Thousands of far-right activists and QAnon-affiliated conspiracy theorists faced off against police in Berlin yesterday, as leading members of the boisterous German anti-lockdown movement faced arrest during the second week of mass protests that have rocked the country.
Protest participants ranged from more traditional far-right groups, such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and neo-Nazis, to newer groups of conspiracy theorists who organize in chapters called the “Querdenken” (translated as “Lateral Thinkers”) and another group called the Corona Rebels.
Firmly allied with the violent U.S.-based conspiracy theory-turned-political cult QAnon, the Querdenken and Corona Rebels promote a wide range of loosely connected ideas that generally amount to the belief that a pedophilic, globalist New World Order—which ritually sacrifices children—created the COVID-19 pandemic in order to mount a campaign of mind control using diabolical vaccines.
While these conspiracies often hinge on anti-Semitic tropes, the Querdenken and Corona Rebels try to play down openly offensive aspects of their ideology in order to appeal to constituents from left and right.
One of the latest conspiracy theories embraced by the eclectic German protesters centers on the American election tech firm Dominion, which they insist profits from selling data and COVID tests to the German government—a misconception that dovetails with the now-transnational disinformation that Dominion helped the Democrats “steal” the U.S. presidential election from Donald Trump.
Rocks against Chemtrails
The day of chaotic, simultaneous protests held around the city on Wednesday featured an array of conspiracy theorists and far-right activists opposed to the German government’s new virus prevention restrictions. Protest organizers promised the events would end by noon, but aggressive demonstrations raged until the early evening as hundreds of protesters threw rocks at police, seriously injuring at least three.
Some anti-lockdown protesters impersonated the police on social media. One fake tweet announced orders to “shoot if the protesters do not retreat,” while another stated, “After consulting with the health minister we will employ a new water cannon (Type 2) which uses tetra benzolid hydrochlorid (Also known as chemtrails) as well as a new RNA vaccine.”
Police reported 365 arrests on the day, and used water cannons that did not include “chemtrails” or an “RNA vaccine.”
Police continue to try to find effective countermeasures following serious criticism in recent weeks. In Leipzig on November 7, police inaction brought the ire of civil society groups as 20,000 protesters ran amok in the city center. Police stiffened their response in Frankfurt last Saturday as counter-protesters blockaded the march route of anti-lockdown protests and both sides faced water cannons in what many regarded as a heavy-handed display of force.
Far-right activists and Russian media network RT seized on the number of arrests and the use of water cannons Wednesday to create the spectacle of a brutal police crackdown in the nation’s capital. However, journalists observed that the police used a softer technique of firing jets of water above the right-wing protests, as opposed to the way that police typically strafe left-wing protests with direct streams.
Who’s afraid of the lockdowns?
On social media, QAnon supporters came alive in support of Wednesday’s protests, using the catchphrase from the U.S. left popularized during the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests: “The [whole] world is watching.” One German QAnon account on Telegram insisted, “everything was filmed and recorded for the later tribunals,” rehashing the theory that outgoing President Trump will convene tribunals to execute the members of the globalist Deep State. The post continued, “Come out of your fear and look at the USA!”
Meanwhile, QAnon accounts in the U.S. cheered on the German anti-lockdown protesters with words of encouragement like, “let’s unit [sic] in sending our fellow patriots in Germany our blessings and remind them that they are not alone.”
“Only the Americans can help us”
Before being arrested in the afternoon’s clashes, AfD Bundestag member Hansjörg Müller spoke to an audience at the demonstration, insisting, “the ‘financial industry’ controls everything… those in the Bundestag are all puppets who do what the ‘financial industry’ says.” Far-right groups traditionally use “finance industry” as a dog-whistle to signal their anti-Semitic fantasies of hidden Jewish control over the economy.
Also arrested at the protest, Holocaust denier and anti-lockdown leader Nikolai Nerling attended the sedition trial of another Holocaust denier named Ursula Haverbeck earlier in the morning. However, on his Telegram channel, Nerling continued to frame the anti-lockdown protests not as a partisan issue but as a unity of the far-right AfD and the Die Linke (Left Party).
While simultaneous protests occurred surrounding the Bundestag and at the Brandenberg Gate, some also hoped to create a scene at the nearby American Embassy. In particular, the Corona Rebels insist that the Allies never signed a proper peace treaty with Germany after World War II, bringing Germany’s sovereignty into question. On social media, Corona Rebels asked their supporters to “send pictures/movies etc. from today’s protest to the U.S. embassy,” building on a campaign that gained momentum in early June after vegan star cook and anti-lockdown ultra-rightwinger Attila Hildman exhorted his followers to leave comments with the U.S. embassy, declaring “only the Americans can help us at the moment!”
(Hildmann was recently raided by police on suspicion of sedition, with cops seizing six computers, several cell phones, and other storage devices from him. After the raid, he ranted, on Telegram, “Just because I like Adolf Hitler, want to become Chancellor, tell lies about Corona and incite against Jews, I am searched. PIGS!”)
Toward the end of the evening, some persistent protesters attempted to break into and disrupt the signing ceremony of the new infection prevention law at Schloss Bellvue, the seat of the German President. Like other spontaneous gatherings around the city, however, the efforts generally fizzled.
Protesters also treated journalists with hostility. Julius Geiler, a reporter with bylines in mainstream German publications like Tagesspiegel and WELT, took to Twitter to describe the experience: “In the end, it was unfortunately no longer possible to report safely. After a man reached for my press ID, he grabbed my arm and tried to hold me. Then his group followed me and other members of the press.”
That German anti-lockdown activists view the U.S. as a potential savior from Angela Merkel, whose administration they refer to as “the German kraken,” and the ramp-up of their protests indicates the sweeping impact of Trump’s presidency on the spread of the far-right and conspiracy theories internationally. It is unclear how Trump’s protracted descent from power will affect this transnational movement in the future.
However, the German anti-lockdown movement’s intimidation of journalists, its bizarre “Sovereign Citizen” style, and its intersection with QAnon conspiracy theories, along with its populist syncretism and apparent support from Russian media, indicate that it’s an important part of a growing, transnational system. By facilitating the public immersion of fascists within a broader, issue-oriented movement, the anti-lockdown protests further reveal how vulnerabilities in the current information ecosystems of social media can reinforce dangerous cycles of radicalization and conspiracy theories that can drive people to desperation, violence, and even mass killings.