Saturday

31st Oct 2020

Coronavirus

Far right using pandemic to win friends in Germany

  • Extremists freely mingled with other corona-deniers at mass rally in Berlin on 29 August (Photo: Matthias Berg)

Far-right zealots in Germany are using the pandemic to "build bridges" with more mainstream corona-deniers, in a sign of the political and social damage being caused by Covid-19 in Europe.

Right-wing extremists "carried out or dominated" 92 anti-mask rallies in recent months, the German interior ministry told EUobserver on Thursday (24 September).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

They mobilised 1,500 people in Berlin on 16 May at their own biggest event.

Most of the rallies attracted numbers of participants "in the two to three-digit range", the German ministry noted.

But far-right infiltrators also won visibility at a mainstream anti-mask protest in Berlin in August, which attracted a "heterogeneous gathering" of 20,000 people, and in which extremists staged incidents at the Russian embassy and German parliament buildings.

The groups and social media agitators behind the drive come from what German security services called "Reichsbürger/Selbstverwalter" and "Rechtsextremisten".

Reichsbürger/Selbstverwalter groups reject government authority and adhere to the former German Reich, which ended in 1945.

Rechtsextremisten are a broader spectrum that includes everything from neo-Nazis to some voters for Germany's far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the third-largest in parliament.

Their aim was "to use the displeasure in parts of the population in view of the restrictions on public life ... and to expand their ability to connect to the 'middle class' under the common objective of opposing the measures," the German interior ministry told EUobserver.

Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), was "closely monitoring the developments".

And there were signs that the extremists' outreach was gaining traction, the interior ministry said.

The mainstream corona-deniers at the big Berlin rally in August did "not make any effort" to separate themselves from the far-right fringe, who brought their own flags and banners, the ministry noted.

"Rather, they denied the presence of extremist people and content or rated it as unproblematic," the ministry added.

"They thought it was OK to march alongside them", a German contact said.

The extremist groups were "mobilising intensively on social media", the German ministry noted.

And their stories appeared to be winning an audience in German society.

The extreme-right narrative was that "the aim of the corona measures is not to fight the pandemic, but to ultimately restrict basic rights as an end in itself," the ministry said.

"For this purpose, false reports and conspiracy theories are also used, according to which the federal government is exploiting the crisis to install comprehensive monitoring mechanisms," the ministry added.

Wider malaise

The German developments mirrored elements in a wider anti-mask movement in Europe.

Some corona-denier and anti-mask rallies in Brussels, Dublin, London, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Rotterdam, and Zurich have attracted thousands of people in recent weeks.

The protesters taking part were also consuming extreme far-right content, including antisemitic coronavirus conspiracy theories, via leading social medial platforms.

And, as in Germany, they contained a "middle-class" or mainstream element.

The typical anti-mask protester at a recent rally in Paris, for instance, was a professional, middle-aged woman, according to a Facebook survey by French think-tank the Fondation Jean Jaurès.

"The anti-mask movement seems to be associated with an objection to challenged personal freedom", Karen Douglas, a professor of social psychology at the University of Kent in the UK, told EUobserver.

"Being made to wear a mask challenges people's civil liberties, and it might therefore make sense that more privileged groups in society would adopt this standpoint," she said.

Visual Data

Coronavirus: Will a second wave divide Europe again?

Experts are now warning of the "very serious" surge in Covid-19 cases in Europe - where new weekly cases exceede those reported in March. The worst-hit countries are Spain and France - while Italy is resisting the much-feared second wave.

Court verdict sees sun set on Greece's Golden Dawn

While the leaders of Greece's Golden Dawn facing lengthy jail terms, the atmosphere remains tense in Athens and some other parts of Greece. Depending on the exact sentencing, further clashes between anarchist-leftists and remnants of the extreme-right may ensue.

Investigation

EU money used by neo-Nazi to promote Holocaust denial

A prominent Holocaust-denier has made the cover of an EU-funded newsletter, which was published by an avowed German neo-Nazi with a lengthy criminal record. The lack of clear labelling of the MEP behind it violates European Parliament rules.

Europe is back in (partial) lockdown

The burden on healthcare systems all across the bloc, as a result of the autumn surge in coronavirus infections, is triggering new nationwide lockdowns and restrictive measures in nearly every EU member state.

News in Brief

  1. Polish government rows back on abortion ruling
  2. EU threatens legal action against Poland on rule of law
  3. 'Several dead' after earthquake hits Greece and Turkey
  4. Hungary faces EU court over asylum restrictions
  5. Polish PM urges end to abortion protests to 'protect elderly'
  6. EU to fund cross-border hospital transfers
  7. Some 140 migrants drown on way to Spanish islands
  8. EU central bank preparing new rescue measures

EU tries to avoid lockdowns as global death toll reaches 1m

Several member states are putting forward restrictive Covid-19-related measures to try to control the surge of numbers of coronavirus cases, trying to avoid a second lockdown. Meanwhile, the global death toll from the novel coronavirus has reached one million.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. Nice attack: EU urges world leaders to stop hate speech
  2. Europe is back in (partial) lockdown
  3. Gender equality still 60 years away, warns study
  4. I'm an 'election observer' - but what do we actually do?
  5. Deal in reach on linking EU funds to rule of law
  6. EU Commission's Covid-19 expert offers bleak outlook
  7. Belgium's collaboration with Sudan's secret service: my story
  8. What do ordinary Belarusians want from the EU?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us