A car emblazoned with apparent references to coronavirus conspiracy theories crashed into the gates of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Berlin office Wednesday, as she prepared to discuss extending lockdown measures across the country.
Pictures showed a stationary Volkswagen crashed against the dented gate, with "stop globalisation politics” scrawled on one side of the vehicle, and "You damned children and old people murderers” on the other.
Linus Pook, co-founder of Germany’s Centre for Democratic Contradiction, a non-profit research centre, told VICE World News that while the background of the incident was still unclear, the protest slogans appeared to reference conspiracy theories surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, which have fuelled volatile anti-lockdown protest movements in Germany and elsewhere.
“Misinformation was spread repeatedly in the wake of the corona protests, according to which children had died from infection protection measures, such as wearing a mask,” he said.
Pook, who was at the scene shortly after the incident, added that the reference to “globalisation politics” was also a common theme among right-wing extremist and conspiracist networks, while the timing of the incident, ahead of the expected announcement about the future of coronavirus restrictions, indicated a possible link to the anti-lockdown movement.
Berlin police tweeted that the 54-year driver had been arrested immediately after driving his vehicle into the gate shortly after 10AM local time, lightly damaging both the vehicle and the gate.
There were no reports of casualties. Reuters reported that the driver was taken away in a wheelchair.
A government spokesperson told Germany’s DW that at no point were Merkel and other politicians or government workers in danger.
The crash occurred during a cabinet meeting, ahead of a video conference between Merkel and state leaders over whether to extend lockdown restrictions nationwide. Germany – which has been less hard hit than other Western European countries, with less than a third as many deaths as neighbouring France – is expected to continue its limited restrictions until the 20th of December.
Berlin has been a centre of fiery “corona rebel” protests against the government’s coronavirus restrictions, drawing together a mix of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and right-wing extremists.
German intelligence services and politicians have warned that the movement poses a potential security threat. At one protest in the capital in late August, several hundred protesters broke through a police cordon to storm the steps to the Reichstag, the historic building that houses Germany’s federal parliament.