Antisemitic German military officer convicted on far-right terrorism charges

1st Lt. Franco A. was part of a network of right-wing soldiers and police officers and had previously expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, as well as for prominent Holocaust deniers.

 Franco A., a 32-year-old former soldier of Germany's army Bundeswehr, accused of posing under a false identity as an asylum seeker in 2017 and planning an attack on high-ranking officials, gets his handcuffs removed as he arrives for his verdict at a regional court in Frankfurt, Germany. (photo credit: BORIS ROESSLER/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Franco A., a 32-year-old former soldier of Germany's army Bundeswehr, accused of posing under a false identity as an asylum seeker in 2017 and planning an attack on high-ranking officials, gets his handcuffs removed as he arrives for his verdict at a regional court in Frankfurt, Germany.
(photo credit: BORIS ROESSLER/POOL VIA REUTERS)

A German military officer was found guilty on Friday of plotting to assassinate prominent public figures in an act of far-right terrorism and was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

1st Lt. Franco A. was first arrested five years ago after he was caught trying to collect a loaded gun in a Vienna airport, The New York Times reported after the court sentence was handed down. Following his arrest, an investigation was launched, spanning three countries and their respective intelligence agencies. 

During the investigation, the intelligence operatives discovered that he had adopted a false identity as part of his plan, posing as a Syrian refugee. According to German news outlet Deutsche Welle, Franco was granted refugee status by Germany in 2016, despite knowing only basic Arabic and not having any identification. 

During his trial, Franco claimed that he had assumed the identity of a Syrian refugee in order to find weakness in Germany's immigration system, and denied the charge that he had used his fake identity to prepare for a "false flag attack," the German state-owned international broadcaster reported.

Also uncovered in the investigation was Franco's connection to a network of far-right police officers and soldiers preparing for the day the social order collapsed, referred to by the group as "Day X."

  Franco A., a 32-year-old former soldier of Germany's army Bundeswehr, accused of posing under a false identity as an asylum seeker in 2017 and planning an attack on high-ranking officials, gets his handcuffs removed as he arrives for his verdict at a regional court in Frankfurt, Germany. (credit: BORIS ROESSLER/POOL VIA REUTERS) Franco A., a 32-year-old former soldier of Germany's army Bundeswehr, accused of posing under a false identity as an asylum seeker in 2017 and planning an attack on high-ranking officials, gets his handcuffs removed as he arrives for his verdict at a regional court in Frankfurt, Germany. (credit: BORIS ROESSLER/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Holocaust denial and antisemitic activities 

Throughout his closely-watched trial, Franco made several admiring references to a well-known German Holocaust denier, and at one point tried to argue that Jewish people could not be Germans. It was also revealed during the trial that he had kept audio recordings on his phone of conversations in which he praised Hitler, discusses antisemitic conspiracy theories and said that immigration had "ruined Germany's ethnic purity," the Times reported.

In February of this year when the trial was already well under way, Franco, who had been free throughout the trial until then, was ordered back into custody after a train station search found that he was carrying a bag full of Nazi-era medals and swastika armbands.

In a subsequent search at his apartment, police found several bladed weapons, including five machetes, as well as more Nazi memorabilia, 21 cell phones and a forged vaccine pass, according to the Times.

The verdict

The court concluded that the racist, antisemitic ideology that Franco held was behind his plans to carry out an attack on politicians and "refugee-friendly" activists. While it was established that he had illegally acquired and shot various semi-automatic rifles and had written up and researched a list of potential targets, the court could not confirm exactly how close he had come to carrying out his plans.

Court Justice Koller, who presided over the case, stated that Franco had a "hardened far-right, extremist, ethno-nationalist and especially racist and antisemitic mindset." Reading out the verdict in the final 90-minute session, Koller ruled that Franco was guilty of "preparing a grievous act of violence dangerous to the state.” 

“While the defendant was hoarding firearms, explosive devices, cartridges and ammunition, he took the firm decision, by means of this and his ethno-nationalist, antisemitic and racist attitude, to commit an attack on the lives of high-ranking politicians and figures of public life, who stood out for being refugee-friendly, in order to bring about a political or social change of direction in line with his views and thus contribute to the ‘preservation of the German nation,’” Koller said, handing down the charges.

“While the defendant was hoarding firearms, explosive devices, cartridges and ammunition, he took the firm decision, by means of this and his ethnonationalist, antisemitic and racist attitude, to commit an attack on the lives of high-ranking politicians and figures of public life."

Court Justice Koller

Despite hoping for a longer sentence of six years and three months, prosecutors welcomed the verdict as "an important success in the fight against right-wing extremism, racism and antisemitism in the Federal Republic of Germany.”

In contrast, however, Franco's defense team accused the court of being a "woke tribunal," and said they would appeal the verdict. According to  Deutsche Welle, they had stated that his illegally acquired weapons served the purpose of self-defense and that he was preparing for a "potential civil war against Islamists." They stated that he kept his weapons in a bunker along with stores of non-perishable foods and gasoline "in case of a breakdown of state order."

Of the weapons owned by Franco, estimated by the court to number around 1,100, many have not been found, with Franco remaining tight-lipped about their location.

Due to the appeal submitted by his defense team, Franco will, in the meantime, remain a soldier and receive half of his salary each month. However, he has been forbidden from wearing his uniform.

Post-war German extremism

Franco's trial has been widely regarded as the most prominent terrorism trial since the various Nazi trials following the Holocaust. He is the first person in Germany to stand trial on right-wing terrorism charges in recent history. 

Germany has been accused by some of failing to address the extremist ideologies that have been on the rise in recent years. In 2021, Neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists carried out a total of 21,964 crimes in the country, injuring at least 590 people.

The report on extremism from which these statistics were taken was presented by German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser in May.

"The far-right movement is the biggest threat to our democracy and the biggest extremist threat to people in our country," she said at the time. "I have grave concerns about the massive increase in the number of antisemitic crimes… it’s a shame for our country."