One of the problems public health officials face with treating Covid-19 is that it presents in so many ways, and the increasing number of variants all have their own characteristics – high temperature, continuous cough, loss of taste and smell, and in Germany’s case, apparently, a tendency towards political extremism.
That’s what Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has found, as the numbers of those involved in political extremism at both ends of the spectrum have soared to record levels, thanks, they believe, to a hardening of attitudes caused by the pandemic.
And while in broad terms, that might be alarming, what some might find more concerning is the extent to which the BfV is clearly spying on its citizens. From anti-lockdowners like the Querdenkers (Lateral Thinkers) to more mainstream organisations such as the country’s largest opposition party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the message to all Germans is unmistakable: Big Brother is watching.
The very specific data announced by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and the BfV president, Thomas Haldenwang, indicates monitoring far and above that of simply performing headcounts at climate marches or rowdy protests outside the Reichstag.
The report found that the number of right-wing extremists grew by 3.8% to 33,300 people last year, and that almost 40% of them were “violent, willing to use violence or supportive of violence.” Meanwhile, on the extreme left, there was an increase of 3% in 2020 to 34,300 people – a handy thousand more – so they now outnumber those deemed far right.
But that doesn’t mean the focus has shifted, because crime among the far left, however, was less prevalent, with 6,632 reported offences as opposed to 23,604 crimes linked to the far right.
Extremists of all hues have used, as cover, the street marches and protests that have taken place across Germany over the last 18 months, following widespread discontent at the way the government has handled the pandemic.
Seehofer said that while demonstrations organised by the far right were often called off, extremists would shift their allegiance to authorised marches and attempt to infiltrate them in order to further their own objectives. He said mainstream protesters often failed to spot the extremists in their midst, while he also warned that far-left extremists were moving away from large-scale demonstration-type events into more clandestine, small group activities using violence.
And that is also a trend on the right, as the identification of fragmented groups there might suggest. There was a 5% boost last year in the numbers of so-called Reich citizens, a nutjob hotchpotch of conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, and racists who reject the state and insist instead that the 1919 Weimar Constitution remains in effect. Their numbers now stand at around 20,000 according to the report, with 10% of those considered to be prone to violence. While often compared to neo-Nazis, they are actually ridiculed by them, who consider their views beyond the pale.
Not short of these off-the-wall fringe groups to worry about, the BfV annual report also identified, for the first time, the ‘New Right’ which Haldenwang described as a “breeding ground” for right-wing extremism which provided the “ideological justification” for right-wing extremists, for example, to resist an alleged “re-population.”
Hmm. Maybe this is where partisan politics creeps into the conversation. The head of the intelligence service has spoken recently of right-wing extremism as the “greatest threat to our security and our democracy,” and pointedly commented in announcing the new report on opposition party AfD’s problems, with its now-dissolved radical ‘The Wing’ and rowdy Junge Alternative youth organisation.
Both he and the government minister by his side must have been aware of the recent analysis of the Saxony-Anhalt regional election, which found that while the Christian Democrats won the day, if the result had been solely decided on by the votes of under-30s, then AfD would have been clear winners.
However, in creating in the public’s mind an inextricable link between extremism and right-wing ideology, while making no such claims for the left, the demonisation of the right ut totum continues in the public conversation. When those in charge decide what is and isn’t extremism, then it’s easy to portray as ‘extremist’ someone who simply doesn’t share your views.
As leading AfD Euro MP Gunnar Beck told RT.com, “No other western state has an organisation that has as comprehensive a remit to monitor the activities of its entire population as the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. It can do what it likes.”
And that means making the rules. Beck explained, “The BfV once limited itself to political activities that were expressly designed to overthrow the political order in Germany. Nowadays, by a combination of judicial activism and executive interpretation not checked by the courts, they’ve interpreted the term ‘unconstitutional’ to include any activity that is questioning a woke interpretation of the German constitution.
“So you have things like the recent report about the coronavirus that said that anyone who tries to delegitimise any of the institutions of the Federal Republic is acting unconstitutionally.
“Any view that’s broadly conservative – I wouldn’t even say right wing – on social issues and migration, anything that’s aimed at skewering the survival of the nation state in any recognisable form, is now regarded as unconstitutional.”
That means as the BfV is now applying a broader definition of ‘unconstitutional’ to an increasingly pandemic-weary public, more people are attracting their attention for expressing views outside its interpretation of what it is permitted and are being labelled as extreme. It must be exhausting, but is the sort of job the intelligence services thrive on.
Yet as Beck said, “There is a tendency in Germany, I’m afraid, where people love just keeping an eye on what their neighbours are doing.
“Germany has 19 intelligence services; three at federal level and one for each of the regions. No other state anywhere in the world has quite as many. The GDR (Former East Germany) got by with two.”
With a relish for the task, Germany’s spooks are doing a thorough job monitoring a largely docile public as their exactitude clearly demonstrates. But as long as they continue to widen the definition of what falls under the umbrella of what constitutes extremism, it will continue to flourish, even after the pandemic recedes.
The problem is not with the German people becoming more radicalised, it is with the intelligence chiefs watching over them deciding they don’t agree with the way they think.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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