Far-right militants in Europe and the US are increasingly forming global links and using the coronavirus pandemic to attract anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists to their cause, research commissioned by the German foreign ministry has found.
The study carried out in Germany, France, Britain, the US, Sweden and Finland by the Counter Extremism Project documents the emergence of a new far-right movement since 2014 that is “leaderless, transnational, apocalyptic and oriented towards violence”.
The extremists believe in the nationalist theory of “great replacement” being orchestrated to supplant Europe’s white population.
And they are increasingly networking across national borders with other like-minded militants, including with Russian and eastern European extremists.
Music festivals and mixed martial arts fights are rallying points, where extremists also seek to draw new members, the study notes.
The pandemic has also become an opportunity seized on by the extremists to “expand their mobilisation efforts around anti-government conspiracy myths criticising the current restrictions”, it says.
Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, tweeted: “Rightwing extremism is the biggest threat to our security across Europe.”
Voicing alarm that the movement was “increasingly acting and networking internationally”, Maas said Germany was seeking to counter the menace through coordinated action with other EU members.
During a rally of almost 10,000 opponents of government-imposed social restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Berlin this week extremists mingled among a motley crew of protesters.
About a dozen demonstrators shouted “Sieg Heil” while performing the stiff-armed Hitler salute in the presence of police, according to an AFP reporter.
Antisemitic slogans have been used at some of the demonstrations against coronavirus policies in Germany.