A 49-year-old man who told police that he felt “cornered” by Germany’s pandemic rules was arrested in the killing of a gas station worker trying to enforce mask mandates. The case has spilled over into the country’s elections and raised new alarms about fringe groups fighting vaccinations and other health measures.
The incident began Saturday with an argument over masks between a customer and a student working at the gas station’s convenience store, prosecutors said. The customer, who wanted to buy beer, left and returned about an hour and a half later wearing a mask pulled under the chin. The gas station worker again referred him to the rules, prosecutors said.
“Then the perpetrator pulled a revolver and shot the cashier in the head from the front. The victim fell to the floor and was immediately dead,” prosecutor Kai Fuhrmann told reporters, the Reuters news agency reported.
A man suspected in the shooting in Idar-Oberstein, a town in western Germany, later turned himself in, claiming that coronavirus measures were causing him stress, Fuhrmann told reporters Monday. The man told police that he felt “cornered” by the measures, which he viewed as an “ever-growing infringement on his rights” — and saw “no other way out,” the prosecutor said, according to RTL.
Outside the gas station, some left flowers, candles and photos to express their condolences.
The shooting also cast a shadow on the last leg of campaigning ahead of Germany’s federal elections Sunday, which will pick a successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has led the country for 16 years.
Annalena Baerbock, the Green Party candidate for chancellor, tweeted that she was concerned about the radicalization of the anti-mandate community. Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the Green Party’s leader in parliament, tweeted that the killing shook her deeply, adding that the “effects of hatred are cruel.”
The killing deepened concerns in Germany about an increasingly radicalizing base of coronavirus deniers and anti-mandate activists. In condemning the killing, some German officials invoked the “Querdenker,” or “lateral thinkers,” movement, a loosely affiliated group of anti-lockdown, anti-mask, anti-vaccine activists, as well as conspiracy theorists and pandemic skeptics.
A loud voice against covid-19 restrictions, the Querdenker movement has been called out for some of its members’ extreme stances. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency announced in April that it would surveil the group.
“The hate and incitement coming from these people who can’t be taught divides our community and kills people. They have no place in our society,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted Tuesday, adding that some radical Germans were celebrating the gas station worker’s killing.
Some local media outlets, including the Tagesspiegel newspaper, reported that far-right chat groups on the messaging service Telegram were applauding the killing. The paper reported some as saying that something like this was bound have occurred sooner or later and others offering encouragement with such messages as, “Let’s go!”
“The state must counter the radicalization of coronavirus deniers who are willing to use violence with all possible means,” Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said, Reuters reported.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz tweeted his condolences, saying that someone was killed “because they wanted to protect themselves and others.”