Extremism on the rise in Germany, increasing threat of antisemitism

A German government office identified 32,080 right-wing extremists and 33,500 left-wing extremists in Germany in 2019.

Attendee at Neo-Nazi concert, Themar, Germany, July 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS/MICHAELA REHLE)
Attendee at Neo-Nazi concert, Themar, Germany, July 2017
Political extremism is on the rise in Germany across the political spectrum, increasing the threat of racism and antisemitism in the country, a new government report has found.
The number of criminal acts motivated by left-wing extremism jumped up nearly 40% between 2018 and 2019, a report by Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) found, according to Deutsche Welle.
On the Right, the number of right-wing extremists recorded by the office rose sharply over the same period, largely due to the classification of the 7000 members of the "Flügel" wing of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the party's youth wing as right-wing extremists, nearly 20% of the party membership.
According to the office's report, the BfV identified 32,080 right-wing extremists and 33,500 left-wing extremists in Germany in 2019. The rise was far greater on the Right, up from 24,100 in 2018, whereas that year's figure for left-wing extremists was 32,000.
Speaking at a press conference for the report, Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that the increase in right-wing extremism is driving an increase in racism and antisemitism.
"Racism and antisemitism emerge to a very considerable degree out of right-wing extremism," Seehofer claimed, adding: "Over 90% of anti-Semitic incidents can be traced back to right-wing extremism. And, therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say this is the biggest security policy concern in our country."
The surge in far right support, Seehofer said, was a "disgrace" for Germany, prompting him to spend over ten minutes of the conference detailing the threat from the Right. By contrast, he spoke for only three minutes on left-wing and Islamic extremism, the two threats which for years have been the main focus of Germany's security services.
The pivot comes as Hans-Georg Maassen, described by Deutsche Well as a former Seehofer ally with ties to the AfD party, stepped down as head of the BfV, handing the reins over to Thomas Haldenwang.
Also speaking at the conference, Haldenwang said that extremists were increasingly willing to resort to violence. Germany has witnessed a number of acts of extremist violence in the past year, including the murder of conservative politician Walter Lübcke by a neo-Nazi, the  Yom Kippur attack on a synagogue in Halle in which two bystanders were killed, and the shooting of nine people of foreign descent at two hookah bars in Hanau in late February 2020 by a 43-year-old German man.
"I am speaking of right-wing extremists, who are executing politicians or intended to cause a bloodbath in a synagogue," Haldenwang said. "I am speaking of the new Right, which denies certain groups their human dignity and legitimizes violence against them."
He continued: "I am also speaking of left-wing extremists who almost kicked a police officer who was lying on the ground to death."
The AfD's Flugel (Wing) group was put under surveillance following the Hanau attack by Haldenwang, who said at the time: "The Wing evidently has extremist intentions." The group and the AfD's youth wing were already been monitored having been identified as "suspicious" by the BfV in January 2020. The party hit back, with Jörg Meuthen, spokesman for the AfD saying: "This is a convoluted, politically motivated, anti-AfD act."
Following the Hanau attack, a poll carried out by the Kantar Institute found that 60% of respondents agreed that the AfD party, which holds 89 seats in the Bundestag and has representatives in all 16 state legislatures, was partly responsible for such acts of violence. Only 26% thought that the party was not partially to blame, and the remainder were unsure.
In the same poll, 49% of respondents said that right wing extremism is currently the greatest terror threat in Germany. 27% considered Islamic extremists to pose the largest threat, and just 6% named left wing extremists as the greatest threat.
46% thought that Germany's security forces don't pay enough attention to threats posed by right-wing extremism.
According to the BfV report, 6,449 crimes motivated by left wing extremism were recorded in 2019, up from 4,622 the year before. Just over 900 of the crimes were violent in nature.
The report also found that nearly 650 cases of Islamic terror were identified in 2019.