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'Violent potential' among anti-lockdown group

December 10, 2020

Germany's domestic intelligence agency has identified an "intensified escalation potential" within Querdenker movement that includes coronavirus skeptics.

Police stand in a row during a Querdenker protest
Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution noted 'violent potential' among anti-lockdown protestersImage: Fabian Bimmer/REUTERS

Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, said large turnouts of the "Querdenker" (lateral thinker) movement — seen at recent anti-Corona-lockdown protests — harbored "intensified escalation potential."

The Cologne-based office tasked with upholding Germany's post-war constitution told newspapers of the Funke Media Group on Thursday that this had been the case at large protests where far-right groups had urged attendance.

Small rallies had also taken place and were largely peaceful, the BfV said, albeit adding that there had been "attacks" on police units and media representatives at large gatherings.

Querdenker adherents, including coronavirus-skeptics and anti-lockdown protesters, claim the COVID-19 pandemic and long-established federal and regional laws aimed at halting the pathogen's spread infringe on citizens' liberties.

A peak moment came in August when extremists tried to push their way into the Reichstag building in Berlin and enter Germany's parliament, resulting in arrests.

Over 20,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Germany since the beginning of the pandemic and more than 1.2 million people have been infected with the coronavirus.

The BfV assessment preceded a two-day conference of federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and counterparts from Germany's 16 regional states.

Police and protesters scuffle under the spray of a water cannon
Police fired water cannons at protesters who did not adhere to pandemic-related restrictionsImage: Boris Roessler/dpa/picture alliance

Under surveillance in one state

On Wednesday, Baden-Württemberg state's interior minister, Thomas Strobel, announced that the Stuttgart-based "Querdenker 711" movement had been placed under observation by that state's own intelligence agency.

The state agency's chief, Beate Bube, said observation status allowed her staff to use the full array of measures in surveilling the group — typically informants and eavesdropping.

"Querdenker are opposed to the peaceful democratic order," asserted Bube.

Boris Pistorius, interior minister of Germany's northern state of Lower Saxony, welcomed Baden-Württemberg's move, saying, "From within the movement, legitimate protest against coronavirus measures has developed into an attack on the state and democracy."

Herbert Reul, interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, told the RND news network, "One problem is that individuals in the movement are becoming increasingly violent."

That left police squads required to uphold the right to demonstrate at large events having to decide between "the good and the bad," said Reul.

German media outlet t-online reported that messages among Querdenker circles on the social media channel Telegram discussed a day of action using large vehicles to block sensitive transport interchanges.

Germany federal criminal police agency said it and cooperating security authorities had an eye on the risks posed by that scenario

ipj/sms (epd, dpa, AFP)