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Right-wing extremism on the rise in Germany

July 9, 2020

Right-wing extremism increased in Germany last year, the country's domestic intelligence agency has reported, with over 32,000 extremists identified. The report also found that more suspects are prepared to use violence.

Far-right demonstrators
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. B. Fishman

Right-wing extremism poses the biggest threat to security in Germany, the country's interior minister said Thursday at the presentation of the 2019 report by Germany's domestic intelligence agency. 

In Berlin, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and the head of Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) Thomas Haldenwang presented the organization's most recent findings, which showed that right-wing extremism in Germany sharply increased last year.

According to the report, the BfV identified 32,080 right-wing extremists in Germany in 2019, up from 24,100 the year before. 

The BfV classified 13,000 of these cases as prepared to use violence, 300 more than in 2018.

Right-wing extremism, racism, and anti-Semitism continue to increase in Germany, Seehofer said.

"These areas are the biggest threat to security in Germany," he said. 

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Former AfD faction boosts extremist numbers

Seehofer pointed to government action over the last year, saying no other government in Germany had done so much to fight far-right extremism.

In recent months, several extreme far-right organizations were banned for views or activities deemed anti-constitutional.

For the first time this year, the BfV report also reviewed the activities and member of the radical "Flügel", or Wing, faction of Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

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The controversial faction officially disbanded earlier this year after the BfV put the group under surveillance. But the agency estimates there remains a membership of around 7,000 individuals, some 20% of the AfD.

This accounts for a significant share of the increase in right-wing extremists recorded by the BfV in 2019.

"Racism and anti-Semitism emerge to a very considerable degree out of right-wing extremism," Seehofer said. "Over 90% of anti-Semitic incidents can be traced back to right-wing extremism.  And therefore it is not an exaggeration to say this is the biggest security policy concern in our country."

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Left-wing extremism also on the rise

The report also noted an uptick in left-wing extremists, logging 33,500 extremists from the far-left spectrum in 2019 compared to 32,000 the year before.

"Characteristic of the left-wing extremist scene is its pronounced heterogeneity," the report said. "The left-wing extremist scene can be divided into two camps — violent and non-violent left-wing extremists."

The BfV recorded 6,449 criminal acts motivated by left-wing extremism in 2019, up from 4,622 in 2018, a near 40% increase.  Just over 900 of these crimes were considered violent.

Islamic terrorism also remains a significant threat, the report found.

"The danger of [Islamic] terrorism in Germany is still very high," Seehofer said, adding that the BfV had identified nearly 650 cases of the threat of Islamic terror last year.

Attacks and planned attacks in Germany and Europe are, however, declining overall, the report said.

Breaking the trend

BfV head Haldenwang noted that the coronavirus crisis had pushed recent right-wing attacks in Germany out of the news cycle, but said the security agency continued in its work preventing such events.

Among far-right extremists there exists a "competition" as to which attack can result in the highest number of victims, Haldenwang said.

"We're talking about breaking a 'high score' of number of victims," he said. "We have to break this trend."

To this end, Haldenwang called on the media to resist putting too much focus on the perpetrators of terrorist attacks.

kp/rs (AFP, dpa, epd)

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