Sunday, January 25, 2015

Anti-Muslim and Anti-American demonstrations in Germany

Pegida demonstration in Dresden January 25, 2015 (from Deutsche Welle)
The anti-Muslim PEGIDA demonstrations in Dresden have gotten a lot of attention both in Germany and other countries. The acronym stands for "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West" (In German: "Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes" - the word "Abendland" literally means "lands of the evening," meaning in the direction of the setting sun. It is not the usual modern German word for Western countries). The demonstrations started early in the fall and until a couple of weeks ago seemed to be increasing in size each week.

The demonstration last Monday, however, was cancelled because of Islamist threats to one of the chief organizers of Pegida, Lutz Bachmann. Then he was forced to resign from his leadership of the organization because it was discovered that he had posted a photo of himself looking like Hitler on his Facebook page. The leaders of Pegida have claimed that they have nothing to do with Neonazis but now their assertions seem kind of hollow.

The latest Pegida demonstration was held today in Dresden, instead of Monday, because tomorrow night there's going to be a big free anti-Pegida concert in the city tomorrow. The Pegida website reported that between 20,000-25,000 attended today's demo, but Deutsche Welle reported that the police estimated attendance of about 17,500 people.

Pegada demo in front of the main train station in Erfurt.
Another demonstration, inspired by Pegida but with a different target, occurred in Erfurt yesterday. This one is anti-American, with the slogan of "Ami! Go Home!"  Between 800-1000 Pegada demonstrations were opposed by about 600 people from Antifa (anti-fascists), who as far as I could tell, were waving an American and an Israeli flag. The Antifa posted a short video to Youtube that they headlined "Nazi Assault," and captioned it
 "At the beginning of the demonstration of Pegada-march there was a Nazi assault. It was not the only attack by Nazi hooligans from Erfurt, Gera. The marshals of Pegada demonstration hand in hand with Nazi-hooligans. A taste of the HoGeSa demo in March in Erfurt." 
HoGeSa is another group that coalesced in the fall. The acronym stands for "Hooligans Gegen Salafisten" - in this case right-wing (football) Hooligans against Salafists. In October, 4,000 people came to their demonstration in Cologne and battled the police. The Facebook page for Pegada mentions HoGeSa with approval.
Over 1,000 people gathered this Saturday in Erfurt, the capital of the eastern state of Thuringia, to protest against the "Americanization" of Europe, amid a groundswell of xenophobia in eastern Germany and ongoing social movements in cities around the country directed against what's been called an "Islamization of the occident." 
The Erfurt police told DW that the situation in front of the central train station on Saturday was "outright aggressive," as protesters held posters and chanted anti-American slogans abreast with some 600 counterdemonstrators who attempted to break police lines
One of the main messages one could hear chanted by the mob was, "Ami! Go HOME," which translates roughly as, "Americans! Go HOME." A series of speakers attempted to deliver addresses to the crowd, but their speeches were drowned out by whistling from counterdemonstrators.
Journalists on the ground in Erfurt confirmed to DW that the mood was characterized by an aggressive anti-Americanism, coupled with violence between demonstrators and counterdemonstrators. A brawl nearly broke out at one juncture as counterdemonstrators, mostly young members of the left-wing anti-fascist Antifa group, attempted to block the anti-American protesters.
Conspiracy theorists and hooligans 
The anti-Americanism group is an apparent offshoot from the PEGIDA movement that has been holding weekly demonstrations for three months now. Its self-proclaimed founder, Frenchman Stephane Simon, explained the reasons behind the group's formation in a YouTube video posted this week
"We will no longer watch on as German and European politicans pull the wool over our eyes," said Simon in a video lecture during which he wrote his main theses on a whiteboard behind him. "We cannot continue to support our governments, under NATO dictates, as they pursue and further nothing other than US interests: With our money, our soldiers, and our weapons." 
The group has two names, both acronyms in nomenclatural imitation of the PEGIDA movement. Simon said he and his followers were tired of the concentration on Islamization, referring to this as a mere symptom of the more fundamental influences robbing Germany of its autonomy. PEGADA, namely, the Patriotic Europeans Against the Americanization of the Occident is more fitting. The second name, ENDGAME, or "Engaged Democrats Against the Americanization of Europe," serves to clear up ongoing qualms with the cumbersome concepts of "patriotism" and the "occident," endemic to the first name. What's clear, however, is the new focus on the United States as a motivating factor for social protest. 
A number of posts on the group's facebook page purport the explicitly bellicose nature of US administrations past and present. One warns against Washington's involvement in Ukraine as a "push for a Third World War at the expense of Germany and Western Europe in the hopes of engendering a US economic boom," publishing a video that claims to prove that Washington is pushing for a global war to rejuvenate its "dying economy." 
Also on the PEGADA facebook site one can see a number of posts expressing the support of the right-wing, anti-Islamist hooligan group HoGeSa (Hooligans against Salafists). The violent group has distanced itself from the widespread anti-Islamization PEGIDA movement in favor of anti-Americanism, because it also accuses the United States of having played a role in the formation of the "Islamic State" (IS).
As you can see, both Pegada and HoGeSa are advocating nonsensical conspiracy theories - the US certainly had no role in forming Daesh (ISIS), nor is the US pushing for a "third world war" in the Ukraine.

It seems pretty clear also that all of these groups are connected with the German far right, even if not all the people who go to Pegida marches are members of far-right groups. An article in Deutsche Welle describes the Neonazis who go to the Pegida marches.
PEGIDA, neo-Nazis, and organized rage 
Germany's well-organized neo-Nazi scene is merging with the Islamophobic PEGIDA movement. They've become an integral part of the group's weekly marches - and they appear to be tolerated by organizers. 
André E. is a highly conspicuous man. His earlobes have large holes widened over time by black rings. The backs of both his hands are covered in tattoos, one with a skull. If you don't know André E., at first he comes across as intimidating. But if you do know him, you know he's dangerous. 
He has been on trial in Germany since 2013 on charges of helping the far-right terrorist group National Socialist Underground (NSU), together with group member Beate Zschäpe. He is said to be one of her closest associates. The two are bound together by their hate - for immigrants and for Muslims. 
André E. isn't afraid to show his attitude publicly. In mid-January, right after the NSU trial in Munich, he went straight from the courtroom to a demonstration held by the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement together with his comrades from the Bavarian neo-Nazi scene. 
PEGIDA, an acronym which translates to "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West," sprung up in the eastern German city of Dresden, and has been organizing weekly demonstrations since October 2014. 
Over the past several weeks, well-organized neo-Nazi networks have established their own powerful block within the marches. Officials from far-right parties, neo-Nazis from violence-prone regional groups, and convicted right-wing terrorists are among them - people such as Karl-Heinz Statzberger, for instance, who planned to carry out a bomb attack on a Munich synagogue in 2003. 
A common cause 
When the marches get underway each week, the neo-Nazis form a kind of rearguard. They scream far-right battle cries with a gutteral roar: "If you don't love Germany, leave Germany!" And many regular citizens join in enthusiastically. Evidently no one seems to feel disturbed by their presence. 
And so it plays out again and again at PEGIDA marches in cities around the country. In northern Germany, the leadership of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) participates in the demonstrations. In Berlin, neo-Nazis march with Nazi symbols on their clothing, clearly showing off their beliefs. And at the home of the PEGIDA protests, in Dresden, members of far-right hooligan groups serve as leaders. None of the protest organizers seem to object to their participation. 
So why has the extreme right been so successful in merging with the PEGIDA movement? A recent study by the Technical University in Dresden indicates that the neo-Nazis and the "furious citizens" who participate have many beliefs in common. Both groups share a general dissatisfaction with politics, both have racial prejudices, and both reject Islam. 
The far-right scene tries to use that to its advantage, and so far it's been successful. Its alliance with the middle classes is, however, fragile, because most of the people who support the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement reject the use of violence as a political tool. Violence, however, is one of the key features of the organized neo-Nazis. 

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