The MAGA Insurrection Will Inspire Imitators for Years to Come, German Experts Warn

Germany experienced its own version of the storming of the US Capitol last August, and experts there say it has only further emboldened conspiracy ideologists and the far-right.
January 7, 2021, 6:36pm
The MAGA Insurrection Will Inspire Imitators for Years to Come, German Experts Warn
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Photo: Joseph Prezioso / AFP

As the MAGA mob stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday night, the world watched in disbelief, transfixed by a chaotic uprising that was variously described as shocking, exceptional, unprecedented.

But in Germany, many looked on with a sense of déjà vu. Far-right experts there who witnessed virtually identical scenes just months ago warn VICE World News that the shocking insurrection in D.C. is likely to embolden new generations of extremists for years to come.

Germany, the stable democratic powerhouse at the heart of the European Union, experienced a similar scenario in August, when hundreds of protesters stormed the steps of the historic German parliament building, the Reichstag.

READ: Germany’s far right is fired up after its fantasy almost came true

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The Berlin protesters had gathered in opposition to Germany’s coronavirus lockdown laws, rather than to overturn a democratic election. While they rushed through police cordons, they didn’t force their way inside the historic seat of German democracy – gathering on its steps instead — and there were no fatalities.

“The U.S. always has to do everything bigger,” Miro Dittrich, a German far-right expert, told VICE World News. Aside from that though, he said, the parallels were striking.

As in D.C., the German protesters drew heavily from overlapping far-right and conspiracy theorist movements, with QAnon believers on the frontlines of the action. “In both cases it's a mixture of extreme right, conspiracy ideologists and plain nutcases,” said Lissi Pfeiffer, spokeswoman for DEMOS e.V., a German non-profit that documents extremism.

READ: QAnon led the storming of the US capitol

Despite openly organising their protests online for weeks in advance, they caught security services completely off guard.

While Donald Trump explicitly whipped up the unrest in DC with his claims of election fraud, his status as the saviour figure in the QAnon conspiracy cult meant he also loomed large over the events in Berlin. The “storming of the Reichstag” was triggered when a speaker falsely claimed the U.S. President had arrived in the German capital, fulfilling the QAnon prophecy that he would liberate the country from the clutches of the globalist “deep state”.

READ: The new agers and wellness influencers lost to far-right COVID conspiracy theories

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And now, German experts warn, the riot in D.C. is likely to play a similar role to the unrest in Berlin, emboldening extremists to more radical action.

“Let there be no mistake: today's pictures from Washington D.C. Capitol Building will nurture a generation of far right terrorists to come,” tweeted the German Institute on Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Studies. 

“Every second they spent in [the Capitol Building] was a victory and will put them into hyperdrive radicalisation.”

Experts said that while the storming of the Capitol was an unmitigated failure in terms of preventing Congress from certifying the election victory of Joe Biden, and had prompted universal condemnation of the protesters, in the filtered reality of the MAGA mob it was being viewed as a triumph.

“They live in their own fantasy worlds and they see it as a victory,” said Dittrich.

Just as in the aftermath of the storming of the Reichstag, images of Wednesday night’s events were already serving as powerful propaganda images within far-right networks, said Linus Pook, co-founder of democ.de, Germany’s Centre for Democratic Contradiction.

“Images were produced that contributed to the self-assurance of the respective extreme right-wing political movements, and serve now as propaganda material,” he told VICE World News.

READ: The woman shot by Capitol police was a U.S. vet — and QAnon supporter

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Dittrich predicted the incident would inspire greater radical acts by U.S. MAGA extremists, by pushing the boundaries of what was possible for the movement, and inspiring them to further action.

“The idea of far-right and MAGA people storming the Capitol was seen as ludicrous before – it’s not any more. Breaking through these barricades, walking those holy halls, seems like a really fun activity for these young people looking for action,” he said

“I think this will embolden them in the long term, towards a recurrence and something even worse. They smell blood. They see there are people willing to take action.”

Dittrich said that Germany had witnessed a similar dynamic since August, with the conspiracist corona-denier movement becoming more radical, affiliating more openly with known far-right actors, and being linked to more and more violent acts, from attacks on vaccination centers to explosive attacks on research centers. 

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“These groups have really radicalised,” he said.

READ: Far-right anti-vaxxers are targeting the German co-developer of the COVID vaccine

Pfeiffer, spokeswoman for DEMOS e.V., said the incident has helped raise the expectations of Germany’s far-right in terms of the impact of its actions.

“Now they won't be content with anything less than a breached security perimeter in Berlin, and at least 20,000 people at the protests,” she said.

Dittrich said the scenes in D.C. had stirred up Germany’s far-right influenced conspiracist movement, with Wednesday night proving one of the busiest days on German-language QAnon Telegram channels. While most were buoyed and cheered on the events as an act of “the people rising up and taking what’s theirs,” those who disapproved were dismissing the incident as a false-flag deep state operation to discredit Trump. 

“It’s never coherent,” he said.

Dittrich said that above all, the stark parallels in the upheavals in cities 4,170 miles apart underlined the critical threat posed by online radicalisation, and the huge lengths democratic societies had to go in grappling with the problem.

“Digital spaces are not seen as real and not taken seriously,” he said.

“The proof is that security services responsible for overseeing these two events miscalculated what was happening, while experts who monitored the scene pretty clearly knew what was going on. There’s a huge disconnect.”

He said that democracies had yet to recognise the way in which “growing parts of our societies get lost in these alternative online realities, and become completely disconnected” — let alone come up with solutions, beyond digital deplatforming and arrests.

“But that’s not a solution for deprogramming people en masse,” he said.

“This is a cult and it’s taking over our society more and more. How do we tackle people en masse losing touch with reality and getting lost in these worlds? It’s only getting worse.”

@tim_hume