German reporter Claas Relotius (of the “prestigious” Der Spiegel magazine) conned the world by telling the Establishment what it wanted to hear. He won all the journalistic accolades by inventing stories and details intended to instil guilt into white people about their wish to defend their own existence. For example, he wrote a caricature portrait of an American town filled with bigoted, Trump-supporting hicks.
But the full extent of Relotius’s deception hasn’t yet been grasped. Der Spiegel is now systematically trying to re-check details of his stories across the years.
This verification process has now brought to light actual criminality from Relotius; and the nature of that criminality tells us much about the kind of decadent journalistic culture that allowed his deceit to flourish.
In 2016. he published an article called “Königskinder” [Royal children]. It was a “moving” account of two Syrian children who had fled the warfare in their native land to make a new life in Turkey.
Ahmed and Alin are ten and eleven years old as their parents die in Aleppo. They flee to Turkey and work here, separated from one another, as a scrap collector and a seamstress. Sometimes Angela Merkel appears to them in their dreams.
More “moving” details follow, about how their mother died when the neighbour’s house was bombed and the father was later killed by a sniper; about the back-breaking work both are forced to do in Turkey’s black economy.
Almost all of this seems to have been made up. A Turkish photographer confirmed that the boy Ahmed did exist but his biography did not match the details in Relotius’ account. He had no sister and his mother was still alive.
In the article, more “moving” details follow about how the children dream of Europe, a magical land where everyone is rich and happy, which, ironically, might actually be true if it wasn’t for people like the characters in this drama: Merkel, Relotius, Ahmed and Alin.
A few weeks ago, when Angela Merkel travelled to Gaziantep [Turkey], as the German chancellor there was led through a beautifully done up refugee camp, Alin wrote to her brother: “The girls here say that the queen of Europe is where you are. She is coming to collect you!” Ahmed didn’t understand. He had no idea who Angela Merkel was, had never heard the name. He still doesn’t know where Germany is, only that it is somewhere in Europe and that Europe is safe and children don’t have to work there.
…In Alin’s imagination, Europe is a small island, surrounded by water, “somewhere in the north.” And in her dreams, she explains, Angela Merkel is not a lady in a pantsuit but a young woman wearing a white dress, with skin as smooth as silk and long, golden hair.
The Der Spiegel reporter expertly plucked the heartstrings of German do-gooders. But then he went further. He solicited donations for the two tragedy-struck children. The money went straight into his own pocket.
He followed this up with a false story about how he had worked hard for months to arrange for the children to be adopted by the family of a doctor in Lower Saxony, with whom they were now happily living.
Again, completely made up.
Relotius also drew parallels with anti-immigration protests in contemporary Germany now and the National Socialist movement of the 30s and 40s. He did this by fabricating quotes in an interview with Traute Lafrenz, who is described as a member of the “White Rose” group, which resisted the German government during World War Two.
“On a Sunday afternoon in August,” wrote Relotius, “the same day when a city festival in Germany, more than 7000 kilometers away in Chemnitz, Saxony, spirals out of control and neo-Nazis start to march, Lafrenz sits in the rocking chair on her veranda and looks out at an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean.” In August, the fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old carpenter in the eastern city set off waves of violent protests by far-right radicals after a Syrian and an Iraqi were named as main suspects in the killing. (The Iraqi has since been released)
Moments into their interview, Relotius quotes Lafrenz telling him that the pictures of the xenophobic uprising pictures that she has seen in an American newspaper made her “blood run cold.”
“What did you see in the photos?” Lafrenz is asked. The question elicits a powerful answer: “Germans, they stretched their right arms in a Hitler salute on the open road, just like before. I’m old, but I still grasp everything. The way people talk about refugees as if they were criminals or cattle these days makes me prick up my ears. I also know what politicians in the Bundestag are saying once more. ‘Lying press,’ ’Enemies of the people,’ ‘Take pride in the Wehrmacht?’ They don’t even know what they’re talking about, but people always use the same tricks. That’s how it starts.”
Relotius carved out a glittering career for himself by masterfully evoking every favourite left-wing cliché with the finesse of a skilled novelist. He told the journalistic Establishment exactly what it wanted to hear. And what it wanted to hear was that white people should allow brown people into their countries in unlimited numbers and anyone who didn’t agree was either Mad, Bad or Stupid.
The ready acceptance of this message ought to prompt deep soul-searching from Der Spiegel and other journalists about their own instinctive biases. Instead, what we are likely to get is a dry declaration about the need for tighter verification procedures.