German anti-Islam group seeks to rally supporters after ‘extremist’ designation in Saxony
The anti-Islam far-right protest movement Pegida will try to exploit its new official designation as an extremist organisation in its home state to rally supporters as Germany's coronavirus restrictions are eased.
German intelligence said last week that surveillance of Pegida in Saxony would be intensified after it took an “increasingly right-wing extremist orientation”.
Pegida responded by urging its supporters to gather for a socially-distanced rally in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, next week.
Online footage of a Pegida event on Monday in Zittau, Saxony, showed speakers addressing about 20 people.
Pegida, which campaigns against what it calls the "Islamicisation" of the West, was created in October 2014 and became known for its marches every Monday that grew in size during the refugee crisis of the following year.
During its heyday, the group's marches attracted more than 20,000 people.
The movement's popularity coincided with the rise of the far-right AfD political party, which entered parliament in 2017 on an anti-refugee and anti-immigration platform.
When large gatherings were banned because of the coronavirus, numbers fell to about 1,500 at fortnightly events as Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans against Islamicisation of the Occident, struggled to maintain relevance.
Pegida has been declared as extremist and put under observation by spy agencies in other German states such as Bavaria.
One of its leading members, Lutz Bachmann, a convicted criminal, was found guilty of inciting hatred in 2016 and fined.
Dirk-Martin Christian, the head of Saxony's intelligence agency, said the group gave far-right extremists a vehicle for anti-democratic propaganda, which “in the long run is a serious threat for our liberal-democratic social order”.
He said that all people and activities in the group would be put under surveillance, with the exception of those taking part in peaceful demonstrations.
Pegida has seized its new designation as an opportunity to promote its message and urged supporters to turn out in “large numbers” on Monday.
It is also seeking to raise money by selling €25 ($30) T-shirts with a play on the extremism tag on its website.
“Pegida is extremely … sympathetic, honest and steadfast,” reads the slogan on “supporter shirts for law enforcement observation”.