Antisemitic crimes surged by nearly 30 percent in Germany last year, security officials revealed on Tuesday, amid warnings from a senior Jewish community leader that the pandemic was acting as an “accelerant, radicalising a frighteningly large proportion of the population.”
The latest Interior Ministry statistics showed that politically motivated crime had reached its highest level in Germany since officials started tracking the data in 2001. Overall, politically motivated offending – from hate speech to murder – increased by nearly a quarter from the previous year to 55,048 offences, including 3,889 violent crimes, a 16 percent increase from 2020.
As in previous years, the far-right remained Germany’s greatest extremist threat, accounting for nearly 22,000 politically-motivated crimes – although this was a slight drop from previous years. Four in ten victims of politically-motivated violence had been targeted by right-wing extremists, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said, calling the far-right “the greatest extremist threat to people in our country.”
But the overall rise in political crime was primarily down to a huge spike in offending that the ministry said couldn’t be attributed to traditional categories of far-right, far-left or Islamist extremism, with a large proportion of this new type of offending linked to the COVID conspiracy scene. Such “non-assignable” crimes now accounted for nearly 40 percent of all politically-motivated offending – an increase of 147 percent since the previous year.
One of the worst such crimes, Faeser noted, was the murder in September of a 20-year-old petrol station employee in the town of Idar-Oberstein by a customer who he had asked to wear a face mask.
Meanwhile, antisemitic crimes had surged by 29 percent to a peak of 3,027 offences, a development which Faeser said “worries me the most.” Of these antisemitic crimes, more than 80 percent were committed by right-wing extremists, and about half were linked to the COVID conspiracist scene.
Experts say that the pandemic has been a massively radicalising force in Germany, giving rise to a volatile COVID-conspiracist scene with a strong far-right element, who promulgated conspiracy theories that typically scapegoated Jews and pushed age-old antisemitic ideas.
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement that the rise in antisemitic offending was “deeply worrying,” and that the statistics confirmed “what many had feared.”
“The corona pandemic is acting like an accelerant, radicalising a frighteningly large proportion of the population,” he said.
In one horrific case in Königs Wusterhausen in the northeast state of Brandenburg in December, a radical anti-vaxxer who believed in the conspiracy theory of a Jewish-led global world order killed his wife and three children before killing himself.
German anti-extremism group the Amadeu Antonio Foundation took issue with the government’s reporting of the figures, saying they did not capture the strong overlap between the far-right and the COVID conspiracy scene and only told “a part of the story.”
“The alarming spike in crimes that fall into the de-politicised ‘unassignable’ is largely a result of protests against COVID measures, which are in reality far-right at their core and must be named as such,” Nicholas Potter, a researcher for the organisation, told VICE World News.
“The COVID-denier and anti-vax movement is deeply intertwined with the violent far-right,” he said. “The number of right-wing crimes should therefore actually be much higher.”
His criticism echoed that made by German politicians, including Martina Renner, deputy leader of The Left, who said she believed that right-wing extremists were responsible for most of the crimes that the police have not yet been able to identify.
“There is a lack of willingness to admit that the numbers in the area of politically right-wing motivated crime should actually be almost twice as high – and have therefore actually exploded,” she tweeted. She added that the fact that even the Idar-Oberstein gas station murder, which she said was rooted in “anti-Semitic conspiracy myths,” was not classified as a far-right crime was “an intolerable situation.”
Potter said much of the COVID conspiracist scene – known in Germany as the “Querdenken,” or “lateral thinkers” movement – echoed the demands of the conspiracy-driven sovereign citizens movement, which itself had a far-right core. Despite its claims, the movement offered little legitimate criticism of the government’s pandemic regulations, and instead pushed radical, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
He continued: “Having a category of politically-motivated crime that supposedly cannot be attributed to any political ideology is an oxymoron. The fact that the authorities are seemingly unable to politically analyse such a sizeable chunk of political crimes is worrying.”