Six men, aged between 20 to 31, have been arrested on suspicion of belonging to a far-right militant group called “Revolution Chemnitz” – formed to “subvert (German) democracy” – in the eastern German city of Chemnitz. Some 100 police officers backed by special commando units arrested the suspects in Saxony and Bavaria. The public prosecutor general (GBA) said that the men had been planning violent attacks on foreigners, politicians, and senior civil servants. Another attack was also planned for 3 October. “Based on the information we have so far, the suspects belong to the hooligan, skinhead and neo-Nazi scene…leading figures in the right-wing extremist scene in Saxony,” said prosecutors. The GBA has indicated the organization pursued terrorist goals.
Chemnitz quickly became a symbol of division on immigration and refugee policy since two migrants allegedly killed a German man in August of this year. A 23-year old Syrian is being held on suspicion of manslaughter and the police are still seeking an Iraqi accomplice. The death provoked the worst far-right inspired violence Germany has seen in decades. In fact, five of the detained suspects from this weekend are said to have attacked and injured foreign residents in Chemnitz using glass bottles, steel knuckle gloves, and tasers on 14 September. The skinheads harassed migrants and performed the illegal Hitler salute in a show of dissatisfaction to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy.
Many questioned whether authorities are too complacent to rising far-right violence and xenophobia especially after the fallouts of a protest organized after the stabbing of the German man in August. Some of the demonstrators were ordinary citizens worried about law and order but came alongside populists shouting, “Germany for Germans,” “Foreigners out,” and “Bring back Nazism.” The protest turned violent when mobs attacked a Jewish shop and pestered refugees. In actuality, Chemnitz has one of the lowest immigration rates in Germany. Only about 5,600 of its 250,000 residents are refugees. Regardless, eastern German states show more anti-foreigner attacks than the west. As well, the far-right, anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party and Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) movement have a particularly strong hold on citizens in this region.
Still, there are tangible push-backs to the blatant xenophobia and racism by several members of German civil society. In early September, 65,000 people joined an anti-racism rock concert in Chemnitz to condemn the far-right, violent protest that had occurred in August. Those attending the concert far outnumbered the amount of people who took part in populist rallies over the weeks prior. A singer from the group Kraftklub addressed the crowd, “We’re not naïve. We’re not under the illusion that you hold a concert and then the world is saved. But sometimes it’s important to show that you’re not alone.”
It is important that those guilty of violence and disturbing the public peace are brought to justice, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. It is equally as important that local politicians and authorities support networks that increase positive cultural, educational, and civil society interactions between migrants and local communities. It is not useful for crimes to become politicized and racialized to the point that both foreigners and local residents are existentially threatened. Authorities have a duty to deploy sufficient resources to protect residents, foreigners, and journalists and to facilitate peaceful demonstrations as part of a functioning democracy.
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