Capitol riot, Covid skepticism fuel right-wing extremism in Germany, intelligence agencies warn

MUNICH – While much of the liberal West watched the January 6 uprising in the US Capitol with horror, right-wing extremism and anti-Semitic ideas are gaining ground in certain parts of the world.

German officials say the violence in Washington, along with coronavirus skepticism and anti-lockdown sentiment, encouraged right-wing groups. Rising extremism has led the country’s intelligence services to monitor a number of people.

“The security services are wide awake and monitor all developments,” replied Alina Vick, spokeswoman for the German Interior Ministry, at a press conference on January 25th to questions from NBC News.

According to preliminary police figures released on Thursday, the number of crimes committed by right-wing extremists rose to its highest level in at least four years in 2020.

Suspicious coronavirus deniers have attacked a number of people and organizations in the past few months. In October, the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s center for disease control, was the target of an arson attack. On the same day, an explosive detonated in the Berlin office of the Leibniz Association, a group of research institutes that have also researched the coronavirus.

Anti-lockdown demonstrations have increased in recent weeks as Germany tightened coronavirus restrictions, which will apply until at least mid-February.

A woman lights a candle next to the entrance of a synagogue in Munich during a protest against anti-Semitism on October 11, 2019, two days after a fatal shootout against a Turkish restaurant in Halle after an attempt in the synagogue.Christof Stache / AFP via Getty Images File

Secret services have shown a particular interest in the group lateral thinking 711, whose name loosely translated means “thinking outside the box”. The anti-lockdown group, which was founded in Stuttgart, the capital of the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, has inspired similar groups nationwide that advocate a mixture of QAnon conspiracy theories, anti-Semitic ideas, and frustration over coronavirus restrictions.

In December, the Baden-Württemberg secret service put the group on a watch list and warned of increasing extremism.

“We are dealing with a movement that formed on the occasion of the Korona protests and then radicalized further,” said Beate Bube, President of the Baden-Württemberg secret service, in a recent interview with a local newspaper. “We see an anti-government stance in demonstrations and in online activities. Such attitudes are specially fanned by the organizers.”

She said the group was not interested in legitimate protest and was simply trying to spread false information about the coronavirus and undermine the rule of law. The uprising in the US Capitol added fuel to those feelings.

“What we saw in Washington can be a breeding ground for radicalization and violent action in the right-wing scene,” said Bube. “On the state scene, we are currently seeing verbal approval for the violence in the Capitol.”

While official national statistics on extremism for 2020 are not yet available, preliminary figures from a German legislature suggest that the police have made records the highest number of right-wing extremist crimes since 2016. The police recorded 23,080 crimes with a right-wing extremist background, around 700 more than in the previous year.

A report by RIAS Bavaria, a non-profit organization, documented 46 anti-Semitic incidents related to coronavirus conspiracy theories in the Bavarian state alone from January 1 to October 31, 2020. Many incidents occurred during demonstrations, others online or in everyday life.

Annette Seidel-Arpaci, the head of RIAS Bayern, said in an interview that the protests against the coronavirus have helped to promote anti-Semitic beliefs more generally and increase the possibility of violence.

“The danger is that ideas are converted into public speeches and thus possibly into actions,” said Seidel-Arpaci.

Even before the pandemic, right-wing attacks shocked Germany in recent years. In 2019, a shooter attacked a synagogue on Yom Kippur and a man with far-right views shot a politician.

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According to the report from RIAS Bayern, a Jewish pedestrian was approached last year in a Munich park by a man who was wearing a T-shirt that said “Corona Denier” and “Anti-Vaxxer”. The attacker claimed Jews created the coronavirus, according to the report.

In another documented case, a German rapper posted a video on Instagram claiming the Rothschild family was behind a curfew that was put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Seidel-Arpaci said signs of anti-Semitism were evident in early protests against coronavirus measures last year, but that those feelings have now become much more common.

“The victims feel more fear and insecurity,” said Seidel-Arpaci. “Not only because of the coronavirus pandemic, but in general, anti-Semitism is being practiced more openly, especially in everyday life.”

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