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German police probe far-right would-be vigilantes

October 16, 2019

Three men in the eastern town of Döbeln are suspected of unlawful assembly and impersonating authorities. Police said the men were pretending to be social workers ridding the streets of "cannabis-smelling foreigners."

A German police officer and car
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K.-J. Hildenbrand

Police in the eastern German town of Döbeln were asking additional witnesses to come forward on Wednesday following reports that men were pretending to be social service workers, wearing orange vests that read "protection zone" and "patrolling" the town for what they called "cannabis-smelling foreigners."

According to the police statement, the police had identified at least three men, confiscated a vest, and made them leave the downtown area where they had assembled. Charges of unlawful assembly, as well as impersonating officials are being considered against the men, who had gathered in the town on Friday.

Sonja Penzel, the police commissioner for the nearby city of Chemnitz, said, "The 'protection zone' activities of a few clearly right-wing extremists have disconcerted me a considerable amount, especially in light of the fact that they were pretending to be social workers engaged in on-the-street work...vigilantism is not only unnecessary but completely unacceptable."

The nature of the possible crimes are especially sensitive in eastern Germany, which was just rocked by a deadly anti-Semitic shooting, and in Chemnitz in particular. In August and September 2018, Chemnitz was the site of several far-right and neo-Nazi marches after two immigrants were arrested in connection with the murder of a Cuban-German man.

Germany has had sporadic issues in the past with would-be vigilantes. A group called Die Rechte (The Right), based in the city of Dortmund, has posted video to YouTube, in which they claimed to be "patrolling" a parking lot they alleged was a gay hook-up spot, and this past May, seven young men were ordered to pay fines in the city of Wuppertal for claiming to be the "Sharia police" and visiting casinos, brothels, and bars to criticize the morals of fellow Muslims.

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Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.
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