JStark: Gun maker icon about Halle assassins and weapons from the 3D printer
Submachine gun from the 3D printer [M] DER SPIEGEL
Pistols, rifles and rocket launchers from the 3D printer
The internet gun gurus and their community
It is becoming easier and easier to make firearms yourself with instructions from the Internet. The hero of the scene was a man named JStark. DER SPIEGEL spoke to him - shortly before his death.
By Maik Baumgärtner, Alexander Epp, Roman Lehberger and Roman Höfner
October 9th, 2021, 7:20 am • from DER SPIEGEL 41/2021
A 3D printer is on the table in a barren room, in front of it a man in combat suit is posing, his face behind a balaclava, his eyes hidden by mirrored sunglasses. He holds a submachine gun in his hand, he changes the magazine over and over again, the noises mix with the techno music with which the video is underlaid. Then he fires several shots - the spectators should see: the weapon from the 3D printer is functional.
From: DER SPIEGEL 41/2021
For his fans, this man is a pioneer, an innovator - a kind of Elon Musk of the gun freak. He appears on the net under the pseudonym JStark, as the leader of the largest 3D weapons community. Some of his followers refer to him in internal chats as the father of the community and a hero. His voice sounds young. He is fluent in English with a light accent. JStark enjoys playing the role of a champion. A phantom who is supposedly only interested in his ideals. A man on the side of the disenfranchised who want to be able to defend themselves against the state with armed force if necessary. "Even if it took a lot of bloodshed to get the right to bear arms, I would," he said in an interview with SPIEGEL last year. He's no longer alive now.
The Halle attack
The Halle assassin had also looked at weapons building instructions from JStark and his accomplice on the Internet. October 9th marks the second anniversary of the terrorist attack. The right-wing extremist wanted to storm a synagogue in Halle an der Saale on the highest Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, and murder as many Jews as possible. When he failed at the door and gate, he shot people who happened to be nearby. Two died and others were injured. The assassin used weapons he had built himself, including one with parts from the 3D printer. It was his declared aim to prove the reliability of these pistols and to motivate others to replicate them.
Assassin from Halle in the Magdeburg district court 2020: weapons in the bed box of the children's room
Assassin from Halle in the Magdeburg district court 2020: weapons in the bed box of the children's room Photo:
Ronny Hartmann / dpa
For years the barely controllable market for self-made and printed weapons has been growing, largely in camera, guided by video tutorials and meticulous building instructions. It's a nightmare for security agencies. Because the development of ever better materials and the growing networking of online users are constantly opening up new opportunities for crime.
Hero of the community
A key figure in this scene was JStark. Together with an accomplice, he had developed the machine gun from the video clip. It should surpass everything that was previously available on the market for weapons from the 3D printer, both in terms of accuracy and reliability. The weapon, caliber nine millimeters, weighs only 2.1 kilograms. All it takes is a few clicks on the Internet to get the plans, a cheap 3D printer to print them out, and a shopping spree at a hardware store or on platforms like Ebay to complete them. This is how you can build a submachine gun at home that can kill a lot of people.
Above all, the community wants to circumvent the strict German laws with guns from the printer. In Germany there is precise regulation of who is allowed to acquire firearms: sport shooters or hunters with a gun license. Only licensed gunsmiths and industrial manufacturers are allowed to build firearms. Those who do not adhere to them face up to ten years imprisonment.
There are now tens of thousands who exchange information in forums on the Internet, work on construction plans and post target practice with new types of weapons. The scene is internationally networked and diverse. The weapons designers want to break the state monopoly of power. Gun possession is a human right for them, so that they can use violence to defend themselves against whomever in an emergency. Against the state.
Easy, quick and cheap
But why do people around the world bother to build firearms themselves at home? Rifles and pistols are in abundance, around a billion there are worldwide, according to a rough estimate by the experts from the Small Arms Survey in Geneva.
In many places, access to Firearms is not as easy. Or they are too expensive. In civil war-torn countries in Africa, in the Philippines or in the Brazilian underworld, improvised screwed-together metal firearms have long been widespread. In Europe, too, for example in Portugal, criminals often use self-made shotguns.
Others look for weapons on the Darknet, for example the right-wing extremist who shot and injured nine people in and around the Olympic shopping center in Munich in 2016. The anonymity is great in the dark part of the network, but also the risk of falling for fraudsters or undercover police officers.
The great advantage of 3D printing for gun freaks is that they can print and assemble the plastic components layer by layer quickly and cheaply. It has never been easier to make firearms. And that in the security and anonymity of your own four walls.
That was also the plan of the Halle assassin. Just because his firearms weren't working well and were jamming all the time didn't make victims any more. In the video that the perpetrator streamed on the Internet, you can see how he repeatedly aims at defenseless passers-by and pulls the trigger without a bullet loosening.
Shotgun in the bed box
Investigation files available to SPIEGEL show how meticulously the killer prepared the crime and which loopholes he used to build up an explosives and firearms arsenal in his father's workshop for years - under the radar of the security authorities. Long before his act, he began to arm himself out of hatred for migrants, Jews and the German state, which supposedly controls everything - including those who are allowed to own pistols and rifles. The assassin largely developed the construction instructions himself. In addition, he used templates from popular models, the construction plans of which are freely accessible on the Internet.
What the perpetrator needed for his murderous instruments, he bought legally on the Internet and in hardware stores, including chemicals for the bombs and ammunition as well as the material for the firearms. For around 100 euros, he bought a 3D printer from China to make a plastic submachine gun.
When he mixed the explosives and the propellant charge for the ammunition, his abandoned chemistry studies helped him, apart from that he had no prior knowledge of the trade. When he had finished a gun in his father's workshop, he took it with him to his mother's house, where he hid it in the bed drawer in his children's room. It went on like this for years.
Weapons arsenal in the children's room: the Halle assassin photographed his ammunition and weapons depot before the crime
Weapons arsenal in the children's room: the Halle assassin photographed his ammunition and weapons depot before the crime
In the act, in addition to more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and around four kilograms of explosives, the man had seven self-made firearms with him. He used three of these weapons. Just before he left, he uploaded his instructions and 3D models to the Internet.
"He has equipped his ammunition with some strange, weak propellant charge," JStark told SPIEGEL about the products of the Halle assassin. "That may sound awful now, but if he'd worked with us, his weapons would have worked reasonably well," agreed his colleague Ivan.
The two weapon developers had agreed to an interview on condition that they remain anonymous. They refused a personal meeting, which is why the conversation was conducted via Skype. Otherwise, the danger is too great that prosecutors will track them down. "That would be extremely risky," said JStark.
The pair's view of the Halle murders was a cool, technical one. They asserted that extremists were not welcomed by them. "We're kicking out people who are openly racist," JStark said. In fact, the chats that Ivan and JStark set up to develop and distribute their 3D models hardly contain any political statements. Most of the news relates solely to building your own firearms with the 3D printer.
Anyone who still wants to talk about politics is warned: "We should better refrain from such conversations here." Or: "People, no politics here, please!" had the perpetrator or his weapon models on the screen, said JStark. He summarized his attitude in this sentence: "Even if people are harmed by weapons they have built yourself: it is better for everyone, including criminals and gangsters, to own weapons than none."
Nazi memorabilia and chemicals
The community of the two with more than 10,000 members is probably the best known and largest in the scene. In other networks you can also find screwdrivers who like to tinker with pistols and rifles and the in States like the USA are often allowed to do so legally. Or extremists who try to illegally obtain weapons for attacks under the radar of the security authorities.
Firearms in Messenger: Users offer pistols and rifles for sale on Telegram
Firearms in Messenger: Users offer pistols and rifles for sale on Telegram Photo: Telegram
In the USA, you can already buy printed craft kits on the Internet that are easy to assemble. In weapons forums and on Telegram, buyers are offering ready-made firearms of the particularly popular model from JStark, which is increasingly being seized in raids around the world - especially in countries where there are strict gun laws.
Keighley, West Yorkshire, police arrested four suspected British right-wing extremists in May 2021. Not only are they said to have spread terrorist propaganda and shared weapons construction plans, but they also operated a 3D printing workshop.
In September 2020, Spanish police in Tenerife disbanded an illegal 3D gun printing workshop and arrested a 55-year-old man on whom they found Nazi memorabilia and chemicals used to make explosives. The officers came across 19 printed pistol frames, 9 magazines, and 2 silencers.
In June 2021, Finnish officials with the help of the FBI broke up a criminal network as part of a large-scale raid. They made drug proofs and discovered a 3D workshop. Also in the USA and Australia, where in some states the possession of 3D print data for weapon construction is already a criminal offense, weapons of the new model from JStark have been found several times in the past few years.
Seized 3D printers: Finnish police officers dismantled a criminal network in June 2020
Seized 3D printers: Finnish police officers break up a criminal network in June 2020 Photo: Vilma Leppikangas / POL KRP
More stable, more accurate and more reliable
"In the past two or three years, the development of firearms with the aid of 3D printing has made enormous leaps and bounds," says Nic Jenzen-Jones of Armament Research Services, a private organization based in Australia that collects and analyzes data on weapons around the world. "The latest hybrid models made of metal and plastic are significantly more powerful than the firearms that the Halle perpetrator used." Even rifled barrels, which increase the accuracy of a weapon, can now be manufactured relatively easily using electrochemical processes.
Jenzen-Jones has been keeping an eye on the scene since around 2013. At that time, the American law student Cody Wilson initiated a development that worries opponents of guns to this day. The Liberator he developed ushered in a new era of self-made weapons. For the first time it was possible to manufacture a firearm from plastic with a 3D printer without expertise and high costs. The only metal element was the firing pin that strikes the cartridge to fire it. An ordinary nail did that. Security agencies around the world were alarmed.
A lot has changed since then. Bad Liberator designs could explode and injure the shooter's hand and eyes. But in the past eight years the scene has been working incessantly on new, more stable models. "Some more complex metal-plastic hybrids require a little more skill, but that too is getting easier every year," says Jenzen-Jones.
Corpse in the car
There will be no more new models from JStark. A few months after the interview with SPIEGEL, he suddenly disappeared. In the relevant forums, the scene speculates what happened to its hero. The last traces of his online activities were found in April of this year. His profiles in social networks, messengers and forums have now been deleted. Was it getting too hot for him? Research by SPIEGEL reveals the fate of the gun fool - and that the police have long been on JStark's heels.
According to a confidential note from the Federal Criminal Police Office, German investigators received a message from England in December of last year. A British financial services company provided a reference to a man from Germany who may have been involved in the manufacture and distribution of 3D firearms. The traces led the investigators to Jacob D., a 28-year-old from Hanover.
Scene hero D. alias JStark 2020: Lived like a hermit
Criminologists involved describe D. as an eccentric who had his Turkish first and last name changed two years ago. Last summer he moved from Hanover to a small apartment in Völklingen in the Saarland. New name, new city - what induced D. to make a new start remains unclear. D. lived like a "hermit" in Saarland, alone and secluded, says an official. After months of investigation, the authorities struck in late June. A special task force stormed his apartment. During the search, the investigators found a 3D printer, several cell phones, hard drives and a laptop, but no weapons. Jacob D. remained at large.
"Even if it took a lot of bloodshed to get the right to bear arms, I would."
Jacob D., weapons maker
Two days after the police action, relatives found his body in a car in front of his parents' apartment in Hanover. Forensic medicine could rule out third-party negligence and suicide. The autopsy did not reveal a clear cause of death. Investigators now fear that Jacob D. could become a martyr for the net warriors. The circumstances of the death could fuel conspiracy myths, says an investigator. There is no doubt that Jacob D. died of natural causes. Since birth, D. had suffered from a weak heart that could have led to death. "Maybe the excitement was just too much," says the officer.
Security agencies seem powerless
The digital gun builders continue - even without JStark. But the ammunition remains a challenge for the community in Germany. Without permission to use explosives, she cannot get hold of the powder. The solution of the illegal arms manufacturer: mix it yourself. What sounds simple has always been the biggest problem so far. "The burning speed of the propellant powder must be precisely matched to the cartridge-weapon combination," says weapons expert Niels Heinrich. Among other things, the Chief Criminal Police Officer teaches weapons and explosives law at police universities. “Even mixed propellants usually don't work. If too much pressure is exerted, it can blow up the weapon. ”In the worst case scenario, the hobbyist would go blind and lose fingers.
The illegal arms makers seem to have found a loophole for this too. They take advantage of the fact that ammunition for special powder-operated tools is freely available. If you carefully break the cases open and fill the powder into cases that have already been fired, new ammunition can be produced. It is not risk-free, but if you believe gun makers, you can achieve relatively reliable results in this way.
"Most control methods are doomed to fail."
Nic Jenzen-Jones, weapons expert at Armament Research Services
The security agencies seem powerless against the scene. Although Germany is one of the countries with the strictest gun laws, there are still loopholes. "The moment a potential criminal offense is banned, the perpetrators evade and take another," says Heinrich. Nevertheless, he is not pessimistic: “We have extremely strict laws, and when you consider the effort and expense that the Halle assassin tried to make weapons and the poor results, then that is a sign that we are actually completely lie well. "
Plastic rocket launcher
Jenzen-Jones, on the other hand, argues: "Most control methods are doomed to failure." Numerous components such as pipes that can withstand high pressure are used for many legal purposes. So how can that be forbidden? It is clear to him: "If people absolutely want to have a firearm and cannot legally manage it, they will build one illegally, regardless of whether it is made of metal or plastic."
The Federal Ministry of the Interior does not even have figures on weapons from 3D printers, it said on request. A tightening of the gun laws is also not planned, says a spokeswoman: "The federal government sees no need to adapt the gun law, as there are sufficient legal regulations."
The former companions of JStark don't care about gun laws anyway, and they no longer limit themselves to the development and construction of 3D pistols and suitable ammunition: They tinker with rocket launchers and experiment with armed drones.