“ What would you do if one day you were accused of terrorist without a fair trial? What would you do if you had psychological problems but didnt get enough support and nobody looked at you?”
These are the words of one of the members of the Facebook group as 1 behind Jürgen, where support is expressed for the fugitive Belgian professional military officer Jürgen Conings. The group has only been around for a few days and already has 41,600 followers.
Heavily armed on the run
Conings left heavily armed from a military barracks last Monday. Before leaving, he left letters with threats to the government, the army and virologists. Among other things, he wrote “not to surrender without a blow or punch”. The fugitive military man managed to get close to the famous Flemish virologist Van Ranst, after which the virologist and his family were immediately taken to a safe house.
Conings sympathizers think he needs help. According to them, the manhunt for the military is disproportionate. Theyre hoping he can get back home safely and that nothing happens to him.
Jürgens Life Matters
Various forms of support are shared in the group. Like a bumper sticker on a white car with a fist and the text “Je suis Jürgen.” A blonde woman poses with a white sign that says in black letters: Jürgens Life Matters. Another shows his window, containing the flag of Flanders, a tilted flag of Belgium and a white paper on which it says I support you Jürgen.
In Maasmechelen, marches were run last weekend by sympathizers and also today there is another one on the program.
On Saturday, about a hundred people walked:
On Tuesday Conings car was found, containing four rocket launchers and ammunition, in a nature reserve near the border with Dutch Limburg. Friday it became clear that he had left a booby trap in his car.
Politicians, the prosecutors office and the military are focusing on that booby trap to prove that Conings is indeed dangerous. “He made it aware to hurt people. This shows that he is not innocent, but someone who does not shy away from violence,” says also correspondent Sander van Hoorn.
In the Facebook group, a user calls Conings not to hurt anyone, not even himself: “We know youre not really like that. You have a heart of gold, Jürgen. Everyone does stupid things in their life sometimes. I know on good authority you wouldnt hurt a fly. Keep this that way. Would you also give shelter when I know Im an accomplice, but I wouldnt be interested in this. Wherever you are, we stand behind you, Jürgen.”
According to Van Hoorn, the people who support Conings cannot be caught in one homogeneous group. “There is an overlap with people who are dissatisfied with national politics and coronation policy, and there are also Flemish nationalists in between. Conings is performed by the group as a martyr, the man who resists the established order. People also offer him shelter.” In the Facebook group, someone says that Dutch farmers are also willing to give the fugitive military a safe house.
Support from other military
There is also support from fellow soldiers, up to the horror of the Belgian army leadership. The highest army boss of Belgium, Michel Hofman, made it clear in a message to his staff that there is no room for extremism within Defence. “What is happening today is fundamentally contrary to the values we, as military and civilians, defend and promote in Defence, and to the oath we have taken.”
The Belgian number two of Defense Marc Thys also expressed his concerns and frustration on Twitter:
fact that there are more soldiers with right-wing extremist ideas is not surprising in Belgium. “The fact that the army attracts more conservative people is due to the existing structure of the army, they say. At the same time, it is emphasized that the group of right-wing radicals is small,” says Van Hoorn.
Flemish Belang must condemn deeds
Also in national politics, opinions are divided about the support for Conings; the liberals of Open VLD and the extreme right-wing Flemish Belang are opposed to each other.
Open VLD chairman Egbert Lachaert believes that Flemish Interest-politician Tom van Greeks should openly reject the actions of the fugitive military, and the support he receives, in order to send a signal to the partys supporters.
“ This type of aid is not acceptable. And it is also up to Vlaams Belang and Tom Van Greeken to say this, because it is their followers who do this,” he said. This means Vlaams Belang acts as a means of polarization and radicalisation, says Lachaert.
Vlaams Belang writes in a response to Twitter that Open VLD provides polarization in Belgium. Van Greeks says everylink between the terrorist suspect and his party to regret.