Police and prosecutors in Germany's eastern state of Saxony said on Wednesday that they were investigating a credible right-wing death threat against state premier Michael Kretschmer.
The plot to assassinate Kretschmer, first reported by public broadcaster ZDF, is directly related to his stance on the pandemic.
Journalists infiltrated a group on the Telegram messaging app calling itself the "Dresden Offline Network." Several of the group's 103 members, besides espousing COVID-19 conspiracy theories and railing against vaccines, were suggesting armed violence against Kretschmer and his government, state police said.
"Individual members made statements about the possession of piercing weapons and crossbows," they told reporters. The leader of the group, they added, also used the chat to coach members in procuring weapons.
The threats were considered credible enough to open an investigation into possible criminal charges, which is being led by a branch of Saxony's anti-terror unit that specializes in right-wing extremism.
"We must mobilize against such violation of boundaries with all legal means," Kretschmer told the German dpa news agency on Wednesday in response to the news of an investigation. "People who hold public office should have no fear of speaking their minds or doing their jobs."
"It's not that it doesn't matter to me," Kretschmer clarified. "Of course it also concerns me. But if anything it gives me strength and energy. If this were the normal way that we deal with each other in this country, then all would be lost. But it is not."
Kretschmer's COVID about-face
Saxony is bearing the full brunt of Germany's fourth, and most severe, wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Vaccine uptake is the lowest in the country, with just 58.6% of the population fully immunized. It has the highest number of cases proportional to its population by far, and has had the most COVID-19-related deaths per capita since the start of the pandemic.
The state has been a hot bed for anti-vaccine agitation, including regular protests by the Querdenker, or "Lateral Thinker" movement.
As coronavirus cases began to drastically increase in recent months, Kretschmer was one of the first state leaders tocancel activities like Christmas markets and restrict access to certain public spaces for the unvaccinated.
A member of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), Kretschmer has made a total about-face in his pandemic policies. In October 2020 he referred to COVID restrictions as "hysteria" and was seen at an anti-lockdown protest. However, in December of that year, as Saxony's hospital beds began filling up, he apologized for his cavalier attitude. In November 2021, he argued against the plan of federal Health Minister Jens Spahn, a member of his own party, to end the nationwide state of emergency.