Germany’s domestic spy agency says it will monitor some anti-lockdown protesters amid concerns they pose a risk of undermining the state.
Angela Pley, spokeswoman for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) spy agency, made the announcement on Wednesday, adding that the surveillance would particularly target members of the “Querdenker” movement, an umbrella group that has organized Germany’s main anti-lockdown demonstrations since the start of the pandemic.
The movement has drawn in people from the far-left, conspiracy theory believers, anti-vaxxers, and right-wing extremists.
Some of its members believe the pandemic is not real, while others claim the curbs imposed to rein in the virus infringe on their civil rights.
The BfV further warned that the movement had moved from criticizing coronavirus lockdown measures to exploiting lockdown frustrations to stir anger against politicians and state institutions.
“Legitimate protests against the coronavirus politics are being repeatedly and increasingly exploited to provoke an escalation,” Pley said. “Organizers of demonstrations, which are mainly led by protagonists of the Querdenker movement, have an agenda that goes beyond protesting against the state’s measures against the coronavirus.”
The domestic intelligence service also highlighted the fact that members of the far-right “Reichsburger” movement, which denies the existence of the modern German state, have also participated in the protests.
The rallies attracted attention for being broken up early by police because protesters failed to comply with rules on social distancing and mask-wearing, and have occasionally descended into clashes.
Meanwhile, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters that the surveillance was aimed at “preventing problems and crimes.”
Earlier this month, he said the Querdenker movement had become more prepared to use violence, adding that some authorities in southern Germany had already placed it under observation.
The German Interior Ministry said separately that the groups of interest had to be classified as suspected of being “anti-democratic and/or delegitimizing the state in a way that endangers security.”
The designation would legally enable intelligence officers to spy on individuals and their activities.
The BfV is already monitoring Germany’s anti-Islam, anti-migrant AfD opposition party.
The latest development comes days after Germany instituted new virus rules that applied to the entire country and allowed the federal government to enforce lockdowns.
The new powers have drawn fierce criticism from opposition parties, including the AfD, whose leaders have joined anti-lockdown protests.