Far right seizing COVID-19 ‘opportunity’ to expand: Study

German commissioned study says the new far-right movement is ‘leaderless, transnational, apocalyptic’ and violent.

Far-right groups demonstrate following the 75th anniversary of the WW2 bombings in Dresden, Germany, February 15, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said 'right-wing extremism' was the 'biggest threat' to Europe's security [File: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters]

Far-right individuals in Europe and the United States are increasingly forming global links and using the coronavirus pandemic to attract anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists to their cause, a study commissioned by the German foreign ministry said.

The study, released on Friday, was carried out in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the US, Sweden and Finland by the Counter Extremism Project (CEP). It documents the emergence of a new far-right movement since 2014 that is “leaderless, transnational, apocalyptic and oriented towards violence”.

The people involved believe in the nationalist theory of “great replacement” being orchestrated to supplant Europe’s white population with outsiders.

The study said the movement was fuelled by “music, violent sport, money, and violence”.

“Music and violent sport events are a common feature of many violent XRW [extreme right wing] scenes transnationally,” the study said.

“They aim to provide the movement with finances to sustain its existence and attract previously unconnected individuals as potential recruits to its ranks.”

The CEP report said the movement was largely male-dominated but there had been instances of “female terrorist plotters or attackers”.

Over the last year, the pandemic has also become an opportunity seized to “expand their mobilisation efforts around anti-government conspiracy myths criticising the current restrictions”, it said.

“Right-wing extremism is the biggest threat to our security – across Europe,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter on Friday.

Voicing alarm that the scene is “increasingly acting and networking internationally”, Maas added that Germany is seeking to counter the menace through coordinated action with other European Union members.

Far-right threat in Germany

German authorities are paying more attention to the country’s underground extreme right scene since the murder of conservative local politician Walter Luebcke in June 2019 and an attack on a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle in October 2019.

Media reports said police discovered several weapons in the February raids, including one self-made “slam gun” similar to the one used in the Halle attack.

Government figures show that in the first half of 2019, there were nearly 9,000 attacks by far-right groups and individuals – an increase of nearly 1,000 compared with the same period the year before.

This week, a rally of nearly 10,000 opponents of government-imposed social restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Berlin saw far-right ideologues mingling among a motley crew of protesters.

About a dozen demonstrators were shouting “Sieg Heil” while performing the stiff-armed Hitler salute, in the presence of police, an AFP reporter saw.

Anti-Semitic slogans have been a fixture of some of the demonstrations against coronavirus policies in Germany this year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies