How Coronavirus May Have Enabled Germany’s Far-Right Extremists

Surges of reports surfacing in the last few months have made Germany’s growing trend of far-right extremism an increasingly visible phenomenon. This form of extremism is not entirely new to Germany, whose intelligence agencies have long recognized the threat as a dimension of domestic terrorism. However, the new bounty of reports has uncovered an exponential spike in activities and spread ideologies from the country’s far-right extremists, leading many to question the effectiveness of the government’s measures to counteract the trend. While the internet can account for some of these measures’ failures, thanks to its ability to radicalize new extremists at a rapid pace while making it difficult to track and persecute those responsible for promoting far-right agendas, factors like the coronavirus may also play a role in the spike.

In a recent (and alarming) example of this extremism, Austrian police forces carrying out a mid-December anti-drug smuggling operation intercepted a heavy load of armaments reportedly intended for a far-right extremist group based in southern Germany. The haul – which Vienna police chief Gerhard Pürstl claimed was the largest in decades – comprised upwards of 100,000 rounds of ammunition and 100 firearms. These firearms included handguns, Uzis, Skorpions, and Kalashnikovs.

Another element contributing to Germany’s current far-right distress is the antisemitic narrative underlying protests against Germany’s government-mandated COVID-19 restrictions. Dr. Felix Klein, the Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, brought public awareness to this link when he noted in late November that hatred towards Jews has become more frequent in Germany during the pandemic.

Dr. Klein’s speech made a critical point: rising antisemitism is a telling factor of how much Germany’s far-right extremism has broadly spiked. “History has shown that antisemitism always rises sharply in times of crisis,” Dr. Klein said. This explains why Jews are concerned that the protestors’ discrimination makes Jewish people targets. “Even during the plague in the Middle Ages Jews were held responsible,” Dr. Klein said. “That was the narrative.”

This logic presents a compelling argument for why antisemitism in Germany has increased during the pandemic, and one which accounts for the recent months’ growing trend of violent extremism in general. As Germany continues to experience high counts of coronavirus, the country’s strict lockdown measures have surely induced elevated levels of anxiety, irritability, and anger in right-wing extremists – much the same as they have for non-adherents of these ideologies. These escalated tensions may provoke extremist groups into acting out against ethnic groups they believe are responsible for their despair, which puts people in countries like Germany in a particularly vulnerable position. Therefore, governments in nations where far-right extremism is an existing problem should exert all the more caution during times of crisis, such as the months of lockdown.