Vaccine denial under the spotlight
The North Rhine-Westphalia Office for the Protection of the Constitution is the first intelligence service to describe the activities of extreme corona deniers and vaccination opponents in a separate section of its annual report.
The unwieldy title is "Delegitimization of the state that is hostile to democracy and/or endangers security". Parts of the protest movement against the state's protective measures in the pandemic are pursuing an "anti-system agenda," writes the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the report for 2021. It is about delegitimizing the basic order of the Federal Republic " and propagating violence to enforce one's own political views."
The intelligence agency also updated an earlier "special report" on conspiracy myths and corona deniers. The other federal and state constitutional protection agencies are also likely to mention the phenomenon in their annual reports.
One indication of the danger is the increase in criminal offenses. The number of politically motivated crimes committed by corona deniers and vaccination opponents rose to 658 in NRW in 2021, which is more than 200 more than the year before. It also affects Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD), he is massively threatened. The hard core of the "delegitimizers," as the authorities internally call the milieu, is estimated by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in NRW at 300 people. The annual report mentions, among others, the network of lateral thinking initiatives and the "Corona Rebels Düsseldorf". The rebels also attracted attention in Berlin; in August 2020, they took part in the attempted storming of the Reichstag.
However, the scene is in flux. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution observes that the significance of the lateral thinkers and "rebels" is declining. The scene is becoming even more diffuse. In NRW, there is "now a three-digit number of local Telegram groups without reference to the Querdenken initiatives by name, in which people confirm their rejection of the Corona protection measures, network and promote meetings," the annual report says. The anti-constitutionalism remains. Also nationwide. The agitators are not diminishing. In addition, the demarcation from the many thousands of other protesters on the net and in the streets is difficult. The dividing lines between delegitimizers and the often also aggressive hangers-on are blurring.
"The more demos there were, the more often actors of the lateral thinking movement tried to win over the social center for their extremist world views," said state Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) on Friday at the presentation of the annual report. In 2021, there were about 2000 demonstrations and rallies with Corona reference in North Rhine-Westphalia, in which about 150,000 people participated. The figures show the potential of the movement, in which extremists are increasingly setting the tone. And it continues. On January 17, 2022, as many as almost 280,000 people nationwide took part in the "Monday Walks," as the spectrum calls the unannounced run-ups at the beginning of the week.
In view of the radicalization in the Corona deniers' milieu, the federal and state authorities for the protection of the constitution had agreed in April 2021 to scrutinize the spectrum as a "collective observation object". Despite many references to right-wing extremists and Reich citizens, the intelligence service sees an independent extremism of the "delegitimizers". And they are looking for more subjects.
After the July 2021 flood in the Ahr Valley, Corona deniers drove a loudspeaker van resembling a police vehicle through the disaster area, spreading false news that emergency forces had been reduced. Corona deniers also incited against NATO on the very first day of the war in Ukraine.
In a Telegram channel of the Corona Rebels Düsseldorf, the alliance was called a "malignant tumor" and claimed that "Russia was patient enough." The Office for the Protection of the Constitution of North Rhine-Westphalia predicts that Russia's attack on Ukraine is an "agitation field" for the scene, where "seamless continuation of the resistance narratives of the pandemic can be made".
Photo by Mufid Majnun