When the Covid-pandemic reached Germany people reacted very different to the new reality. While a huge amount of society called for solidarity and some people started organizing supportive groups, others turned to conspiracy theories.
For centuries esoterics have been part of German society. Those that were already active in the scene gathered and a very diverse crowd rallied on squares in cities, driven by irrationality.
In Hannover more than 1000 people took part in early demonstrations. Historically antisemitism has always been on the rise in times of crisis. When it was at first unclear who would take a leading role, soon antivaxxers, the far-right and especially so called „Reichsbürger“ used the chance of an audience.
For „taz – die tageszeitung“ David Speier and me followed one of the most prominent organizers in Lower Saxony, homeopathic doctor Carola Javid-Kistel. Police raided her office, after she allegedly handed out blanko attestations. (Razzia bei Ärztin der Leugner-Szene: Spontandemo mit Wutrede – taz, 22.1.21) Over time the movement grew and demonstrated through almost every bigger German city and also the capital Berlin, leading to the attempt to storm into the Reichstag building in summer and mayor protest in fall 2021. Especially in Eastern Germany the demonstrations were fueled by the general in contempt and feeling of not being represented through parliamentary politics of parts of society. Demonstrations similar to the PEGIDA rallies, up until today take place throughout eastern German cities.
Amongst organized fascists there are many people, that are part of the movement, that carry responsibility and authority in society. Over time the group radicalized and several of the scene have conducted violent attacks and even killed people. The development lead to police raids. Target of one of those was Michael Fritsch, a (former) police officer from Hanover. With David Speier I dug into Fritsch’s online activities. On the Telegram messaging app the by then suspended police officer fantasized about violent coup d’etat. („Querdenker“ bei der Polizei: Schutzmann träumt vom Umsturz – taz, 25.5.21; Klage gegen Querdenken-Polizist: Umstürzler „mit Herz und Hirn“ – taz, 29.5.21) Since December 2022 Fritsch is in remand, when police raided in several different locations. He and several others are accused of planning a violent coup d’etat. As a policeman he was responsible for the security assessment of the liberal Jewish community of Hanover. (Liberale Jüdische Gemeinde in Hannover: Allein gelassen – taz, 18.5.21)
Several times the scene transformed throughout the years of the pandemic. In 2022 all of a sudden across Lower Saxony people gathered for what they called „walks“, but were demonstrations to surpass assembly requirements to wear a mask when protesting imposed by the German state. Rechtsextreme Demos in Niedersachsen: Als Spaziergang getarnt – taz, 20.12.21) In Braunschweig I disguised and talked to the participants of one of these demonstrations: Proteste gegen Corona-Maßnahmen: Wer läuft denn da? – taz, 13.1.22
Whilst Covid restrictions in Germany have been lifted, the dregs of the movement remain. Still protests take place, but the topic has long shifted. By now the groups mostly rally against support of Ukraine and in favor of Russia. The long-term effects have to be closely watched.