Stephan Balliet filming his attack on a German synagogue

Halle Shooting: The New Terrorism Reality

As Stephan Balliet opened fire last week at a synagogue and kebab shop in Halle, Germany, the world watched, horrified but no longer surprised. The shooting was a near carbon copy of the terrorist attack earlier this year in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a far-right gunman broadcast his killing of fifty-one people at two mosques live on the internet.

The Yom Kippur shooting in Halle, like Christchurch, represents the confluence of three significant trends in terrorism: a rising far right, the targeting of places of worship, and the use of social media and livestreams.

The far right is beginning to dominate the terrorism stage in the Western world. It was responsible for every single extremism-related killing in the United States in 2018—including six mass-casualty incidents. Last year was the most violent in terms of U.S. terrorism since 1982, according to START’s Global Terrorism Database. Right-wing assailants have also perpetrated high-level political assassinations in the United Kingdom and Germany. Anti-Semitism has been particularly prevalent; Germany, for example, suffered 1,800 acts of anti-Semitism last year, its highest since 2006.

These networked adversaries, operating within a loose, leaderless ideological framework, are a different kind of terrorist. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence [PDF] highlights this, noting the proliferation of perpetrators writing manifestos rather than being motivated by radicalizers or taking orders from commanders. Like his predecessors, the Halle shooter posted a manifesto online, hoping to provide a call to arms for fellow white nationalists. Although Balliet is German, he wrote it in English, suggesting he sought a global audience.

Read more from Hoffman and Jacob Ware at the Council on Foreign Relations

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Bruce Hoffman has been studying terrorism and insurgency for over four decades. He is a tenured professor in Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and until recently was director of its Center for Security Studies and Security Studies Program. Hoffman is also visiting Professor of Terrorism Studies at St Andrews University, Scotland. He previously held the Corporate Chair in Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency at the RAND Corporation, where he was also director of RAND’s Washington Office and vice president for external affairs. Hoffman was appointed by the U.S. Congress as a commissioner on the 9/11 Review Commission and has been Scholar-in-Residence for Counterterrorism at the Central Intelligence Agency; adviser on counterterrorism to the Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad, Iraq; and, an adviser on counterinsurgency to Multi-National Forces-Iraq Headquarters, Baghdad, Iraq. In November 1994, the Director of Central Intelligence awarded him the United States Intelligence Community Seal Medallion, the highest level of commendation given to a non-government employee, which recognizes sustained superior performance of high value that distinctly benefits the interests and national security of the United States. Hoffman’s most recent books include The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat (2014); Anonymous Soldiers (2015), which was awarded the Washington Institute for Near East Studies’ Gold Medal for the best book on Middle Eastern politics, history and society published in 2015 and also named The Jewish Book of the Year for 2015 by the Jewish National Book Council; and, Inside Terrorism (3rd edition, 2017). Hoffman is currently a visiting senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior fellow at the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center.

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