Hannibal Hanschke / Reuters Far-right protestors in the German city of Chemnitz, September 2018.

Post-Truth Germany

The Chemnitz Attacks and the Crisis of German Democracy

And if it never happened? Then, of course, nobody is to blame. There is no responsibility, and there are no consequences. The end of a common understanding of what happened is in many ways the end of politics, because to define problems and work on solutions requires common ground. Germany, like the United States, has entered this post-truth hall of mirrors. The stakes are particularly high, because a violent far right is rising, in a country still troubled by its racist and murderous past. The embrace of a discourse of “alternative facts” signals that Germany has moved far from the role it played during the early days of the refugee crisis, as the exception to the rule of resentment.

How did we get here? At the end of August, following the alleged murder of a German citizen by two refugees, a right-wing mob of several thousand people took to the streets in the eastern city of Chemnitz, shouting racist slogans, threatening and chasing refugees (or just about anybody who looked different), and fighting an overwhelmed and outnumbered local police force. The images quickly spread on social media. One video showed a group of a few men first shouting at, and then running after, a man who is seen fleeing across a busy street, avoiding several cars as he speeds along. The German media used the term Hetzjagd, normally applied to the hunting of animals, to describe this scene and others captured during the riots. German Chancellor Angela Merkel used this word, too, in her public statement condemning the violence.

But then something strange happened. When the minister president of the German state of Saxonia, Michael Kretschmer of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), addressed the events in Chemnitz in the state parliament a few days later, he claimed that “there was no mob, there was no chase, there was no pogrom”—directly contradicting not only Merkel but also nearly all of the mainstream press that had reported on the events. The

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