Germany’s spy chief warns Russia is stoking anti-government sentiment
The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has warned of a rise in anti-government extremism that seeks to divide society and overthrow the government.
The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned on Monday of a rise in anti-government extremism – fueled by authoritarian states like Russia – that seeks to divide society and topple the government.
German security agencies have disrupted several plots in recent years by small groups linked to the Reich Citizens Movement accused of planning attacks on critical infrastructure, government officials and even the national parliament. While it is unclear how advanced these plans were, authorities have expressed concern that the alleged plotters have acquired weapons and include people who are not usually on the radar of security agencies, such as judges and police.
Thomas Haldenwang, who heads the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or BfV, said the mix of previously separate groups – from far-right extremists to QAnon conspiracy theorists – and their willingness to use violence was particularly worrying.
“What connects all these groups is that they despise our state and our democracy, reject it and want to abolish it,” he told The Associated Press in an interview in Berlin.
Haldenwang said anti-government extremists consciously use corner issues to stoke fear and gain new followers. These include migration – where far-right actors have perpetuated the myth of a “great replacement” – but also government measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic and tackle climate change.
“All of these issues can be used to spread a particular narrative and create the impression that the state does not control certain situations and therefore needs to be reversed,” he said.
The BfV chief said these trends are actively fueled by countries like Russia, which has a vested interest in destabilizing democracy in Europe’s biggest economy.
Haldenwang cited disinformation spread by Russian state media and internet platforms, but said top influencers are also being targeted by Russian agents in Berlin to spread propaganda in German society.
“Naturally there are attempts to get closer to certain politicians on the right or on the left,” he told the AP. “Less to support these political parties than to use their role to divide society.”
Besides the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which has come under intense scrutiny by the BfV, among the most prominent figures attacking the government are left-wing party MP Sahra Wagenknecht and Haldenwang’s own predecessor, Hans-Georg Maassen, who was fired five years ago. after downplaying anti-migrant violence.
“Of course, it’s good for Russian actors if they can win over such people for their purposes and possibly use their influence with certain audiences,” Haldenwang said.
“If these people have a large number of subscribers in certain media, then the objective of dividing society is achieved in this way,” he said, adding: “The fact that my predecessor allows himself to becoming the spokesperson is something that irritates me beyond measure.