For a third night this week, far-right protesters vented their rage at the killing of a German man during a fight with immigrants from Iraq and Syria in the eastern German city of Chemnitz. On Thursday evening however, the crowd of about 900 anti-immigrant, German nationalists chanted slogans but refrained from the violent attacks on foreigners and Hitler salutes witnessed during rioting on Sunday and Monday.
As German journalist Felix Huesmann reported, organizers from the far-right group Pro-Chemnitz urged the protesters not to make what they described as “nice greetings with the right arm extended towards Heaven,” so that there would be “no bad pictures” for journalists derided as “the Lying Press” to publish.
Many of the Chemnitz residents who attended a nearby meeting with the leader of the regional government, Michael Kretschmer, also blamed the media for the viral images of mayhem and neo-Nazi violence in the city earlier in the week, according to Benjamin Konietzny of the German broadcaster NTV.
The most alarming of those images showed marauding white supremacists chasing people with dark skin, interrupting national news broadcasts with the banned Nazi salute, and chanting neo-Nazi slogans like “Free, social, and national: National Socialism now,” and “Adolf Hitler hooligans.”
While the far-right protest on Monday was described as a “vigil” for the dead man, there was plenty of visual evidence that it was far from reverent in tone.
At least some of the protesters appear to have been enraged by viral rumors, spread on Facebook and WhatsApp, that turned out to be untrue. The authorities have said that there is no evidence that the German-born man, whose father was Cuban, had been defending a woman from sexual harassment. That false claim had prompted protesters to hold up images of women who had been battered, supposedly by immigrants to Germany. As the Associated Press reported, however, “the women pictured were actually victims of unrelated violent crimes, in other countries.”
Konietzny also reported that Kretschmer, a member of Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, was loudly booed for saying that he welcomed plans for a concert next week against the far-right headlined by a Chemnitz band, Kraftklub, under the slogan, “We Are More.”
That slogan is a reply to the chant, “We Are the People” (“Wir sind das Volk” in German), which has been appropriated by the anti-immigrant nationalists, but was first used in protests against the East Germany’s communist government in 1989.
Video aus Chemnitz. Rechtsextreme Hools und Nazis überrannten die völlig überforderte Polizei, zogen Richtung Innenstadt, wo es laut Beobachtern vor Ort zu Jagdszenen auf Migrant*innen kam. #c2608https://t.co/kP0Hqu3Jio pic.twitter.com/kBGd4rxlKk— Chronik gegen Rechts (@Chronik_ge_Re) August 26, 2018
The concert is scheduled to take place on Monday at the city’s monument to Karl Marx, where neo-Nazis rallied this week under the banner “Foreigners Out!” and were filmed giving the illegal Hitler salute to the police, without being stopped.
Remarkable image from #Chemnitz today: hundreds of xenophobes with banners saying things like “Criminal-Foreigners Out!” assembled under a statue of Karl Marx and in front of a relief that reads “Proletarians of the world, unite!” in three different languages. Oh, world… pic.twitter.com/I7rntbdqGy— Joe Keady (@jbkeady) August 28, 2018
While Germany’s elected leaders, led by Merkel, have denounced the racist violence, the loyalty of the police was called into question after officers seemed unable or unwilling to contain the extreme nationalist rioters in Chemnitz. Those fears intensified after the leak of an arrest warrant for one of the refugees suspected in the fatal stabbing of 35-year-old Daniel Hillig, the son of a German mother and a Cuban father, whose death on Sunday sparked the anti-immigrant riots.
The warrant was published online by Lutz Bachmann, a founder of Pegida, an anti-immigrant group whose name is the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. The German state of Saxony announced on Thursday that an employee of the local prison service had been suspended as the result of a leak investigation, which could mean that the document, with the full name and address of the suspect, was not provided to the far-right by the police.
The tension on the streets in Chemnitz comes after another incident in the region, which drew attention to the fact that some members of the nation’s police services are far-right sympathizers. Two weeks ago, the police detained a television crew from the public broadcaster ZDF that was covering a Pegida protest in Dresden after a member of the anti-immigrant group complained to officers that he had been harassed by the journalists.
It later emerged that the man, who was filmed berating the reporters, was both a member of Pegida and of the Saxony police force.
#Pegidawirkt - Sächsische Polizeibeamte machen sich zur Exekutive von #Pegida / #AfD -Anhängern und behindern TV-Team, das für @ZDF @Frontal21 dreht. Hier ein Auszug, die polizeiliche Maßnahme dauerte ca. 45 min. Zeitungskollegen aus #Dresden berichten von ähnlichen Vorfällen. pic.twitter.com/m1erCDU9WJ— Arndt Ginzel (@GKDJournalisten) August 18, 2018
The officer’s dual membership in the far-right group and the police force led to the viral hashtag #Pegizei — a mashup of Pegida and the German word for police, Polizei.
The authorities announced on Thursday that the man would be given a different job “outside of the Saxon Police force.”
While the open display of extreme nationalism in Germany has obvious historical resonance, a recent German television report underscored how similar their ethnic nationalist ideology is to that of the American neo-Nazis that U.S. President Donald Trump has described as “very fine people.”
"One solution is apartheid."— DW News (@dwnews) August 30, 2018
"One in four in Germany has migration background... They're lurking in the streets."
"You don't belong in the German people."
"Go back to where your ancestors are from."
"You're not German."
- Identitarian Movement festival goers to @jaafarAbdulKari. pic.twitter.com/v4bkyvLGxm
Saxony’s police force and local government is braced for more potential violence this weekend, when a larger rally is planned for Chemnitz, led by Pegida and the far-right party Alternative for Germany — known by its German initials AfD. Although the new U.S. ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, has promised to use his office to help far-right nationalists inspired by Trump take power across Europe, it is not clear whether that offer of assistance extends the AfD, which has openly flirted with violence.
After the fatal stabbing of the German-Cuban man in Chemnitz this week, an AfD member of parliament, Markus Frohnmaier, took a page from Trump’s playbook by posting an incendiary tweet, which read: “If the state cannot protect its citizens, people will take to the streets and do it themselves. Simple! It is now a civic duty to stop deadly ‘knife migration.’ It could have been your father, son or brother!”
German far-right MP after mob rampaged thru Chemnitz chasing foreigners (following reports of a night-time stabbing): "If the state cannot protect its citizens, people will take to the streets and do it themselves. Simple! It is now a civic duty to stop deadly 'knife migration'." pic.twitter.com/gHmGuFIRZv— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) August 27, 2018
As hundreds of far-right protesters rallied in Chemnitz on Thursday night, thousands of anti-fascists assembled in Berlin to chant slogans that would resonate in the United States as well.
20:50 People chanting "#NoBorders! No Nations! Stop Deportations!" during closing gathering at #antifa demo in #Berlin. Thousands came to protest against fascist violence in #Chemnitz , #Neukoeln and elswhere. #B3008 #C3008 Video by @BuzzFeedNewsDE pic.twitter.com/NW8Rx1OGem— Enough is Enough! (@enough14) August 30, 2018