The COVID-19 pandemic has led to drastic changes to our lives and great uncertainty with regard to healthcare, social cohesion and the economy. In parallel, major protests against the policies implemented by governments to prevent the spread of the virus have erupted. In Germany, large-scale demonstrations of lockdown-opponents brought together a broad spectrum of groups, from conspiracy theorists and QAnon supporters to Reichsbürger (a far- right movement that denies the legal and moral legitimacy of the post-WWII German state), vaccination sceptics, AfD members, Identitarians and neo-Nazis. Criticism of the implementation and cost-benefit calculation of government policies may of course be legitimate.
The failure by the organisers of these protests to credibly distance themselves from known extremists has however cast a shadow over the anti-lockdown movement. In early December, the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence services, announced that it had put the ‘Querdenken’ (English: ‘lateral thinking’) group under surveillance. ‘Querdenken’, which has been instrumental in organising massive anti-lockdown demonstrations across Germany, had been ‘infiltrated by extremists’, the BfV claimed.