Germany’s security service in the eastern state of Saxony has officially classified the anti-Islam and anti-immigrant Pegida group as a “proven extremist organization.” The movement came to the fore amid the 2015 refugee crisis.
The Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) is now officially considered an extremist organization in its own “birthplace” – Germany’s eastern federal state of Saxony. The organization first came to be in the region back in October 2014, when Europe saw a massive influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and North Africa.
The group positioned itself as a grassroots movement opposing what they called a creeping Islamization of Europe, and gained prominence due to massive rallies it organized to show its discontent with the “open-door” policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Over the years, the group moved away from its “heterogenous” roots and “moderate demands” and instead adopted “increasingly radical and ultimately extremist” views, the regional branch of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) – a security service tasked with combating extremism – said in a statement, explaining its decision.
“Proven far-right extremists have had a significant influence” over the movement in recent years, the security service said, adding that they acted as “organizers, speakers and managers” of Pegida events. The group also started espousing views that directly contradict German basic law, the BfV noted, adding that the movement “rejected” the rule of law and the role of the parliament.
By giving a platform to various far-right extremists, Pegida also acted as a “lynchpin” between the far-right groups and ordinary people, the head of the BfV’s regional branch in Saxony, Dirk-Martin Christian, said in a statement.
“The resulting, ever deeper penetration of far-right extremist ideas into the core of [our]society is a serious threat to our free and democratic social order in the long run,” he added.
However, “peaceful participants” of the gatherings organized by Pegida, who simply used their “basic right on the freedom of expression,” have nothing to fear, since the security service will not put them under surveillance, he assured.
Pegida has repeatedly been accused of flirting with the far-right scene in Germany. The movement’s members were also no strangers to controversy. Its founder, Lutz Bachmann, was forced to step down from his role as Pegida leader in January 2015 after a photo of him dressed as Adolf Hitler emerged online.
Over the years that passed since the refugee crisis, the movement became much less noticeable. However, it also apparently moved beyond Germany, as Pegida supporters occasionally attempted to organize rallies in various countries, including Norway, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium.
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