‘You will not replace us’: a deadly attack on a Slovakian gay bar – and its link to a fast-spreading racist ideology

Fifteen months after two men were shot in Bratislava, evidence suggests the killer may have been helped by an unidentified US-based extremist

The October evening was warm and sunny. At about 7pm, two young men stepped out of the Tepláreň bar on Zámocká Street in the centre of Bratislava, to sit on a concrete bench and drink lemonade. Matúš, 23, had just arrived in the Slovakian capital to study Chinese. His 26-year-old friend worked in a local clothes shop and enjoyed anime, K-pop and dance.

Standing in an alcove a few metres away was Juraj Krajčík. The 19-year-old had been loitering for about half an hour, witnesses later said. Shortly after the two patrons of the Tepláreň sat down, Krajčík stepped forward, raised a .45-calibre handgun and fired several shots at them. Then he turned and ran, gun in hand.

Within half an hour of the fatal shootings, Krajčík was on his phone. At 7.35pm, he sent a tweet: “#bratislava #hatecrime #gaybar #bratislava”. Then, 25 minutes later, another: “#bratislava feeling no regrets, isn’t that funny?”

Through the night, Krajčík moved across the city, always one step ahead of police and continually active on social media. On Twitter and message boards routinely used by rightwing extremists, he expressed disappointment that he had not carried out his plans to attack a synagogue and the residence of Slovakia’s prime minister. Then he posted an image of himself with the words “have a last selfie”.

The teenager ended up on a grassy hill in a park not far from his family home where, probably in the early morning, he shot himself. His body was found some hours later.

In Slovakia, the attack on the Tepláreň, a prominent if rare LGBTQ+ hangout, prompted shock and statements of concern. The president, Zuzana Čaputová, called on politicians to stop spreading hate.

“I’m sorry that [we were] not able to protect your loved ones,” she told a crowd of thousands at a vigil. “You belong here; you are valuable for our society.”

The Tepláreň was “a place of acceptance, of love, of happiness”, said Michaela Dénešová, the deputy head of the Inakosť initiative, which campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights in Slovakia. “They were young people. They did nothing wrong. They were just enjoying the evening with friends in a bar. That’s all. Because of their gender identity, because of their sexual orientation … Should we kill people because of that? Not at all.”

Elsewhere, the attack attracted little attention, perhaps because the death toll was comparatively low for such shootings, or because it appeared to be motivated by local factors with limited wider significance, or perhaps because it seemed to be the act of single deranged individual.

In fact, there was no evidence that Krajčík had a psychological illness or was a lone actor. Instead, it has become clear that he was a link in a chain of mutually inspired young men living thousands of miles apart, all fervent believers in a violent ideology that first gathered momentum in the US and is now spreading in Europe.

Evidence seen by the Guardian suggests Krajčík may have been helped – possibly even piloted – by an older extremist based in the US who has yet to be identified and could even now be working with a new potential attacker.

Fifteen months after the Bratislava murders, levels of rightwing extremist violence directed at minorities in Europe continue to concern authorities everywhere.

In November, police launched an international operation against rightwing terrorism in Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Lithuania, Romania and Italy. Five were arrested, suspected of recruitment, online propaganda and sharing manuals of 3D-printed weapons.

In the EU, there were 45 arrests and four attacks in 2022, according to a recent Europol report. Three more were foiled, two in France and one in Germany.

“The threat from rightwing terrorist lone actors, radicalised online, remain[s] significant,” the report noted.

Krajčík grew up in Bratislava’s affluent Kramáre district, a quiet young man who did not smoke or drink and spent weekends with his family. He attended an elite private school in the city, where he had few friends. Though known for angry outbursts, he gave no hint of any extremist views.

Some local media blamed any extremism on his father, a self-employed businessman who was a minor figure in the now defunct rightwing Vlasť (Homeland) party. It promoted a populist, nationalist, nativist vision and accused corrupt “mainstream” elites of having an agenda to weaken Slovakia by allowing its control by organisations such as Nato or the EU. Before parliamentary elections in 2020, Vlasť deployed anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, describing sexual minorities as “sick”, “decadent” or “perverted”.

But there is no suggestion that Krajčík’s family knew of his increasing radicalism or of his plans for an attack. Vlasť’s leaders were officially opposed to violence. The catalyst for Krajčík’s attack appears to have come from farther afield. When in April 2021 he signed up to Twitter, he almost immediately began to express extreme racist ideas that had little relevance to his life in Bratislava.

“American culture is centered around n [sic] … They killed hundreds of thousands of white men to free n. They listen to n music. They elect a n as president. They dress and act like n. They draw the entirety of their modern culture from n,” Krajčík claimed early on.

More locally focused invective targeting Jewish, LGBTQ+ and Roma communities followed, but a persistent transatlantic influence remained evident. It seems, however, that Krajčík had not yet formulated ideas of launching a violent attack himself. This would come later, when, once again, he was apparently inspired by events and ideas far away.

While Krajčík was tweeting, a teenager in Glossop, a market town in England’s picturesque Peak District, was uploading a series of videos and blogposts to an easily accessible online platform. Daniel Harris was a troubled loner who spent up to 14 hours a day online and whose extreme views had already led to a referral to the UK government’s Prevent programme, which aims to counter radicalisation and is now dealing with rising numbers of young men attracted by rightwing extremism.

Between February 2021 and March 2022, Harris uploaded five videos praising rightwing extremist mass murderers and calling for an armed uprising. One video focused on Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019. A viewer commented: “This video has moved me. I was on the fence – now I am committed to my race.” An 18-year-old in Conklin, New York, posted encouragement: “You are not alone my friend.”

Experts say such contacts are an integral part of the rightwing milieu. Alejandra Ruvinsky, senior analyst at CST, a charity that protects British Jews from antisemitism and related threats, said: “This is absolutely global, because it is encouraged and inspired by a network that is all online. When we are tracking these people, it is very difficult to find out where they are from. They could be anywhere in the world. So this means that an attack in Bratislava doesn’t mean there is a critical mass of neo-Nazis in Slovakia. It means there is a critical mass of neo-Nazis around the world.”

These online communities have allowed the rapid spread of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, a set of paranoid lies and delusions claiming that white people are being economically, politically and culturally overwhelmed by the demographic rise of other communities. Many also falsely believe that feminism is a tool to undermine birth rates of the “white race” and see progressive efforts to fight homophobic prejudice or restrictive laws on homosexuality as part of a similar plan.

Such falsehoods inspired the Christchurch attack as well as many of the most horrifying recent acts of white supremacist violence in the US. Far-right protesters at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which led to the killing of a woman, chanted: “You will not replace us.” The online rants of mass murderers who have attacked synagogues, an LGBTQ+ club and other targets in the US have repeated the same slogans in various forms. One who killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 claimed his murderous rampage was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

by Jason Burke
Source – The Guardian