The founder of Pegida, an ultra right-wing, Islamophobic group in Germany, is set to go to trial on hate speech charges after he described Europe's new refugee population as "cattle" and "scum" in a widely viewed Facebook post.
Lutz Bachmann, 43, was charged last October and has been accused of disrupting public order. A Dresden court said on Tuesday that Bachmann's words constituted an "attack on [the refugees'] dignity", according to the AFP. He is set to appear in court in April, with two further hearings scheduled for May.
The decision to pursue charges against Bachmann come at a complex time for Germany. Cracks in the country's "culture of welcome" have started to show in recent months, with anti-immigrant sentiment creeping into political rhetoric in response to the influx of asylum seekers fleeing war and conflict at home. Pegida itself stands for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West."
Over the weekend, the far-right nationalist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) celebrated gains in the legislatures of three German states that held regional elections, picking up support from an anti-migrant platform. Chancellor Angela Merkel — whose decision to take the moral high ground and maintain an open-door policy to refugees has become increasingly unpopular among some groups — saw a waning of support in those three states for her party, the Christian Democrats (CDU). The party had a particularly poor showing in Baden-Wüttemberg, a region that has been an electoral stronghold for the CDU since the end of World War II.
Bachmann founded Pegida in 2014. It originated as a Facebook group that materialized in small rallies of about 300 or so attendees scattered across the country. Support for the group briefly took a hit after Bachmann posted a photo of himself on Facebook posing as Hitler.
However, the movement has gained traction in recent months, with its leaders capitalizing on fears that swept Europe in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris on November 13, which left 130 dead. Anti-immigration groups have used those attacks as a platform to promote the idea that refugees entering Europe are a trojan horse for militants who trained with the Islamic State group in Syria or Iraq.
A Pegida rally in Dresden drew a crowd of 17,500 in December. Earlier this year, a hotel which was converted into a shelter for refugees in Bautzen in what was formerly East Germany was burned to the ground. Anger and fear was further compounded in the aftermath of mass sexual assaults on New Year's Eve in Cologne, many of which were carried out by men of North African and Arab descent.
The population of Germany has swelled by 1.1 million in just one year. Last September, Merkel's open-door policy was crystallized in the moment that thousands of travel-worn refugees arrived at Munich's main train station. German nationals lined up to clap and cheer the new arrivals, handing out chocolate and clothing as they disembarked.