Abstract: The corona-skeptic Querdenken movement in Germany, though not centrally organized and not inherently extremism-motivated, has become a serious threat to public security. What started as a protest platform against government restrictions intended to curb the COVID-19 pandemic quickly evolved into a large-scale movement that is apparently open to conspiracy theories and right-wing extremism. Querdenken rallies have turned into violent riots, and individuals who seem to have shared some of the same beliefs as the protestors plotted or even employed deadly force to assert themselves. The threat posed by the movement is that it can fuel anti-government sentiments and thus may form a gateway for the acceptance of more extremist views and ultimately for the belief that resorting to violence may be acceptable or even necessary to defend rights. With right-wing extremists trying to benefit from the protests and celebrating individual acts of violence as proof that the government they detest may be vulnerable to their resistance, there is a danger that some individuals or small groups may radicalize into a violent anti-government ideology. A case in point was an alleged 2021 plot to assassinate Saxony’s premier, which was reportedly fueled by corona-skeptic grievances and apparently had linkages to the broader Querdenken movement.

On December 15, 2021, several premises in the greater Dresden area were raided and searched as part of a large-scale counter-extremism investigation in the eastern federal state of Saxony, Germany,1 leading to the seizure of, among other evidence, weapons and weapon parts.2 The investigation was launched a couple of days after public broadcaster ZDF had published an investigative report.3 Based on an infiltration of a Telegram chat group of 103 persons, ZDF reporters revealed several individuals had discussed a plot to assassinate Saxony’s premier, Michael Kretschmer, and other members of the state government.4 a

The chat group named Dresden Offlinevernetzung (Dresden Offline Networking) disseminated anti-government propaganda, including on its opposition to vaccinations and public health measures to curb the pandemic.5 Within this group, six individuals (five men aged 32, 34, 42, 45, and 64 at the time of the raids and a 34-year-old woman) are suspected of plotting the murder of Premier Kretschmer and other members of the Saxony cabinet.b According to media reporting, the plot was mainly fueled by the suspects’ opposition toward potential additional COVID-19-related restrictions and the possibility of mandatory vaccinations.6

The ZDF report revealed that several members of the chat group voiced that they had participated in rallies of the corona-skeptic Querdenken movement in Germany before, including a large protest in Berlin in late August 2020 during which rioters attempted to storm the Reichstag (German parliament).7 ‘Corona-sceptic’ as used in this article describes an attitude—not necessarily aligned with a specific ideology—that denies the existence of the pandemic or downplays the health threat posed by the pandemic or views government measures to curb the pandemic as a masked attempt to restrict citizens’ individual freedom rights.

During the search led by the state’s specialized Soko Rex anti-extremism unit, several crossbows and other weapons were seized. The suspects, who had met virtually as well as in person,8 were not taken into custody. The prosecutor general argued that there was no risk of the suspects absconding.9

A ZDF follow-up report suggesting a connection between the Dresden Offlinevernetzung group and the U.S.-based neo-Nazi network MZWNEWS10 c has not yet been commented on by law enforcement officials so as to not jeopardize the ongoing investigation.11 The report indicated that among the content shared in the Dresden Offlinevernetzung chat group was an instruction manual on the preparation of improvised explosive devices and other information for violent attacks, and that this manual had previously been shared by MZWNEWS on another chat group connected to the Dresden Offlinevernetzung chat group.12

A total of eight suspects, including the administrator of the chat group who is considered to be the main suspect, are under felony investigation for preparation of serious violent offenses endangering the state under German criminal law—a murder or a comparable offense intended and suited to undermine the security of the state. Only one of the suspects has prior criminal convictions, to include weapons offenses and incitement to racial hatred. At the time of publication of this article, the investigation is still ongoing.13

The case, which bears some similarities to the alleged 2020 conspiracy to abduct Michigan’s governor Gretchen Whitmer in the United States,d quickly made international headlines14 and increased attention on the Querdenken movement in Germany.

This article examines the security concerns generated by the rise of the Querdenken movement in Germany and its connections to far-right extremism. The first two sections of the article outline the emergence of the movement and the descent into violence by some of its adherents. Just five months after the emergence of the movement, Querdenken rioters attempted to storm the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin, foreshadowing some of the scenes later seen during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The third section of the article examines the nexus between the Querdenken movement and far-right extremism. In the final section, the article assesses the degree to which the Querdenken movement is a security concern and its future potential trajectory.

The Emergence of the Querdenken Protest Movement
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic—or corona pandemic, as it is usually referred to in German-speaking countries—the German government first initiated a set of containment regulations in mid-March 2020, including rules to minimize personal contact, a ban on public gatherings, and the closure of restaurants.15 Though acceptance of these rules was generally high among the population, almost immediately some people expressed grievances over these constraints publicly, albeit initially without any structure and little, if any, coordination between them.16

A couple of weeks later, Michael Ballweg, a software business owner from Stuttgart, founded the initiative Querdenken 711, ostensibly motivated by concerns over the timeframe of the lockdown measures, the possible implementation of mandatory vaccination, and the economic consequences of a lockdown.17 Querdenken—literally “lateral thinking” or “cross-thinking”—refers to the (positive) German figure of speech of someone thinking outside the box;18 the additional identifier ‘711’ alludes to the phone area code for Stuttgart.

Ballweg wanted to organize a rally in Stuttgart, but the city of Stuttgart proscribed the event, citing pandemic-related regulation. When Ballweg challenged this administrative act, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in his favor.19 Subsequent rallies in Stuttgart were attended by a rapidly growing number of protesters with around 80 persons on April 18, 2020, and several thousand just three weeks later.20 As the Querdenken movement spread throughout the country, many local groups began to identify themselves by their respective phone area codes.21

The Querdenken movement claims it is a non-partisan initiative with no links to any political parties.22 A sociological study23 found that the Querdenken movement was composed of supporters from nearly the entire political spectrum, with substantial parts identifying with far-left, green, or far-right parties,24 and some observers remarking that the initial rallies looked like 1960s peace demonstrations.25

Over the following weeks, the Querdenken movement—developing more into a franchise model than a centrally organized organization—dominated the organized protests in Germany,26 with its protesters totaling between several dozen in some cities to over 30,000 at the movement’s first major rally in Berlin on August 1, 2020.27 By then, Querdenken had become the umbrella term for most protests against pandemic-related legislation in Germany.

The Assault on the Reichstag
An extremely important incident both for the self-conception of the movement and public awareness of its potential for violence was the attempted storming of the Reichstag, the federal parliament building in Berlin, on August 29, 2020, during a follow-on Querdenken protest in the capital.

On that Saturday, an estimated 38,000 people rallied in the capital in various protests against the government’s anti-coronavirus measures. The demonstrations were mainly initiated by Querdenken 711.28 Several protesters were identified as being linked either to the ‘Reichsbürger’e (Reich citizen) ideology or to right-wing extremist organizations.29 Photos of the rally disseminated online also showed flags and slogans linked to the conspiracy theory QAnon.30

Around two hours into the protests, police began to disperse some of the demonstrators because they were disregarding mandatory social distancing rules.31 During the afternoon, several hundred protesters gathered between the Chancellery and the Reichstag building in central Berlin. As a large group of protesters moved from the nearby Brandenburg Gate toward the Reichstag lawn, police regrouped to prepare crowd control operations. This moment was exploited by a cluster of 300-400 rioters who rapidly overcame the police barriers and pushed through to the steps of the Reichstag building.32 As the rioters approached and tried to breach the entrance, a handful of police officers confronted the mob and defended the area, successfully securing the entrance zone while they waited for reinforcement by additional units.33

Even though there was no breach of the national legislature, unlike on January 6, 2021, in the United States, the images34 of a few lone officers fighting off a mob carrying flags resembling the historic German imperial war flagsf only a few yards from the entrance to the parliament attracted global attention.35

Over the course of the day, 33 police officers were injured, and 316 suspects were arrested.36 It is noteworthy that a politician of the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) who was a former member of the Baden-Württemberg (southwest Germany) state parliament was convicted and sentenced to prison time on parole for his participation in the riot and assaulting a police officer during it.37

The assault was subsequently condemned by politicians across the political spectrum with the exception of the far-right. Querdenken 711 did not distance itself from the riots. To the contrary, a press release issued two days later called the rally “a full success.”38

Since August 2020, Querdenken rallies have been a common occurrence throughout Germany, albeit with noteworthy regional differences, with the number of protesters ranging from a few dozen to tens of thousands. Right-wing extremists have participated, especially at the large protests, and QAnon banners have been seen on a regular basis.39 The support for these rallies roughly followed the development of the pandemic itself; with decreasing numbers of infections and reduced restrictions in fall 2020, fewer protests took place, while another wave of the pandemic in late 2020 and early 2021 led to a rising number of rallies and protesters again, before ebbing over the summer and reaching high numbers again in late fall of 2021.

Participants in a rally against coronavirus measures stand in front of the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, on August 29, 2020. (Lukas Dubro/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

The Nexus between the Querdenken Movement and Far-Right Extremism
The pandemic and the extraordinary measures introduced to protect public health have created fertile ground for conspiracy theories. Far-right extremists and other anti-government ideologists have aggressively exploited the situation to spread skepticism of government activities.40 Germany is no exception.

In Germany, the protests against COVID-19 regulations have attracted the entire spectrum of the far-right,41 including the neo-Nazi party Der III. Weg (‘The Third Way’),g the right-wing extremist party NPD, the extreme far-right organization DIE RECHTE (‘The Right’),h the Identitarian Movement,i as well as the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland [AfD] (‘Alternative for Germany’) and its youth organization Junge Alternative.42 The AfD has been very active in these protests, especially in the states of eastern Germany,43 and has often tried to play a leading role.44

Far from forming a coherent movement, however, the protesters participating in Querdenken rallies are a heterogeneous group, composed of both established extremists from both sides of the political spectrum45 and previously non-political individuals, forming a melting pot of right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories like QAnon, Reichsbürger (‘Reich citizens’) and sovereign citizens.46 The Lower Saxony state domestic intelligence service identified four main connecting elements linking these different milieus:47

1. The belief in conspiracy theories and a worldview based on these theories;

2. An intense connection to (right-wing influenced) esotericism;

3. A fundamental opposition toward modern society and a reference to a (constructed) ‘natural’ way of life;

4. A narrative of opposition against the state: The fight of the not sovereign people against a perceived dictatorship of ‘elites.’

According to the analysis by this security service, not only have right-wing extremists tried to utilize the initially more libertarian than far-right motivated48 Querdenken protests to leverage their anti-government positions, they have worked to politicize—and ultimately radicalize—many previously non-political persons toward a fundamentally skeptical or even anti-government position in order to gain future allies in their opposition against liberal democracy.49 According to this assessment, the intent of this influence is to undermine the acceptance of government regulation and ultimately deny the state’s monopoly on violence.50 As with most conspiracy theories, the imagined ‘elites’ very often are linked to equally imagined Jewish masterminds, thus reinforcing pre-existing anti-Semitic sentiments.51

The narrative of necessary resistance toward an increasingly authoritarian state lays the groundwork for legitimizing violence.52 Hitherto not primarily ideologically motivated individuals are drawn toward far-right narratives without being forced to explicitly associate themselves with right-wing extremist organizations, which still are seen as beyond the pale for the majority of German society. Thus, for some individuals the Querdenken movement may be the proverbial rabbit hole leading to a range of extremist ideologies. What makes this potentially so problematic is that the Querdenken movement addresses fear and insecurity experienced by many people who feel overwhelmed by the pandemic and the societal challenges it carries. In potentially fueling anti-government sentiments, it may thus form a gateway for a significant number of individuals to accept more extremist views and ultimately the belief that resorting to violence may be acceptable or even necessary to defend one’s rights.

A detailed analysis by the North Rhine-Westphalia state domestic intelligence service shows that while established right-wing extremist parties had difficulties in linking up with non-aligned protesters, Reichsbürger conspiracy theorists and unorganized right-wing extremists oftentimes easily joined Querdenken rallies and were accepted by the other protesters.53

Generally speaking, conspiracy theories resonate among people skeptical about government regulation. A very prominent recent example is the former head of Germany’s federal domestic intelligence service who publicly voiced his ‘suspicion’ that the government measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus are secretly utilized as a pretense to restructure the state into a more authoritarian model with fewer rights ensuring personal freedom.j

Security Concerns and Future Trajectory
The security concerns generated in Germany as a result of the rise of the Querdenken movement are far from unique. During the pandemic, protests against government regulations were widespread throughout Europe and the Western world and recently erupted into serious clashes with law enforcement and full-scale riots in countries like France,54 Italy,55 and especially Belgium56 and the Netherlands.57

The American analyst Colin Clarke has documented how anti-vaccination, anti-lockdown protests have deteriorated into violent riots around the globe as a result of already existing—and very diverse—anti-government extremists exploiting these protests to spread their ideology.58 Relating to the aforementioned riots in several countries, he observed an “anti-corona” ecosystem throughout Europe fueling real-world violence.59 And this development is not limited to Europe; anti-vaccination activists in the United States found common ground with both conspiracy theorists (including QAnon adherents) and far-right extremists in general, especially individuals and groups holding strong anti-government views.60 The protests against COVID-19-related restrictions seem to be a rallying point for a diverse range of groups and individuals who are discontent with their respective governments.

In Germany, the radicalization of at least parts of the Querdenken movement is a development that is closely monitored by both law enforcement agencies and the domestic intelligence service. The federal domestic intelligence service BfV61 as well as the majority of the state intelligence services62 have decided to open investigations into the Querdenken movement. These range from investigation of the movement in its entirety to investigations into defined parts of it, deemed “groups of intelligence concern,” thus providing the legal framework to gather and analyze information on these groups and their development.

Riots aside, the connecting elements that form the Querdenken worldview have the potential to also fuel lethal plots, as the investigation into the alleged murder plot against Saxony’s premier has illustrated.

The potential for violence of this ideology was also demonstrated by the September 2021 Idar-Oberstein gas station murder, which is assessed to be the first COVID-19-related homicide in Germany. Late on the evening of September 18, 2021, a 20-year-old employee at a gas station in the southwestern German town of Idar-Oberstein was shot and killed over a dispute regarding a customer not wearing a face mask. Police arrested a 49-year-old suspect the next day. He confessed to the homicide and is currently on trial.63 k The suspect allegedly entered the gas station around 7:45 PM and picked up two six-packs of beer. He was not wearing a mask as required by German law at the time. The cashier, a local student on a side job, pointed out that it was mandatory to wear a mask inside the gas station, at which time the man put down the beers after a brief discussion and left, raising his hand in a threatening manner. He returned to the gas station around 9:25 PM wearing a mask. As he stepped to the counter, however, he pulled the mask down, prompting the cashier once again to remind him of the obligation to wear a mask. He then allegedly pulled a .357 Magnum revolver from his pocket and shot the student in the face, fatally wounding him. He fled the scene, but turned himself in the next morning after an intense manhunt was started utilizing pictures from the gas station’s CCTV system, and confessed to the murder.64

During the suspect’s interview with police, he stated that the coronavirus pandemic had put a strain on him.65 Feeling cornered, he had seen no other “way out” than to set an example. He perceived the cashier as embodying the enforcement of the anti-virus legislation he himself opposed.66

The suspect was not known to police or the domestic intelligence service prior to the assault. The gun he used was obtained illegally. A search of his house turned up another gun and ammunition for which he had no permit under the strict German weapons legislation.67

Police investigated leads with regard to the suspect’s prior activities on social media, suggesting he discussed conspiracy theories related to the coronavirus pandemic and other topics.68 l At the time of publication, it was not clear how the man specifically viewed the Querdenken protest movement. However, the analysis of evidence seized in his home indicates the suspect pitted himself against the majority of society and the state, a prosecutor declared. During his interviews, the suspect claimed he read up on news not using established media, but only so-called free media, referring to chat groups on the messenger service Telegram.69

Going far beyond a tragic escalation of an everyday argument, the murder underlined the threat emanating from a deep-rooted feeling among some Germans that COVID-19 restrictions amount to unjust government oppression and that they need to defend themselves against this oppression. The homicide is widely viewed by German law enforcement and intelligence officials as highlighting the lethal violence potential embedded in this mindset.

Exactly how the Querdenken movement in Germany will evolve is unclear. Notwithstanding a recent spike in rallies due to the political discussion of mandatory vaccination, the scale of protests has been declining, and so it is entirely possible it may dry out as a mass movement over the coming months as the pandemic becomes less of a dominant topic. But even if this transpires, the harm to democracy appears to be already done. A large number of people convinced themselves of conspiracy theories and bought into the idea of a government seeking to undermine liberal democracy and the freedom rights of the country’s citizens, thus probably alienating them from the political system in a long-lasting manner. This makes these individuals vulnerable to any new disinformation or conspiracy-directed campaign in the near future—be it extremism-affiliated or part of a state-sponsored disinformation campaign.m

At the same time, recent months have revealed a growing willingness of certain individuals to employ physical violence in pursuit of their convictions. Nancy Faeser, Germany’s newly appointed minister of the interior, has cautioned about a radicalization of the Querdenken movement.70 With right-wing extremists trying to benefit from these protests and celebrating individual acts of violence as proof that the government they detest may be vulnerable to their idea of resistance, it is entirely possible that some individuals or small groups may radicalize into a violent anti-government ideology.71 Referring to the left-wing extremist Red Army Faction terrorist organization that conducted several terror attacks in Germany, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, the German scholar of terrorism Peter Neumann believes it is even possible a ‘Corona-RAF’ will emerge.72

COVID-19 is not only an ongoing public health and economical challenge; the government measures intended to curb the pandemic made a perfect bogeyman for right-wing extremism-influenced skeptics who have increasingly withdrawn from democratic discourse. The long-term impact of this development cannot yet be fully assessed, but it will remain a serious concern for Germany’s society as well as its law enforcement and intelligence services for years to come.     CTC

Dr. Daniel H. Heinke is a military professor (reserve) for counterterrorism studies at the U.S./German George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, and an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), King’s College London. He serves as Chief of the Bureau of Operations at the Bremen police department in Germany. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of the above institutions. Twitter: @daniel_heinke

© 2022 Daniel Heinke

Substantive Notes
[a] Kretschmer of the center-right party Christian Democrats initially had been reluctant to order extensive anti-pandemic regulation and even warned of “Corona hysteria,” but later changed his government’s position and backed strict measures. At the time of the alleged plot, Saxony had both one of the lowest vaccination rates in Germany and one of the country’s highest COVID-19 caseloads. “Germany: Police raid COVID sceptics over alleged assassination plot,” Deutsche Welle, December 15, 2021.

[b] Despite this allegation, all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. At the time of publication, the suspects have not yet been indicted. The portrayal of the findings is primarily based on media information released by local police (Landeskriminalamt Sachsen) and the prosecutor general’s office (Generalstaatsanwaltschaft Dresden) and additional information from the prosecutor general’s office received by the author.

[c] According to a consortium monitoring online hate speech “MZWNEWS, or Mut Zur Wahrheit News,” whose name means ‘(Have) the courage to speak the truth’ is a German-language blog registered in Michigan. It was founded by John De Nugent, a U.S. white nationalist writer who describes himself as an ‘activist for the white race.’ De Nugent has worked with numerous hate groups and is behind several antisemitic websites.” “US White Nationalist Website MZWNews Claims to ‘Reject’ Violence, While Celebrating Nazism,” Get the Trolls Out, February 21, 2022.

[d] Allegedly, the COVID-19-related restrictions imposed in Michigan formed a main motivating factor for the conspiracists. For a detailed breakdown of this case, see Graham Macklin, “The Conspiracy to Kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer,” CTC Sentinel 14:6 (2021).

[e] “Reichsbürger,” as defined by the BfV, “are groups and individuals who for various motives and on various grounds – [inter alia] by referring to the historical German Reich, lines of argument used by conspiracy theorists or a self-defined law of nature – reject the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and its legal system, deny the legitimacy of its democratically elected representatives or claim that the German legal order does not at all apply to them.” (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, “‘Reichsbürger’ and ‘Selbstverwalter,’” BfV homepage). The movement is roughly comparable to the ‘sovereign citizen’ idea in the United States.

[f] Under German law, publicly displaying symbols of the so-called Third Reich (i.e., the national-socialist era of Germany) is a criminal offense (Sec. 86a German Criminal Code). Many right-wing extremists try to circumvent this proscription by using flags of Germany’s imperial era, especially the imperial war flag. See “Zeigen von Reichskriegsfahnen und Reichsfahnen wird verboten,” Bremen state ministry of the interior, September 18, 2020.

[g] Der III. Weg (The Third Way) is a small right-wing extremist party with some 600 members across 20 regional ‘bases’ linked to its three associations in the federal states of Bavaria, Saxony, and a region referred to as ‘West’ (encompassing Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland Palatinate). The party serves as a catch-all for members of the neo-Nazi scene, some of whom belonged to organizations that have been proscribed. “Verfassungsschutzbericht 2020,” Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (federal domestic intelligence service), June 15, 2021; “Brief summary: 2020 Report on the Protection of the Constitution, Facts and Trends,” Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (federal domestic intelligence service), June 15, 2021.

[h] The equally small right-wing extremist party DIE RECHTE is made up of eight federal state associations (Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Bremen, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and a southwestern association made up of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland) with 16 local associations and a small number of ‘bases.’ Some associations at the local or state level are currently being established, have existed only for a few months, are inactive, or are being re-established without having been formally dissolved. Other associations only exist in name and have never been active. North Rhine-Westphalia remains the party’s heartland. The party has 550 members. See “Verfassungsschutzbericht 2020” and “Brief summary: 2020 Report on the Protection of the Constitution, Facts and Trends.”

[i] The Identitäre Bewegung Deutschland (Identitarian Movement Germany) first appeared in October 2012 on social media. With some 575 members and supporters (as of 2020), it describes itself as a “non-parliamentary patriotic youth movement” and focuses on quick flashmobs that are covered on various social media platforms. Its ideology centers in the concept of ethnopluralism (i.e., preserving and mutually respecting separate and bordered ethno-cultural regions and promoting an ethnically and culturally homogenous nation-state). It strongly opposes multiculturalism and globalization, and is inherently xenophobic. See “Verfassungsschutzbericht 2020” and “Brief summary: 2020 Report on the Protection of the Constitution, Facts and Trends.”

[j] Hans-Georg Maaßen voiced this idea in an interview distributed via social media on January 2, 2022. To verify or falsify the authenticity of the interview, the author reached out to Maaßen and asked him to confirm or to deny the sequence. Maaßen did not respond. His comment referred to the right-wing conspiracy theory of “The Great Reset.” This was initially an initiative of the World Economic Forum aimed at rebuilding society and the economy following the pandemic but as outlandishly imagined by conspiracy theorists was a secret plot by an elite of world leaders who planned and executed the coronavirus pandemic in order to take control of the world economy and establish an authoritarian new world order. See Jack Goodman and Flora Carmichael, “The coronavirus pandemic ‘Great Reset’ theory and a false vaccine claim debunked,” BBC, November 22, 2020. For more on the Maaßen remarks, see “Maaßen verteidigt sich gegen Rufe nach Parteiausschluss,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 5, 2022, and Volker Petersen, “Neuer Maaßen-Eklat treibt CDU um,” NTV, January 3, 2022.

[k] The suspect confessed to the homicide. He has been indicted on murder and weapons-related charges. The criminal trial started on March 21, 2022, and is currently ongoing. The portrayal of the assault is based on media information released by local police (Polizeipräsidium Trier), the prosecutor’s office (Staatsanwaltschaft Bad Kreuznach), and the criminal court (Landgericht Bad Kreuznach). An indictment is merely an allegation, and all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

[l] The Germany-based non-governmental organization Center für Monitoring, Analyse und Strategie (CeMAS) (Center for monitoring, analysis, and strategy), specializing on conspiracy theories, disinformation, anti-semitism, and right-wing extremism, published Twitter content attributed to the suspect. See Gunnar Herrmann, “Mord in der Tankstelle: Wer ist der Täter von Idar-Oberstein?” Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 22, 2021. This content has not been confirmed by law enforcement authorities so far.

[m] Russia has for years been actively engaged in large-scale disinformation activities targeting the member states of the European Union. For further information, refer to the European Union’s East StratCom Task Force project EUvsDisinfo (www.euvsdisinfo.eu), which provides background information and a highly recommended reading list.

[1] Joint Landeskriminalamt Sachsen (Saxony state bureau of investigation) and Generalstaatsanwaltschaft Dresden (Dresden prosecutor general) press release, December 15, 2021.

[2] Joint Landeskriminalamt Sachsen (Saxony state bureau of investigation) and Generalstaatsanwaltschaft Dresden (Dresden prosecutor general) press release, December 16, 2021.

[3] Arnd Ginzel and Henrik Merker, “Mordpläne auf Telegram – Politiker im Visier von Impfgegnern,” ZDF Frontal, December 7, 2021.

[4] Joint Landeskriminalamt Sachsen (Saxony state bureau of investigation) and Generalstaatsanwaltschaft Dresden (Dresden prosecutor general) press release, December 8, 2021.

[5] Joint Landeskriminalamt Sachsen (Saxony state bureau of investigation) and Generalstaatsanwaltschaft Dresden (Dresden prosecutor general) press release, December 8, 2021.

[6] “Germany: Police raid COVID sceptics over alleged assassination plot,” Deutsche Welle, December 15, 2021.

[7] Arnd Ginzel and Henrik Merker, “Telegram: Was steckt hinter den Morddrohungen von ‘Dresden Offlinevernetzung’?” ZDF Frontal, January 11, 2022.

[8] Joint Landeskriminalamt Sachsen (Saxony state bureau of investigation) and Generalstaatsanwaltschaft Dresden (Dresden prosecutor general) press release, December 15, 2021.

[9] “Anschlagspläne: Dresdner Telegramgruppe kooperierte mit US-Neonazi-Netzwerk,” MDR Sachsen, January 11, 2022.

[10] Ginzel and Merker, “Telegram: Was steckt hinter den Morddrohungen von ‘Dresden Offlinevernetzung’?”

[11] “Morddrohungen gegen Kretschmer: Ermittlungen dauern an,” Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, January 12, 2022.

[12] Ginzel and Merker, “Telegram: Was steckt hinter den Morddrohungen von ‘Dresden Offlinevernetzung’?”

[13] Generalstaatsanwaltschaft Dresden (Dresden prosecutor general) disclosure, March 14, 2022.

[14] For example, Kate Conolly, “German police raids target ‘anti-vaxxer murder plot’ against state leader,” Guardian, December 15, 2021; “German raids on Covid extremists over Saxony leader death plot,” BBC, December 15, 2021; Frederik Pleitgen, Claudia Otto, and Joshua Berlinger, “Murder plots and threats from anti-vaxxers pose challenge for Germany’s new chancellor,“ CNN, December 16, 2021; “German police ‘foil anti-vaxxer murder plot’ against state premier,” ABC News (Australia), December 15, 2021.

[15] “What are Germany’s new coronavirus social distancing rules?” Deutsche Welle, March 22, 2020.

[16] Thomas Plümper, Eric Neumayer, and Katharina Pfaff, “The strategy of protest against Covid-19 containment policies in Germany,” Social Science Quarterly 102 (2021): pp. 2,236-2,250.

[17] Michael Ballweg, “Querdenken – jetzt erst Recht,” Querdenken website.

[18] Teresa Eder and Elizaveta Firsova, “Out of the Box: Surveillance of Querdenker movement in Germany reflects a new political reality,” Wilson Center, May 21, 2021.

[19] Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court), order 1 BvQ 32/20, April 17, 2020.

[20] Nadine Frei and Oliver Nachtwey, “Quellen des ‘Querdenkertums’. Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden-Württemberg,“ University of Basel, December 2021.

[21] Bernd Oswald, “Querdenker: Wer sie sind – und wie sich die Bewegung entwickelt,” Bayerischer Rundfunk, February 7, 2021.

[22] Querdenken website.

[23] Oliver Nachtwey, Robert Schäfer, and Nadine Frei, “Politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste,” University of Basel, December 17, 2020.

[24] Eder and Firsova.

[25] Laura Dubois, “Anti-coronavirus protests in Germany: Who are the ‘lateral thinkers?’” dpa, December 21, 2020.

[26] Plümper, Neumayer, and Pfaff, “The strategy of protest against Covid-19 containment policies in Germany;” Katharina Pfaff, Eric Neumayer, and Thomas Plümper, “Querdenken: the German anti-lockdown movement that thrives on public distrust,” LSE Blog, September 29, 2021.

[27] Julius Betschka, “Auf der ersten Corona-Demo in Berlin waren doch 30.000 Menschen,” Der Tagesspiegel, August 28, 2020.

[28] “Germany coronavirus: Anger after attempt to storm parliament,” BBC, August 30, 2020.

[29] Alexander Fröhlich, Hannes Heine, Frank Jansen, and Julius Geiler, “Drei Polizisten verhindern Sturm auf den Reichstag,” Der Tagesspiegel, August 30, 2020.

[30] “Germany coronavirus: Anger after attempt to storm parliament.”

[31] “German leaders slam extremists who rushed Reichstag steps,” Deutsche Welle, August 30, 2020.

[32] “Mehrere Kundgebungen und Demonstrationen in Mitte,“ Polizei Berlin (Berlin police department), August 30, 2020.

[33] Ibid.

[34] “Demonstranten wollten in Regierungsgebäude – Polizisten mussten Reichstag-Stürmung zu dritt verhindern,“ RTL News video, August 31, 2020.

[35] See, for example, Katrin Bennhold, “Far-Right Germans Try to Storm Reichstag as Virus Protests Escalate,” New York Times, August 31, 2020; “Germany coronavirus: Anger after attempt to storm parliament;” “German leaders condemn far-right attempt to storm Reichstag,” ABC News (Australia), August 30, 2020; “German leaders condemn far-right attempt to storm Reichstag,” Times of Israel, August 30, 2020.

[36] “Mehrere Kundgebungen und Demonstrationen in Mitte,” Polizei Berlin (Berlin police department), August 30, 2020.

[37] “Mainz: Ex-Parlamentarier Räpple zu Bewährungsstrafe verurteilt,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 19, 2022.

[38] “‘Berlin invites Europe – Fest für Freiheit und Frieden’ am 29.08.2020 in Berlin ein voller Erfolg,” Querdenken 711, August 31, 2020.

[39] Dubois.

[40] Colin Clarke, “The newest variant of violent extremism? Using paranoia about the pandemic as a recruiting tool,” Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2022.

[41] Loveday Morris and Vanessa Guinan-Bank, “In Germany’s east, far-right extremists find footholds in escalating anti-vaccine protests,” Washington Post, January 30, 2022.

[42] “Zunehmende Radikalisierung des extremistischen Teils der Protestbewegung gegen die staatlichen Maßnahmen zur Eindämmung der Corona-Pandemie,“ Landesamt für Verfassungsschutz Baden-Württemberg (Baden-Württemberg state domestic intelligence service), December 10, 2021.

[43] Christian Unger, “Corona-Proteste: Droht der AfD jetzt ein Machtverlust?” Hamburger Abendblatt, February 23, 2022.

[44] “Schwieriger Ausstieg aus ‘Echokammern’ – AfD prägend bei Corona-Protesten,” Landesamt für Verfassungsschutz Thüringen (Thuringia state domestic intelligence service), November 22, 2021; “Extremistische Einflussnahmeversuche bei Anti-Corona-Protesten,” Landesamt für Verfassungsschutz Brandenburg (Brandenburg state domestic intelligence service), December 17, 2021.

[45] Helmut Anheier, “Germany’s homegrown Q menace,” ASPI The Strategist, August 13, 2021.

[46] “Neuer Phänomenbereich ‘Verfassungsschutzrelevante Delegitimierung des Staates,” Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (federal domestic intelligence service), April 29, 2021; “‘Querdenken 421’ ist Verdachtsfall für Bremer Verfassungsschutz,” Der Senator für Inneres Bremen (Bremen state ministry of the interior), May 7, 2021.

[47] “Analyse des Niedersächsischen Verfassungsschutzes zeigt Ursachen für den Schulterschluss der konträren Milieus,” Landesamt für Verfassungsschutz Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony state domestic intelligence service), December 21, 2021; “Kooperationen und Überschneidungen von Reichsbürger und Rechtsextremisten mit Coronaleugnern,” Landesamt für Verfassungsschutz Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony state domestic intelligence service) analysis summary, January 13, 2022.

[48] Frei and Nachtwey, “Quellen des ‘Querdenkertums;’” Anheier.

[49] “Kooperationen und Überschneidungen von Reichsbürger und Rechtsextremisten mit Coronaleugnern;” “Verfassungsschutzbericht 2020,” Landesamt für Verfassungsschutz Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state intelligence service) annual report, 2021.

[50] “Neuer Phänomenbereich ‘Verfassungsschutzrelevante Delegitimierung des Staates.”

[51] See “Erlass zum Umgang mit der Verwendung des Davidsterns oder ähnlichen Symbolen, Aufschriften und Aufdrucken zusammen mit Aufschriften in Verbindung mit der Coronavirus-Pandemie bei Versammlungen,” Der Senator für Inneres Bremen (Bremen state ministry of the interior) decree, June 9, 2021.

[52] Nadine Frei and Oliver Nachtwey, “Demokratie im Ausnahmezustand – Wer sind die Querdenker_innen?” Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, June 2021.

[53] “Sonderbericht zu Verschwörungsmythen und ‘Corona-Leugnern,’” Landesamt für Verfassungsschutz Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia state domestic intelligence service) analysis, May 2021.

[54] “Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass,” BBC, January 8, 2022.

[55] “Italy: Police arrest far-right leaders after anti-vaccine riots,” Deutsche Welle, October 10, 2021.

[56] Camille Gijs, “Brussels riot: What you need to know,” Politico, January 24, 2022.

[57] “Thousands gather to oppose Dutch virus measures despite ban,” Associated Press, January 2, 2022.

[58] Clarke.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] “Neuer Phänomenbereich ‘Verfassungsschutzrelevante Delegitimierung des Staates.”

[62] For example, “‘Querdenken 421’ ist Verdachtsfall für Bremer Verfassungsschutz.”

[63] “20-Jähriger in Idar-Oberstein erschossen. Bluttat in Tankstelle: Ermittlungen kommen voran,” SWR Aktuell, September 24, 2021.

[64] “Idar-Oberstein. 49-Jähriger nach Tötungsdelikt in Untersuchungshaft,” Polizeipräsidium Trier (Trier police department), September 20, 2021; Landgericht Bad Kreuznach (Bad Kreuznach regional court), March 16, 2022.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid.

[67] “20-Jähriger in Idar-Oberstein erschossen.”

[68] Ibid.

[69] “Mord von Idar-Oberstein: Anklage noch dieses Jahr,” RDN, November 16, 2021.

[70] “Viele Querdenker werden radikaler,” Bundesministerium des Innern (federal ministry of the interior), December 12, 2021.

[71] Frank Jansen, “Verfassungsschutz sieht ‘riesengroße virtuelle Szene,” Der Tagesspiegel, January 21, 2022, quoting the head of the Northrhine-Westphalia state domestic intelligence service; Pitt von Bebenburg, “Soziologe zu ‘Querdenken’-Demos: ‘Es geht ums Ganze’, interview with Wilhelm Heitmeyer,” Frankfurter Rundschau, January 20, 2022; “Analyse des Niedersächsischen Verfassungsschutzes zeigt Ursachen für den Schulterschluss der konträren Milieus.”

[72] “Forscher warnen von Gewaltbereitschaft bei ‘Querdenkern,’” Augsburger Allgemeine, December 8, 2021; “‘Querdenken’-Strömungen – Politologe warnt vor ‘Corona-RAF,’” ZDF, December 13, 2021.

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