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Germany records rise in neo-Nazis, far-right extremists in pandemic-hit 2020

Police using water cannons to disperse protesters
Police use water cannons to disperse anti-lockdown protesters near the Reichstag in Berlin in November.
(Michael Sohn / Associated Press)

Authorities in Germany say that the number of far-right extremists in the country increased last year as neo-Nazis sought to join protests against pandemic-related restrictions.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Tuesday that authorities counted 33,300 far-right extremists in 2020, an increase of almost 4% from the previous year.

“Far-right extremists were repeatedly able to protest side by side” with non-extremist opponents of the coronavirus restrictions, Seehofer said.

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He added that it was worrying how the demonstrators often didn’t disavow the far-right extremists marching among them.

According to data published in an annual report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the domestic intelligence agency known in Germany as the BfV, some 40% of the far-right extremists in Germany are believed to support the use of violence for political ends.

BfV chief Thomas Haldenwang said the so-called New Right was to blame for much of the recent radicalization. He called its supporters “intellectual arsonists” and said his agency was closely watching the movement, parts of which have been linked to the far-right anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party.

Police raid homes in three German states after the government banned a far-right group that wants to reestablish a Nazi dictatorship.

“The New Right provides the ideological justification for the actions of violent far-right extremists,” Haldenwang told reporters in Berlin. “They preach from morning till evening that there is a big population replacement occurring in Germany and that this needs to be resisted.”

Josef Schuster, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, said the latest BfV report showed “the shocking extent to which the threat to Jewish life in Germany has further grown.”

Schuster urged security agencies and judicial authorities to act against antisemitism and extremism, while keeping a close eye on right-wing populists.

Schuster accused Alternative for Germany and some media of inflaming an already-tense situation ahead of the country’s national elections in September.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives fought off a challenge from the far right in a state election Sunday, a last big test before September’s national vote.

The BfV report also noted an increase in the number of left-wing extremists last year compared with 2019, though a smaller share was considered supportive of violence.

The number of Islamists remained stable last year, according to the report.


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