German neo-Nazis are using pictures of American and British domestic abuse to falsely accuse immigrants of attacking white women.
At a violent, two-day anti-immigrant rally in Chemnitz, Germany last weekend, fascists threw Nazis salutes next to a banner showing the faces of abused women. The pictures are part of a growing meme purporting to show German women who have been beaten by immigrants. But the pictures in the collage are either of uncertain origin, or of women from other countries (often the U.S. and the U.K.), many of whom have been beaten by their partners, police, or in the case of one English woman, by a Scottish man who opposed English immigrants.
Mimikama, an Austrian fact-checking site, has tracked the meme’s rise since last year. The original image purported to show German women who had been raped or beaten, and was usually accompanied by text blaming the attacks on Muslim immigrants and in some cases accusing the “Fake News” of refusing to report on the attacks. From the meme’s outset, Mimikama reported that everyone in the image was either from other countries, or was of uncertain nationality, as was the case of one bloodied woman whose picture actually came from a special effects makeup website.
Still, the meme found favor with German fascists, who are currently rallying around an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform. Their hate boiled over in Chemnitz, a city in the far-right stronghold of Saxony last weekend, after an Iraqi and a Syrian immigrant were arrested for their alleged involvement in a fight that killed a German man. Chemnitz police were accused of leaking the arrest warrant to local far-right groups, who called for a Sunday rally. Some 6,000 far-right extremists and approximately 1,500 counter-protesters showed up, the Guardian reported. The few hundred police who responded were overrun, or accused of allowing the far-right to lead a series of attacks on people of color and ideological foes.
Some of the fascist demonstrators carried a banner with a version of the collage of beaten women, with a caption that translated roughly to “we are colorful until the blood splatters”—in other words, “we are diverse until immigrants attack us.” One fascist was photographed throwing a Nazi salute (illegal in Germany) next to the banner.
But none of the people in the gruesome collage were German. The first woman pictured in the meme was actually the victim of police brutality in America, Mimikama first reported. The woman, a Tallahassee, Florida mother of two, made international news in 2013 after local news outlets obtained footage of police beating her during a drunk driving arrest. Officers slammed her onto the hood of their car, then onto the ground, shattering her face. The city of Tallahassee eventually agreed to pay her a $475,000 settlement, rather than fight her lawsuit in court.
The next bloodied woman in the collage is a Canadian woman whose pictures circulated widely after her neighbor assaulted her in 2009, during what police claimed was a feud between their families. The man was sentenced to four months’ house arrest in the home near his victim.
The following image in the neo-Nazi collage first appears online in connection to a Jackson, Mississippi firefighter’s attack on his wife in 2009, although an article that appeared to first publish the photograph is no longer online. The victim’s face has since been incorporated in a number of other far-right hoaxes, which variously claim that she was beaten by Muslims, or that she was a “Veteran's Wife Violently Beaten By Tolerant Male Liberals for Voting for Trump,” one site falsely claims.
Other images in the collage originate from similar incidents of domestic abuse. One pictured woman, a 25-year-old British mother, was beaten by her boyfriend in 2012. The woman, who previously did charity work for a domestic abuse organization, said she feared her boyfriend would kill her during the attack. When she applied for surgery to fix her shattered nose, her claim was denied because it was considered a “cosmetic” operation.
Another person pictured is not a woman at all, but an English man who was attacked by drunken burglars in 2014. Another woman in the collage was beaten for being an immigrant to Scotland. The woman, a 22-year-old from England, said a Scottish man heard her accent and told her “get back to England” before punching her in the face.
Another woman pictured is a makeup model of unclear nationality. Mimikama traced her photo, which shows her with a bloody nose, to a special effects makeup company that works with movie studios to create realistic-looking gore.
White supremacists in Germany and elsewhere have long pointed to attacks on white women to justify violence against outsiders, with Nazi-era Germans trumping up alleged Jewish crimes to justify laws against relationships between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans. In the U.K., far-right activists have attempted to co-opt the #MeToo movement to blame immigrants for violence against women, researcher Sophia Siddiqui writes.
Last weekend's Chemnitz riots were partially fueled by false Facebook rumors that the murdered German man had died protecting a German woman. Shortly after the rumors circulated, neo-Nazis with the banner of beaten women would take to the streets to falsely pin the U.S. and U.K. domestic violence cases on immigrants to Germany.