With the beginning of the trial against the Halle assailant, not only his white-supremacist ideology is being dissected – but also German society at large as well as the systematic racism which is present in the courtroom.  The responses of the accused are paraphrased in order to avoid the very perpetuation of racism that this article seeks to challenge. 

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2020 – marks the first day of the trial of the vicious Halle attack which targeted members of minorities, scared the lives of many and costed the lives of two innocent individuals. The proceedings begin. The federal attorney general reads out the indictment, the accused makes use of his right to make a statement. A back and forth between the judge, and the accused is set in motion – which at that point seems preferable to having the accused speak freely. The questioning by the judge provides a framing, which presumably wouldn’t allow the accused to layout his ideology of hatred in front of a wider audience – physically present, as well as online. 

Judge M. put the accused early on in place, as he began to use derogative terms while describing  the years prior to the attack and his development: 

The Accused explains how he decided not to do anything for the society he is part of and lays out his hate towards minorities and uses slurs while doing so.

Judge M.: “I would like to take this opportunity to say that I do not wish to hear any insults in the court room about people and specific groups of society.  And if you want to insult, I have the option of excluding you from the proceedings.  I’m sure your lawyers have explained that to you. I do not want to do that, but I will.”

If one would leave like that, one could say Judge Mertens did seemingly well. If one just could. But the discourse between the Judge and the accused continued. And slowly but surely, exactly the people who assumingly see it as their calling to protect and defend morality and justice found themselves sliding into an obscure understanding of that mission at best, if not justifying plain racist thought. 

The Accused argues that his slur is in keeping with the subject. 

Judge M.: “It is not a question of using a particular word, but whether words are being used in an offensive context. And this is something in an (offensive) inhumane context. I do not want to hear any of those inhumane comments. If you want to make those, we’ll have to exclude you from the trial.” 

It is not a question of using a particular word. While the term used by the accused for people of color (POC) is considered by the preeminent German dictionary, the Duden, to be “a highly discriminatory term” (duden.de), the German legal system seems to oppose. Over the years, they have let agitators get away with it over and over again: In late 2018, the head of the AfD faction in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state parliament used the exact same slur in parliament as the accused. The agitator tried to justify his choice of words saying:

“Let me state one very basic thing. I chose the word ____ deliberately because I do not like to be told what an insult is and what is not“

 After having received a call to order, the case was handed over to the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Constitutional Court. The court ruled that the mere use of the word should not be universally punished as a violation of the parliament’s dignity. Whether it was meant in a derogatory manner could “only be judged from the context”.  According to the ruling this is not the case if it is used ironically or in citing, or if “the word and its usability” was discussed. Finally, the Constitutional Court of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern decided that this should be applied in the case of the AfD MP, who interrupted a parliamentary discussion on material assistance for asylum seekers by interjecting the slur. 

Excluding the accused. While Judge M. did threaten to exclude the accused, she never intervened again whenever he would use a derogative term. Even though the accused without a doubt is using certain terminology to express his spite and hate towards given groups of people:

Judge M.: Tell me, have you ever been given a hard time?

Accused recalls the day before the crime and uses again a racist slur as he elaborates.

The choice of words by the accused didn’t go unnoticed by the judge, she is paraphrasing the response by the accused. However, she did not denounce him for his use of slurs. Neither here, nor in following instances:

Attorney P.: You might say foreigners or other words 

Accused concedes that not all people from other countries can be deemed as [slur]. 

The aforementioned Mecklenburg-Vorpommern ruling as well as the course of questioning at the present trial,  are just two of countless examples that bring  the insensitivity and underlying racism of the German legal system into the open. 

Lawful and truthful presentation. Now, while the argumentation of legal structures is that in order to hear a case, the evidence and testimony need to be presented as lawfully and truthfully as possible, they go along with the language of the accused. They incorporate it, instead of making the conscious effort to distance themselves. 

Afterall, this is what this trial is about. The hatred that lead to the killing of two innocent people the injuring and the attempted murder of 68 individuals, most of them being part of minority groups. 

Revealing what went wrong and allowed this atrocity to happen. This is why the court summoned aside of police officers and expert witnesses, elementary school teachers of the accused, a former army roommate, distant family members and acquaintances. Revealing what lead up to this horror demands of the court to make the conscious effort towards upholding its integrity . And it calls the co-plaintiffs’ legal representatives not to perpetuate the believes of the accused. 

Listening to the discourse between some of the co-plaintiffs’ attorneys, Judge M. and the accused leaves one wondering whether they were (and still are) too eager to dive into the mind of the accused, or whether the line of questioning gave a glimpse into personal believes of the lawyers and the judge:

Attorney H.: You have said yesterday that one of the biggest misconceptions is the idea that all people are equal.


Attorney H.: Who is that, the white race? 


Attorney H.: Am I a white man, am I a Jew? I have probably the most German bloodline in this courtroom.

Attorney H.: You have failed because you have shot white people, haven’t you undermined your homeland by doing so?


Judge: Do you really think you look German, that you look white? 

Accused responds affirmatively. 

Judge: There is a science to it, so I would doubt it. 

How can an attorney representing someone affected by a hate-crime targeted at minorities voice the racist trope of (Neo-)Nazis? How can he say that the accused failed by having shot white people? Conversely, are the lives of people of color, migrants, Muslims and Jews worth less in his eyes? 

And how can a presiding judge ask the accused “do you really think you look German” and make a reference to “the science [of] it”. Is she, Judge M.,  aware that she is referring to eugenics? 

Social dynamics influencing people’s opinion. The social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted in 1951 one of the most prominent experiments in psychology to assess the extent to which social forces would influence people’s opinions. Asch was also interested in whether the size of the majority rather than the unanimity of opinion would impact one’s believes. The study results suggest that the bigger the group is in number, the greater the need to conform is. In addition, according to the Asch-experiment the need to conform is also driven by an underlying feeling that the other people present are presumably more knowledgeable or better informed. 

Is this the underlying principle that allowed the questioning of the accused to go so out of hand? 

Attorney S.: Today we have discussed various ethnic groups and different skin colors, but […] you have forgotten yellow, you’ve talked about Japanese. 

Based on his response, it is clear the accused cannot identify a question here


Remark by co-plaintiff H.: Could the court please make sure that any derogatory terminology (lists the derogatory terms that have been used so far) is not being used here? Neither by the accused nor by the lawyers? 

Judge: You can be sure that no body of the judiciary uses that kind of language, but we have to clarify the facts of the case and I am trying to prevent this from happening.

The response of Judge Martens to the co-plaintiff’s remark shows a lack of reflection of her own statements as well as of what is happening in her courtroom. Did she just miss the insults voiced by the accused? The terminology used by part of the co-plaintiffs’ legal counsel? Or did she willfully ignore it, or even worse – disregard it as harmless? The current development is frightening, as it normalizes the use of terminology and thought tied to the ideology and actions of the perpetrator.

Debunking the accused – disrespecting the victims. As the accused is standing trial for his actions, part of the co-plaintiffs’ legal counsel as well as Judge Mertens are trying to unmask the perpetrator’s deeply engrained hatred. However, what aspect of his hatred is there reveal, if the accused shared his plans with a public audience and admitted the crime? He is openly repeating his Antisemitic, racist worldviews, whenever asked. Judge Mertens in return tries expose how exceedingly wrong the accused is not only in his worldview, but also in his self-perception. And while she is trying to get the accused off of his high horse, she also shows a lack of sensitivity towards the affected, by lampooning the accused:

Judge M.: So, you have decided not to do anything for society, but you have also decided not to do anything for yourself


Judge M.: Well if one were to tell an external third party, that a man of 30 years still lives with his mother in his childhood bedroom, one could say that he doesn’t care much about quality of life. I at least judge others by my own standards. 

Accused laughs

Judge M: do you know that startrek had the predecessor of the 3-D printer?       

Accused acknowledges this fact and highlights that the quality of such printers was sub par.

Judge: Yes, same applies to yours as well.

This man in the dock took the lives of two innocent individuals, while trying to kill many more. He physically and emotionally marked the lives of many.  

The co-plaintiffs’ legal representatives as well as the court have to be more self-aware and -reflective: If not, it taints not only the morale of the legal system, but also how it practically acts and rules. This, however, is most likely not an exception to the rule. This is not the only trial in which racist comments are made by legal representatives as well as the court  – the difference is just, that someone is finally calling it out. In the hope for change and pursuit of real justice.