The “Querdenken” (which can be roughly translated as “thinking outside of the box”) demonstrations in Berlin that occurred this past weekend, exaggerated by participants as a “Storming of Berlin”, are over. The picture that emerged is one that was predicted by many experts on right-wing extremism and conspiracy ideologies. On August 29, 2020, Berlin was the site of the largest far-right mobilisation since Chemnitz in 2018. The mobilisation involved, among others, the far-right splinter parties NPD and “Der III. Weg” (The Third Way), the “Identitarian Movement”, the AfD politician Björn Höcke, “Compact” magazine and the pioneer of the “New Right”, Götz Kubitschek. Since April, people from the JSUD have monitored the so-called “hygiene demos” in Berlin. From the beginning, right-wing groups and parties moved to co-opt this new movement.
Indeed, these groups have failed to organise any events worth mentioning of their own. But through acceptance and a lack of distancing themselves from such extremists, “hygiene demos” have quickly become a safe space for the far right, neo-Nazis, “Reichsbürger*innen” (the souvreignist “Reich citizens’” movement), right-wing esotericists and antisemites of all stripes. By this point at the very latest, the organisers of “Querdenken 711” were not concerned with fostering a democratic discourse, but rather with drawing the largest crowd they could. It’s important to also mention at this point the problematic, anti-democratic and antisemitic statements that have been made by “Querdenken 711” themselves.
Throughout the demonstrations in Berlin, whether at Alexanderplatz, in front of the Reichstag or the Brandenburg Gate, participants sported clothing from known neo-Nazi shops, tattoos relating to National Socialism and flew the black-white-red of the “German Reich”. The reporting focused primarily on the ridiculousness of the participants. Many articles or tweets spoke of “Covididioten” (covidiots) or “Schwurblern” (wafflers). Much of what is being spread at the demonstrations or in various Telegram groups sounds absurd. However, a dangerous and murderous ideology lurks just beneath the surface. Fueled by the discourse of these groups and proliferated through digital communication channels, the antisemitic conspiracy ideology of the “QAnon” movement has succeeded in gaining a foothold in Germany. Especially after far-right terror attack in Hanau, we should be well aware of this ideology. In his video, the right-wing terrorist made clear references to “QAnon”. The “Q” is now an integral part of these “hygiene demos”.
Attempts to pathologise the demonstrators and their ideology are a mistake. The same goes for the statements made by the President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (In German: “Verfassungsschutz”), Thomas Haldenwang, who refused to acknowledge the dominance of the far right in these demonstrations. August 29th was a success for the right-wing extremist scene. The media staging and the images produced in front of the Reichstag building have already spread around the world. Because of the proliferation of these images through various live streams and channels, there is now the possibility of more people feeling empowered to take their anti-constitutional views onto the streets. We as a society must stand up against these tendencies. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution must intensify the fight against the anti-democratic and anti-liberal forces in our country. This requires extensive monitoring of conspiracist “Telegram” groups, as well as close observation of the antisemitic “QAnon” movement.
After this weekend, there must be a massive rethinking of how we interact and deal with this conspiracy-laden milieu. While there was a detailed risk assessment for people recognisable as Jewish, politicians continued to show sympathy towards some of the demonstrators. We have not had any understanding for these demonstrators for a long time. After the far-right rampages on the streets of Chemnitz in 2018, we had hoped to raise awareness of the fears of marginalised groups in this country. The Covid-19 pandemic is a unique and stressful situation for all of us. There is no question about that, and we as a society must find a solution. But anyone who marches through the capital with right-wing extremists, Shoah relativists and antisemites is a part of the problem and not interested in a solution!
Ruben Gerczikow is Vice President of the “Jewish Student Union of Germany (JSUD)” and Vice President of the “European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS).
Translated from German by W. F. Thomas.