German Official Blames Social Media Hatred for Clerk's Death After Asking Man to Wear Mask

On Wednesday, Germany's health minister partly blamed social media "hatred" for the government's COVID-19 policies for the death of a gas station clerk who was killed after asking a man to wear a face mask, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities said the suspect had been refused service by the clerk for not wearing a mask while trying to buy beer. He returned half an hour later, wearing a mask, and fatally shot the gas station clerk. The man told officers he acted "out of anger" over being refused earlier, authorities said.

"It was a cold-blooded murder," Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin, also noting that the suspect had initially left before returning later.

Face masks are required to be worn in stores in Germany to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but opponents to face masks and other government measures have voiced their anger online.

"The question is, what is the environment, what are the circumstances in which such a crime can occur?" Spahn asked. "This has a lot to do with the incitement, the hatred, that is posted on social media."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Jens Spahn
German Health Minister Jens Spahn partly blamed social media "hatred" for the government's COVID-19 policies in the death of a gas station clerk who was killed after asking a man to wear a mask. Spahn speaks to the media about Germany's ongoing vaccination campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic on September 8, 2021 in Berlin. Andreas Gora/Pool/Getty Images

A 49-year-old German man was arrested Sunday in connection with the fatal shooting a day earlier in the western town of Idar-Oberstein. Authorities said the suspect told officers "he rejected the measures against the coronavirus."

A Twitter account linked to the suspect followed several prominent far-right politicians, including senior members of the Alternative for Germany party. Posts from the account, which was last used in October 2019, reflect a dislike for immigrants, climate activists and the government.

Chants of "Traitors!" heard at anti-lockdown protests during the pandemic could be seen by some as legitimizing violence, Spahn said.

"Words eventually always become deeds," he said.

The health minister called on Germans to speak up if friends, relatives or neighbors start spreading conspiracy theories about the pandemic.

"We must clearly and decisively say 'no' to any form of pandemic extremism," he said.

Spahn's center-right Christian Democratic Union party has come under fire for an election ad featuring a prominent member of Germany's Querdenken movement, which opposes the pandemic restrictions. Germany has a federal election scheduled for Sunday.

The general secretary of the center-left Social Democratic Party, Lars Klingbeil, told German media group RND that it was time the Christian Democrats pulled the ad off the airwaves and apologize to the victim's family.

Tributes were paid Wednesday to the gas station clerk, a 20-year-old student identified on condolence cards only by his first name, Alex.

Germany Gas Station Mask Death
Police in Germany said a 49-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the killing of a gas station worker who was shot dead Saturday following a dispute over face masks. Media and a police car stand in front of a gas station in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, Tuesday, September 21, 2021. Thomas Frey/dpa via AP