Has Germany’s car arson wave come to America?

It seems that police have arrested a suspect in the mysterious string of more than 50 car arsons throughout the Los Angeles area over the last few nights. So far the suspect has been identified as a German national, who was angry that the U.S. government was trying to deport his mother, and recently unleashed ...

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

It seems that police have arrested a suspect in the mysterious string of more than 50 car arsons throughout the Los Angeles area over the last few nights. So far the suspect has been identified as a German national, who was angry that the U.S. government was trying to deport his mother, and recently unleashed an anti-American tirade in immigration court. 

What hasn't been discussed much so far, is that lighting cars on fire is an increasingly popular way for young Germans to vent frustration. As of October, according to Der Spiegel, 341 cars were set ablaze in Berlin alone in 2011. One suspect now in custory admitting to setting 67 fires himself. 

The tactic dates back to the 1970s and 1980s when the Red Army Faction used to burn luxury cars as a political attack. "If one sets a car on fire, that is a criminal offence. If one sets hundreds of cars on fire, that is political action," said RAF founder Ulrike Meinhoff.

It seems that police have arrested a suspect in the mysterious string of more than 50 car arsons throughout the Los Angeles area over the last few nights. So far the suspect has been identified as a German national, who was angry that the U.S. government was trying to deport his mother, and recently unleashed an anti-American tirade in immigration court. 

What hasn’t been discussed much so far, is that lighting cars on fire is an increasingly popular way for young Germans to vent frustration. As of October, according to Der Spiegel, 341 cars were set ablaze in Berlin alone in 2011. One suspect now in custory admitting to setting 67 fires himself. 

The tactic dates back to the 1970s and 1980s when the Red Army Faction used to burn luxury cars as a political attack. "If one sets a car on fire, that is a criminal offence. If one sets hundreds of cars on fire, that is political action," said RAF founder Ulrike Meinhoff.

The latest wave of car arson has been ongoing since 2007, with more than 100 cars burned every year. While German authorities believe some of the attacks may have been carried out by far-left or far-right groups, it’s also possible that many of them are simply thrill-seekers or copycats.

Perhaps the alleged Los Angeles firebug was inspired by events back in his homeland?

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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