleges a „genocide of the white race“. In the text, he repeatedly emphasizes the inspiration that the Australian Brenton Tarrant has provided.

On August the 3rd  2019, 21 year old Patrick Crusius shot 22 people in a supermarket in America  El Paso, on the border with Mexico. He was trying to kill Mexicans. The Hispanic community became his target after he read Tarrant’s “The Great Replacement”. Crusius announced his attack in a four-page pamphlet, „The Inconvenient Truth“. This pamphlet was also published on 8chan, with the request to spread it widely.


Sympathy and Attentiveness in the Right-wing Online Community

„The perpetrator in Halle is obviously imitating the right-wing terrorists of Christchurch, Poway, El Paso and Baerum near Oslo. So he’s not the first, and his act, his live video and his manifesto will help to motivate other perpetrators, „warns Sieber. Through „manifestos“ and live broadcasts of the bloodshed, the violence that has been fostered by digital hate cultures is spreading to the streets. Offenders hope for sympathy and attention in their right-wing internet community. So it is not surprising that the perpetrators invite members of such forums to follow their lead.


The Gamification of Right-wing Terrorism

Stephan Balliet published a manifesto in three parts of different length. This is where the „gamification“ of right-wing terrorism becomes clear, says Mick Prinz from Civic.Net, a digital project of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. On the last page the perpetrator described his so-called „achievements“. „That’s typical of computer games. ‚Achievements‘, i.e. tasks, are a way of comparing yourself to other players in the game “ says Prinz. At the same time, they serve as “game instructions”, encouraging other players to copy them. The achievements sound something like: „Cultural Appropriation – Stab a Muslim.“ „Nailed it – Kill someone with a nail bomb“, „The fire rises – Burn down a synagogue“. This ironic tone is not uncommon for achievements in the gaming scene.

Two other indicators that point to the strong gaming connection: first, Stephan Balliet posted his act on Twitch, “ a platform where users stream their gaming experience“ and second, all of Balliet’s conduct is calling for imitation. It is particularly significant that the manifesto begins with the description of homemade weapons. „It works like a game manual. He gives tips on what equipment assassins should take on their murderous missions“ warns Prince.


Is it all “just a game”?

In his pamphlet, Stephan Balliet explains that he deliberately chose October the 9th because many non-religious Jews would be visiting the synagogue on Yom Kippur. At the time of the crime, 70 to 80 people were in the place of worship. Balliet set out to kill as many Jewish people as possible. On the Wikipedia-inspired site Szene-Wiki, there is a leader board of „most successful“ racist and antisemitic murderers. „The ‚Encyclopedia Dramatica‘ started as a successful satirical wiki,“ said Sieber. In recent years, however, its administration has been infiltrated by right-wing trolls and neo-Nazis from the US. „It’s now part of the amok and alt-right scene.“ Breivik ranks first, Brenton Tarrant fourth. On the site you can find detailed entries about the terrorists, as well as propaganda material and manifestos. Apparently, the murderer from Halle wanted to climb ito the ranks of the top ranked right-wing terrorists.


The Perpetrators’ Desire for Recognition

What we see in these communities is a new form of right-wing terrorism that has very little in common with classic neo-Nazi cells. The perpetrators are not focusing on regional peculiarities, and focus instead on causing fear and chaos . With their desire for recognition, they orientate towards their own scene.

Even if they are murdering in different parts of the world, we cannot classify these young men as individual killers, as they are radicalized in the same internet forums and they refer to each other in their acts. They all share a right-wing and nationalist worldview and they are all part of the same internet community. They believe they have to protect the „white race“ (whether in the US or Europe) from migrants and Jews, and they accept death as their fate. Their racist and antisemitic delusions are based on the assumed higher value of „white people“ above anyone else. Members of these „other“ groups are categorically dehumanized in this community. This is fundamentally about the alleged superiority of a supposed „white race“.

„Nobody expects the internet SS,“ the perpetrator jokes at the beginning of the livestream, while he drives to his destination.


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