Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, was set up in the wake of World War II with the explicit aim of preventing the rise of anti-democratic forces like another Nazi party. But with the arrival of more than one million migrants since 2015, many of them from Muslim countries, the agency has concentrated resources on threats of Islamist terrorism.
But analysts say that while the Alternative for Germany has not been linked directly to political violence, the party’s noisy presence has contributed to a normalization of violent language that risks legitimizing violence itself. The party has vowed to “hunt” Ms. Merkel. Just this month, one local party official identified the Greens as the new enemy, vowing to “shoot our way through.”
For some politicians, the angry political mood has meant peril. The mayor of the northern city of Altena, Andreas Hollstein, survived a knife attack in 2016.
In 2015 the mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, was stabbed in the throat by an unemployed man who said he wanted to send a signal on the country’s refugee policy. In an interview, Ms. Reker said that death threats, rare before 2015, had become an everyday reality and that she now had private security agents posted outside her office.
“People on the front line of defending our open society have become the target,” Ms. Reker said.
Just last Wednesday, Ms. Reker received a chilling email from senders who declared, “Sieg Heil and Heil Hitler!”
“The phase of cleansing has started with Walter Lübcke,” the email stated. “Many more will follow him. Including you. Your life will end in 2020.”
In recent decades, far-right extremists have committed scores of murders in Germany — 169 since 1990 alone, according to one investigation conducted by two German newspapers, Die Zeit and Der Tagesspiegel. But Mr. Lübcke is the first politician to be assassinated by far-right militants in postwar Germany.
“Destabilizing the state has always been the strategic aim of neo-Nazis, but the German authorities have never really looked at it that way,” Mr. Schultz said. “They have tended to treat far-right violence as the result of random acts committed by lone-wolf actors.”
There has been a striking disconnect between Germany’s strong collective consciousness of its Nazi past and its far weaker collective consciousness of neo-Nazi terrorism in recent decades, he said.
But some officials now describe the Lübcke murder as a wake-up call that may force the first major rethink on far-right violence in a decade. In the early 2000s, neo-Nazi terrorists killed nine immigrants over seven years, even as paid informers of the intelligence agency helped hide the group’s leaders and build up its network. The case became known as the N.S.U. scandal.
Mr. Kramer, the intelligence chief in Thuringia, was appointed as part of the overhaul after the scandal. A former secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, he said that changing official attitudes remained difficult. When his agency reported an escalation of the far-right threat to intelligence officials at the federal level, he said, “we were told that far-right terrorism doesn’t exist and accused of exaggerating.”
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