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AfD lawmaker under fire for racist tweets after Münster attack

Beatrix von Storch gestures as she speaks at the party congress of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) on the second day in Stuttgart
Easy now. Source: Reuters.

Two days after a man intentionally drove a van into crowds in Münster, killing two and injuring dozens, the outrage caused by a far-right lawmaker’s xenophobic tweets after the tragedy was still mounting. Politicians from across the board condemned Beatrix von Storch for her attempts to pin the blame on Muslims despite reports confirming that the driver, who committed suicide after the fatal attack, was a native German suffering from mental health problems.

Furious members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government coalition called on Ms. von Storch to give up her seat in parliament. She also faced criticism from within her own party, the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD.

On Saturday afternoon, after the first news flashes reporting that a vehicle plowed into a busy outdoor cafe in the historic center of the North Rhine-Westphalia town, Ms. von Storch, an avid user of social media, mocked Ms. Merkel’s refugee policy. “WIR SCHAFFEN DAS,” she wrote on Twitter, or “We can do this.” These were the words the chancellor famously used in 2015 to urge the German public to trust in the country’s ability to handle the refugee crisis.

But at the time when Ms. von Storch tweeted this, there was no indication that the perpetrator was a refugee. This was not a problem for the far-right politician, however. As the deputy parliamentary leader for the AfD in the Bundestag, Ms. von Storch is used to blaming immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular, for the country’s ills.

Furthermore, news of the van attack did bring back sinister echoes of the 2016 truck attack on a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, in which dozens of people were killed or injured.

However, hours after the first reports on Saturday, police reported that they found the driver of the van, who had shot himself. They identified him as Jens R., a 48-year old German national without foreign roots and indeed with close ties to the far right. The suspected attacker was also known to suffer from mental health problems and was prone to violence.

But despite news that the Münster incident had nothing to do with Islamist terror, Ms. von Storch doubled down. “All-clear. Everything will be fine. We have no problems with Islamic terror,” she wrote on Twitter later on Saturday. And on Sunday, she pinned the blame on Muslims regardless, because, she said, the attacker “got inspiration from Islamic terror.”

“If she has a shred of decency, she should give up her mandate.”

Markus Blume, secretary general of the Christian Social Union (CSU)

On Monday, politicians from all parties condemned Ms. von Storch’s outbursts.

The strongest rebuke came from the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU. “Whoever exploits the Münster tragedy as Beatrix von Storch did has nothing to do in the German Bundestag,” CSU secretary general Markus Blume said. “If she has a shred of decency, she should give up her mandate.”

Others remarked that Ms. Storch still has not said a word about the victims and their loved ones. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Ms. Merkel’s recently anointed successor, urged AfD leaders to step in. If nobody within the party reacts, “it speaks volumes about this party,” she said.

As the controversy failed to go away, AfD leaders took Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s cue. Party chairman Jörg Meuthen reprimanded Ms. von Storch for “shooting from the hip” and for “causing understandable and avoidable anger.” Daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that the AfD summoned the lawmaker to explain herself on Friday.

This is hardly the first time that Ms. von Storch’s angry tirades have caused a meltdown on social media. In 2016, she called on border guards to shoot refugees on sight. And on January 1, both Facebook and Twitter deleted racism-filled posts by Ms. von Storch just after a new German law that bans hate speech online came into force.

Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To reach the author: hauteville@handelsblatt.com.

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