Germany recorded a record for crimes committed by far-right supporters in 2020, reaching the highest level since 2001, when authorities began to collect and classify data on politically motivated crimes.
According to the figures released on Tuesday (4) by the German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the 23,064 crimes of the extreme right last year represent a growth of 5.7% in relation to what was registered in 2019.
In addition, the extreme right was responsible for 52.8% of all crimes of a political or ideological nature, ranging from incitement to racial hatred to Nazi salutes. “This shows what I have been saying since the beginning of my administration, that right-wing extremism is the biggest threat to security in our country, since most racist crimes are committed by people on this spectrum,” said Seehofer.
According to the minister, although politically motivated crimes represent only about 1% of the total crimes committed in Germany, the figures released on Tuesday are “very worrying” because they represent the consolidation of “a clear tendency towards brutality” in the country .
Within this category, 3,365 violent crimes were also recorded, including 11 murders and 13 attempted homicides. The number represents an increase of 18.8% in relation to the previous year.
Among these statistics, according to the minister, are the nine killed during a shooting attack in February 2020 against two bars frequented by immigrants in Hanau. The perpetrator, who committed suicide after the crime, was a sniper and had legally purchased weapons. He maintained a website on which he published a kind of manifesto that mixed racist ideas and conspiracy theories.
Among the incidents classified as “expression crimes”, which include hate speech and neo-Nazi propaganda, for example, 65% were perpetrated by right-wing extremists, according to the survey. The country also recorded a 15.7% increase in the number of incidents involving hate speech against Jews. “Anti-Semitic hatred is a central component of the right-wing extremist ideology. This development in Germany is not only worrying, but, in the context of our history, deeply shameful,” said Seehofer.
Germany has stepped up efforts to combat these groups, especially after, in October 2019, an armed man killed two people in front of a synagogue in the city of Halle. The crime, broadcast live on the internet, occurred on the day of Yom Kippur, the most sacred date for Judaism.
On Tuesday, German prosecutors announced the arrest of a 53-year-old man accused of sending letters with threats and hate speech for three years to left-wing politicians, as well as a lawyer of Turkish descent who represented victims of crimes committed by the far right. According to the police, the man signed his letters with the acronym “NSU 2.0”, in reference to the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground, responsible for the murder of at least ten people between 2000 and 2007.
Minister Seehofer also released statistics on the nearly 3,500 crimes – of which 500 were considered violent – associated with the Querdenker movement (something like “lateral thinkers”).
The group, mostly composed of right-wing extremists and anti-vaccine collectives, is known for organizing demonstrations against measures to restrict trade and mobility during the coronavirus pandemic. In this context, according to the data, there were at least 1,260 crimes against journalists.
The opposition to Querdenker in the form of simultaneous and antagonistic demonstrations, according to the minister, is one of the main factors that have also led to a 45% increase in the use of violence in crimes committed by the extreme left. In total, the number of crimes committed by this group rose by 11%.
Public security has become a key political issue in the political debate ahead of the national elections scheduled for September, which will define who will succeed Prime Minister Angela Merkel.
In March, the Federal Constitution Protection Office (BfV, in its acronym in German) put the radical right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the main opposition group, under surveillance. The decision was made after two years of investigation into the party’s xenophobic activity.
Lawyers and extremism experts analyzed speeches by AfD politicians and Internet publications and concluded that they are suspected of extremism and could pose a risk to German democracy.
German intelligence services fear that far-right activists are trying to exploit public frustration with the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as a way to incite violence against state institutions.
Civil society organizations have been warning about the dangers posed by the resurgence of the far right in a country haunted by its Nazi past. The assessment is that the threat was underestimated by the German authorities, who concentrated their efforts on combating Islamic extremism and jihadists.