Reciprocal Reactivity: The Lina E. Case and Left- v. Right-Wing Transnational Extremist Networks

March 22, 2024
Jessa Mellea  —  CEP Intern

Left-wing extremism and terrorism remain a significant form of ideologically motivated violence. Transnational connectivity and loose, leaderless networks—both offline and online—are key elements of this milieu’s operations. As with other extremist and terrorist phenomena that use these structures, this organizational structure presents challenges to security authorities. This blog is the second in a short series in which CEP aims to highlight the distinguishing characteristics of this extremist and terrorist movement and address individual case studies. The first can be found here.

The case of Lina E. and her fellow group members—the perpetrators of some of the most prominent left-wing attacks in Germany since the Red Army Faction—captured the attention of the German press from 2021 to 2023. This string of violent attacks, however, may have been connected to a much wider network of left-wing extremists than previously thought.

In order to track and analyze this group’s actions and movements across borders, it is important to recognize how it mirrors and interacts with  the right-wing extremist networks that extend across Europe and North America and the interactions between left-wing and right-wing extremist networks. Most of the violent crimes committed by individuals in Lina E.’s immediate network targeted right-wing extremists or occurred at or around right-wing extremist events. The transnational activities of each network prompt the other to mobilize and travel abroad, often resulting in flares of violent conflicts.

Lina E. was part of a loose collective of left-wing extremist activists that was active internationally both on- and offline. At the time of her arrest in November 2020, E. was a master’s student in Leipzig. She and her fiancé, Johann G., are suspected of being part of the core inner circle that was responsible for organizing the network’s activities. Johann G. has been on the run since 2019. The exact structure of the network, however, remains unclear, but it is known to have cooperated with and had links to other left-wing organizations within Germany and throughout Europe.

This case was significant because the defendants were not only accused of committing acts of violence, but also of forming a criminal organization. The country has experienced organized left-wing terrorism before—namely, the Red Army Faction, which killed more than 30 people over three decades, and prompted the government to pass a series of laws centered around the counterterrorism provision in the German criminal code, §129a. These criminalize and add sentencing enhancements for founding, participating in, or supporting associations that commit acts of terrorism, beyond the sentences that are possible for apolitical criminal organizations. The Lina E. trial marks the largest prosecution of a left-wing violent extremist group since 2009.

In May 2023, Lina E., and her co-defendant, Lennart A., were found guilty of four attacks and planning a further assault between 2019 and 2020. Two other co-defendants, Jannis R. and Jonathan M., were acquitted, however, the court noted that they had supported E. and A.’s criminal organization. The co-defendants were accused of two other attacks in 2018, however, the Dresden High Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence.

Between October 2018 and February 2020, the network that Lina E. belonged to allegedly carried out six attacks, almost exclusively targeting members of right-wing extremist groups in Germany. These cases garnered national attention. One other individual was targeted because the group thought he may have had right-wing extremist sympathies based on the brand of a piece of clothing he wore, which is popular in right-wing extremist circles. Victims were beaten and, in some cases, pepper sprayed by a small group of network members. In total, 13 individuals were injured in the assaults, some seriously.

These assaults appear coordinated. According to testimony from Johannes D., a former group member and key witness in Lina E’s trial, the network operated with a fluid organizational structure. The make-up of the units that perpetrated each attack changed frequently, and not all participants knew each other before the assault. While a small core of individuals, including Lina E. and Johann G., organized the attacks for the most part, there was likely a wider circle of extremists who were brought in for specific attacks but remained mostly on the periphery of the network. Johannes D. also testified that the network organized martial arts training sessions to prepare for attacks. The group surveilled their targets in preparation for the assaults, a scout followed the target on the day of the attack, and one member served as a “supervisor,” coordinating the actions of the group members directly involved in the attack. Police suspected that one of the primary supervisors was Lina E.

The largest attack, which involved 11 members of the group, occurred in October 2019, when members attacked the “Bull’s Eye” bar in Eisenach. The owner, right-wing violent extremist Leon R., is the alleged founder and leader of “Knockout51,” a neo-Nazi combat sports group that aimed to establish a “Nazi neighborhood” and commit violence against foreigners and left-wing activists. The Bull’s Eye was frequented by Knockout51 members and was used as a venue for neo-Nazi concerts. In addition to assaulting the individuals inside the bar at the time, E. and the other group members caused significant property damage to the establishment.

This was not the first or last time this group clashed with members of right-wing extremist networks. The two attacks in 2018, which the co-defendants were acquitted of, targeted well-known members of the local neo-Nazi scene, Cedric S. and Enrico B. A few months after the attack on his bar, Leon R. was attacked a second time, as was Maximilian A., another neo-Nazi who was part of Knockout51. Prior to the actions of this left-wing network, Johann G. was involved in an attack on right-wing extremist members of “Legida,” the Leipzig branch of Pegida, a right-wing extremist movement primarily active in East Germany.

However, the violent confrontations between these two networks have not been limited to Germany. While in hiding, Johann G. reportedly spent time in Thailand, and possibly Greece or Switzerland, before reappearing in Hungary. In February 2023, police body camera footage captured images of G. and other members of the network in Budapest. The group was targeting the “Day of Honor” celebration, which commemorates Nazi forces evading the Soviet army during the Second World War and has long been a major annual gathering of European neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists.

Left-wing extremists from several countries traveled to Budapest to demonstrate against and attack participants at the “Day of Honor,” injuring eight people. At least 11 individuals comprised the group responsible, including seven German citizens. Both Johann G. and Tobias E., who is suspected of participating in the 2019 assault in Eisenach, appear to have been involved. Several other associates of Johann G.’s are also suspected of participating in the “Day of Honor” assaults. Hungarian law enforcement apprehended German, Hungarian, and Italian individuals in connection with the attacks, suggesting that left-wing extremists may have existing international networks or channels of communication to coordinate attacks transnationally.

Support for those held in custody in Hungary also indicates that some transnational left-wing networks are actively supporting violent extremists. Several antifascist websites from various countries have posted appeals for donations in solidarity with those arrested in Budapest. The articles direct donations to Rote Hilfe, a Communist legal aid organization based in Germany that is currently under observation by the German domestic intelligence service, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, for extremist activities. Additional funds in this fundraising campaign for incarcerated left-wing extremists are being organized by two individuals who seem to be involved in the Italian left-wing scene, as their names appear in posts on various left-wing extremist-associated websites. These two individuals use a bank account registered in Lithuania.

Right-wing extremist groups have also used international connections to target left-wing extremist networks. Recent research by Correctiv suggests that Johannes D. may have been assaulted by several right-wing violent extremists in Warsaw. The alleged attack may have been directed by German neo-Nazi, Mario Müller, a leader in the Identitarian Movement and aide to Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, or AfD) member of Parliament Jan Wenzel Schmidt.

Müller himself appeared to suggest that he had set the group of attackers on Johannes D., possibly to influence his testimony. The neo-Nazi attended the infamous secret meeting near Potsdam in November 2023, where influential members of AfD, right-wing extremists, and high-profile conservative businesspeople met to discuss a “masterplan” for the “re-migration” (in other words, deportation) to North Africa of everyone in the country without German citizenship, as well German citizens who are not “assimilated” enough into German culture. At the meeting, Müller gave a lecture in which he bragged about the attack on D., claiming that the assault was intended to ensure that the former left-wing extremist would testify against Lina E. and her co-defendants. He said that he found Johannes D.’s whereabouts and sent the information to a group of Polish right-wing violent extremists who then confronted D. Müller has since denied being involved in the attack.

A video posted by a right-wing X account claims to document the attack on D. However, the video quality was too poor for a definitive verification. The video was filmed on November 11, 2021, Polish Independence Day, an event that has become an annual site for extreme right-wing protests. The 2021 event had the backing of the ultra-conservative Polish government at the time and attracted right-wing extremists from across Europe. The event also drew left-wing counter-protestors, often resulting in violence.

Both right-wing and left-wing extremists justify their violence in their public rhetoric with the argument that attacks are necessary to prevent the violence of the other side. Transnational extremist networks do not exist in a vacuum. The actions of each side amplify the threat of reciprocal violence by the other. The case of Lina E. demonstrates how wide-reaching and resilient these networks can be. Though her trial was a prominent prosecution of extremist violence, it did not eliminate the threat posed by the network she belonged to, nor the right-wing extremist networks they clashed with.

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