A looted shop in a destroyed central station, a ProRail car set on fire and severe clashes between the police and rioters. How did Eindhoven turn into what resembled a war zone? Studio040 did this reconstruction.
PLEASE NOTE: This article is credited, in its entirety, to reporter Chris Bakker.
Earlier this month, anti-Islamic movement, Pegida, announced their intention to demonstrate in Eindhoven. That was to have been on Saturday. Last Monday, the protest group, Nederland in Verzet (The Netherlands in Resistance), made their own announcement. They wanted to demonstrate against the corona measures, also in Eindhoven.
In the days that followed, Eindhoven’s Mayor John Jorritsma banned the Pegida march. Nederland in Verzet’s organiser also said they’d be cancelling their demonstration. Meanwhile, extensive plans were being made on social media sites.
These included Telegram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Facebook. People were being urged to protest and organise riots on Sunday. The call comes from organised movements targeting the corona measures.
These group members discussed details. They talked about using who should use flammable liquids. And where people should congregate.
On Saturday, the Dutch Military Police said they’d be deploying two platoons to help enforce the curfew. The Military police stationed these platoons in Amersfoort, The Hague, and Eindhoven. The curfew came into effect on Saturday night for the first time
And all was quiet. Images of a deserted Eindhoven were shared on social media. But, that was the It turns out to be the calm before the storm.
Wanted to go ahead anyway
On Sunday morning, Pegida said they were going ahead with their protest. That was despite the Mayor’s ban. People were also making plans to demonstrate in various app groups and on Facebook.
Mayor Jorritsma was feeling apprehensive on Sunday morning. He met with the police and the local justice department. They designated the city centre as a security risk area from 11:00.
The municipality said they’d become aware that armed people were going to come to Eindhoven. They were allegedly prepared to be violent. In the course of the morning, cars were stopped on various access roads to the city. They were checked. But these roads remained open, and train traffic continued.
Could just walk in
The police placed cars in several places. But people could walk to the centre, unimpeded. And that’s precisely what happens. As the day wore on, hundreds of people began gathering on 18 Septemberplein.
Het wordt te druk op het 18-Septemberplein in #Eindhoven. Covid-maatregelen worden niet meer nageleefd. Mensen worden opgeroepen om het plein te verlaten.
— Politie Oost-Brabant (@politieob) January 24, 2021
At 14:21 the police tweeted that it is too busy on 18 Septemberplein. They urged people to leave the area. They used megaphones and information boards for this too. A few minutes later, the police took action.
Some protesters refused to leave the area and resisted the police. This action included using a water cannon. The mob ran through the Vestdijk tunnel to Fellenoord.
The police Mobile Unit (ME) took up position on the northside of the tunnel. Train traffic to and from Eindhoven Central was brought to a halt too. By 14:50, hundreds of people had gathered on Fellenoord, between Boschdijk and Veldmaarschalk Montgomerylaan.
The rioters randomly throw heavy fireworks. There were a few placards, displaying slogans like “Vaccine Nazis”. The protestors broke pavement stones into smaller pieces. They flung these at the police.
Cars, with honking drivers, were still on Fellenoord. Whenever a police car was spotted, it was pelted with stones and other objects. Fellenoord was lined with police cars. But they kept their distance and didn’t intervene.
No en masse arrests
The demonstrators walked up and down Fellenoord for about half an hour. Police had the chance to encircle and arrest everyone in the crowd. They, however, did not. It might be that the police wanted to prevent the situation from escalating further. Thye must’ve hoped the group would disperse and people would go home.
The water cannon truck got a flat tire and was out of commission for a while. The ME formed a line in the Boschdijk tunnel. They wanted to prevent the rioters from reaching the city centre via this tunnel.
At 15:17 it seems the previously cleared Vestdijktunnel open up again and the ME had withdrawn to 18 Septemberplein. The rioters took their chance. They returned en masse via the Vestdijk tunnel to 18 Septemberplein.
And that’s when the trouble truly started. Police vans circled the square to keep the crowd out. The rioters began chanting “Dictatorship! Dictatorship!’. They started throwing everything they could get their hands on. Paving stones, bricks, bicycles, a scooter, heavy fireworks, paint bombs – you name it. A group of about 70 rioters gradually started moving towards the police.
The ME vans had to retreat further and further. Until it was almost impossible for them to turn around. At around 15:35, the ME started using teargas to disperse the rioters. This was extremely effective – the rioters withdrew but gathered on Stationsplein.
The hoard of people stole chairs and tables from restaurants near the station. They used these to erect barriers. They threw bicycles, scooters and fences on heaps and set them alight.
Emergency order announced
At 16:05, the municipality announced an emergency order. Everyone was supposed to leave the centre if the police ordered it. The rioters didn’t comply. Instead, they prepared for a charge from the ME.
At 16:23, the vandalism at the station itself begins. A ProRail car was parked in the taxi rank in from of the station. Rioters smashed its windows and stole everything they could find. One of the rioters threw fireworks into the car. You could hear him shouting, “GET AWAY FROM THAT CAR”. The crowd did just that.
A loud bang came from the car. And dozens of rioters go back to tip the vehicle. People cheer loudly, and two rioters enthusiastically jump on the vehicle. Someone grabs a bottle of flammable liquid, empties it into the car and sets it on fire.
It was total anarchy. People pelt the digital information boards with stones and knock them over. Rioters pull down light poles with security cameras and steal the cameras. A digital billboard is completely destroyed. Someone throws a bicycle through it, douses it with a flammable liquid and sets it alight.
At 16:32, the station’s glass windows become the target. The station’s doors are locked. Inside are some railway security guards, but none of the ME is around. Rioters throw dozens of stones, mainly against the first floor of the building.
Minutes later, at 16:36, the doors of the station building are also targeted. The rioters manage to penetrate the station building and loot the Jumbo. Several of them put their stolen items into the supermarket’s recognisable yellow bags.
At 16:46, the looting in the station comes to an abrupt end. The ME squad formed a line and slowly advanced towards the station. The water cannon is back in action and is put to full use.
The ME is advancing toward the Effenaar. Rioters flee into the centre via the Effenaar and break up into smaller groups. A little further on, at Parklaan and Fuutlaan roundabout, there are five motorcycle police officers and a police car stopping traffic.
Smaller groups of rioters and looters continued to mill about, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. A few rubbish bins are set on fire. In other places, like Kleine Berg Street, they smash shop windows.
The Military Police arrive at around 17:40. Platoons of soldiers and police Moblie Unit officers make their way systematically go through the centre. They treat the rioters they encounter with a heavy hand.
As night approached, things quieten down in the heart of Eindhoven. Residents, business owners, ProRail and NS representative, and police officers inspect the destruction. It will cost hundreds of thousands of euros to repair just the station building. The total amount of damage is still unknown.
The police don’t know who exactly was involved. They are investigating who the perpetrators are and to which groups they belong. Some of the rioters are from Eindhoven or its surrounding villages. But some came other parts of Brabant and even beyond.
Almost 80 arrests so far
As of Tuesday afternoon, the police have apprehended 77 people. They are still analysing the footage and expect to make more arrests. The Eindhoven City Council is also conduction an independent investigation into the riots.
The research should clarify how this violence could have started and what future lessons can be learned. The COT Institute for Security and Crisis Management will conduct the study. Results are expected in about five weeks. These are discussed with the police and the judiciary, and ultimately also with the municipal council.
For this reconstruction, Studio040 emailed several questions to the East Brabant police department on Monday morning. They responded as such:
“We urged people not to come to the city. We were prepared due to information that large groups were coming to Eindhoven. They were looking to cause serious trouble.”
“We went to great efforts to prepare for this. We constantly anticipate and focus on what might happen. That’s exactly what the ME did yesterday. We always evaluate our efforts and that, too, will be done, following Sunday’s events.”
About this reconstruction
Chris Bakker wrote this reconstruction. He was present during the demonstration, confrontations with the ME, riots and looting. As far as Chris could see, he was the only independent journalist there. In addition to his own observations, he used social media reports and the police and council’s official information channels for this story.
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This story was made possible in part by the Incentive Fund for Journalism. Dtv, Omroep Venlo, Studio040, and WOS Media. These groups work together on local investigative journalism.