The shooter devoured conspiracy theories about Jews. But in order to kill, he needed other impulses as well. From Dennik N.

There are many fans of conspiracy theories in Slovakia. A Globsec poll shows that at least one in two Slovaks would back the claim that secret societies trying to “create a totalitarian global government” decide how key global events pan out.

According to his posts on Twitter and his so-called manifesto, they included Juraj Krajcik, who shot and killed two young men in a Bratislava bar frequented by the LGBTI community.

Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova lays flowers at the site of a shooting outside a gay bar in Bratislava. Photo taken 13 October by Radovan Stoklasa via CTK/Reuters.

What needs to happen in order for a person of this kind to actually murder people?

According to experts, belief in conspiracy theories is not enough on its own. Typically, other factors also play a role: personality development, availability of a murder weapon, and the social climate in the country.

“If a society tolerates antisemitism or homophobia, that naturally increases the risk that such groups may become the targets of an attack,” says psychologist Anton Heretik, who specializes in research into violent offenders.

Main Enemy: The Jews

Let us start with what we can say about the murderer with a high degree of certainty. His public statements included motifs that are well-established among conspiracy theorists. Chief among them, a feeling of being threatened by a particular group.

“This person then blames this group for all kinds of things, assigning almost omnipotent abilities to them,” says Jakub Srol of the Institute of Experimental Psychology at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, who has studied this phenomenon in depth.

The Bratislava shooter saw Jews as his primary enemy and threat. In his text, he described them as a group that has been trying for centuries to damage the majority society. He did not consider sexual minorities to be a source of evil, but a consequence of the Jewish conspiracy.

“He blamed Jews for promoting the so-called LGBTI ideology, transgenderism, as well as organizing mass migration. He saw them as responsible for what he saw as social decline,” Srol says.

For all of this, he let Jews know they had to die.

‘They Control Russia and the U.S.’

Krajcik’s statements also make it clear that Slovakia’s disinformation scene did not inspire him much. He was following American neo-Nazis, racists, and the QAnon conspiracy movement. In one image, for example, he is seen making a “white power” gesture.

Slovakia’s disinformation scene is very much pro-Putin. Alongside homophobia, it also spreads Kremlin propaganda. The Bratislava shooter, on the other hand, was not promoting any pro-Kremlin messages. On the contrary, he celebrated the assassination of Russian nationalist Aleksandr Dugin’s daughter and attacked Putin for enlisting Chechen Muslims in the fight against Ukraine.

How are we to make sense of this?

The psychologist Srol says that people who are deeply enmeshed in antisemitic conspiracy theories see a world in which all world leaders are controlled by Jews.

“According to them, Jewish supremacy controls everything – Russia as well as America,” he says.

In his so-called manifesto, for example, the murderer wrote that the objective should be to bring down the “Zionist occupation government,” known in conspiracy circles under the acronym ZOG. This government is allegedly divided into a Western and an Eastern branch, with centers of power in the United States and Russia respectively.

“His document suggests that he considered Jews to be key players in Slovakia as well,” Srol adds.

This is directly related to another motif common among fans of conspiracy theories: They feel that legal means are of no use against a global conspiracy.

“Because they see secret groups as standing above state governments, they see no sense in elections, civil activism, peaceful protest, or other democratic mechanisms,” Srol says.

The murderer described himself and his community as “cattle” serving the Jewish government.

Where does all this lead?

According to Srol, such people think they have to engage in violent action.

“From what he wrote it follows that he probably saw fighting the alleged Jewish conspiracy with weapons as the only solution,” he adds.

Conspiracy Theories Plus Personality Traits

It is not always easy to say whether conspiracy theories are a cause or rather a symptom. Many people seize on them to justify their already deeply rooted attitudes. In this way, conspiracy theories may have served the Bratislava shooter to rationalize his violent attitude.

“His hatred of otherness may have been there for a long time, and perhaps conspiracy theories only confirmed to him that he was acting correctly,” says Vladimira Cavojova, a psychologist who also investigates this phenomenon at the Institute of Experimental Psychology.

Which brings us to the main point: When is a person who has surrendered to conspiracy thinking ready to murder people?

Anton Heretik states that in theory, anyone can become a murderer – it all depends on the situation. Among murderers, however, we can identify a group of those who murder in the name of something they call ideology.

Antisemitism and belief in conspiracy theories are possible sources for such a motivation, Heretik says. “In this case, inspiration is important, but not necessarily key.”

In order to draw more definite conclusions, he says one would need to know the personality development of the murderer, as well as how long he was involved in similar activities.

The view that conspiracy thinking on its own is insufficient is also shared by Daniel Milo, who heads the Interior Ministry’s center for combating hybrid threats.

“A number of factors enter the equation, including personality type, social environment, age, and degree of radicalization,” Milo says.

Available Weapons

The murderer wrote that he had experiences of bullying at school. He hinted that he did not have long-lasting friendships, could not take jokes at his expense, and behaved like a weakling. [Police believe Krajcik, who was 19, committed suicide hours after the killings.]

“It was as if he had no inhibitions, he would say anything to his schoolmates. He was unbalanced. He could start crying, then suddenly become angry, even furious,” one of his teachers told Dennik N.

He looked for escape online. Given that he attended a school for talented children, one could assume he read a lot, especially in English, a language he knew well.

He started sharing his opinions as early as the age of 11, first in computer gaming groups, later among radicals. He allegedly decided to carry out some kind of violent attack as early as 2019, when he was 16.

One impulse for carrying out his attack might also have been the availability of a weapon. The police think he used a pistol his father kept at home. In such cases, experts speak of an “instrumental motive.”

“Simply put, if a weapon is at hand, this increases the chance that somebody might commit a crime with it. Widespread violent deaths in countries that have a broad availability of firearms confirms this,” Heretik adds.

Unregulated Social Networks

How could the killing in Bratislava be linked to social networks and the wider social atmosphere in Slovakia?

Experts remind us that conspiracy theories, antisemitism, and the dehumanization of minorities have existed in our societies for centuries. Their spread is thus not related to the rise of the internet.

“The social networks did, however, offer a new space where people with such attitudes could meet and inspire one another. They are mutually persuading each other that their attitudes are the right ones,” Srol explains.

Completely unregulated online platforms are becoming more and more important to radicals. We are not talking about Facebook or Instagram.

The killer from Bratislava said his role models included Brenton Tarrant, who attacked mosques in New Zealand, and John Earnest, who attacked a synagogue in the United States. Tarrant and Earnest also wrote manifestos and published them on the 8chan online forum, which connects racists and antisemites. Unregulated forums, such as 4chan, 8chan, and Telegram, were also used by the Slovak shooter.

A post from the now-suspended Twitter account linked to the Bratislava killer.

“These online communities, where young people meet, connect, and are radicalized, have a decisive impact on the will to move from words to actions,” Milo adds.

The most influential Slovak personality on Telegram, for example, is the repeat offender Daniel Bombic, known under his alter ego of Danny Kollar. In his videos, he promotes the same conviction as the Bratislava killer: hardcore antisemitism and white supremacy. He also regularly calls on his followers to bully those he considers enemies.

Hatred Is Becoming the New Norm

Finally, there’s the mood in society. It, too, can have a significant influence, even if it is hard to measure.

Recent opinion polls have shown that the number of Slovaks who do not trust liberal democracy and its mechanisms rose during the COVID pandemic.

A Globsec poll this spring showed that around one in two Slovaks say threats include migrants, Western values, and even liberal democracy – which might seem hard to understand, given that they live in one. To a large degree, these messages overlap with the beliefs of the Bratislava shooter.

A number of online channels and some politicians also include sexual minorities demanding their rights among the threats to majority society.

“Undoubtedly, the social atmosphere contributes towards a society becoming desensitized to hate speech. This can strengthen some people’s conviction that it’s all right to attack these communities, whether verbally or physically,” psychologist Cavojova says.

Journalist Vladimir Snidl was a co-founder of the Slovak news outlet Dennik N in 2015. This article originally appeared on Dennik N and is republished with permission. Translated by Matus Nemeth.