Military, a former representative of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) group, a Russian citizen or a German prince. They are some of the 25 people arrested this Wednesday in Germany for, allegedly, cook a coup in the country. They were willing to shed blood to accomplish their mission: seize power and establish a new regime under the leadership of their leader, Prince Heinrich XIII of Reuss. The participants had ties to the ultra-Reichsbürger (Citizens of the Reich) group, the organization that does not recognize German institutions or the post-World War II Federal Republic. It is estimated that some 20,000 people in Germany sympathize with these fables. But the Prosecutor’s Office already points to the clear influence of an external factor: the far-right conspiracy group QAnon.
What is QAnon?
The most influential movement at the moment on conspiracy theories was born in 2017 under the idea that global elites are involved in satanic rites with children. And only Donald Trump can save them. Its great culmination was the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. His followers believe and spread theories like John. F. Kennedy Jr. is not dead and is a supporter of Trump, that Hillary Clinton will be taken to Guantanamo when she arrives at her climax event “The Storm” or that the Democrats have set up a network of child trafficking in a Washington pizzeria.
What began as a virtual and residual movement limited to the United States saw in the coronavirus pandemic its great catalyst to spread fear, uncertainty, and conspiracy theories. Thus began to extend its tentacles beyond the North American borders towards Europe. The confinement measures, the result of the coronavirus pandemic, were replicated on the European streets by thousands of deniers who claimed that they were nothing more than an excuse for governments to limit freedoms. Many of them already knew of the existence of Q, the head behind the encrypted messages that the movement circulates.
QAnon in Germany
The first lashes of the health crisis were running when the popular chef Attila Hildmann turned to YouTube to find out about some military maneuvers that NATO was going to carry out in Germany. According to the New York Timeswhat he found was a cascade of clips sponsored by Q -as the QAnon movement is known- warning that they were dealing with covert operations and orchestrated by Donald Trump to liberate the Germans from the government of Angela Merkel. It was the first time he encountered this group. And she liked it.
Almost three years later, an operation in which 3,000 agents participated has dismantled a far-right plan to attack the Bundestag (German Parliament). “Democracy has defended itself: an anti-terrorist operation has just taken place. The Attorney General is investigating an alleged terrorist network of the Citizens of the Reich movement. It is believed that they were planning an armed attack against constitutional institutions,” the minister pointed out bluntly. of German Justice Marco Buschmann on Wednesday morning.
Germany is the non-English speaking country with the largest QAnon presence. It is one of the countries where far-right parties have made the most of the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis, the war in Ukraine and the socio-economic crisis. At the beginning of this year, the police detained several people who were planning to kidnap Health Minister Karl Lauterbach due to health restrictions. the survey of Pew Research Center reveals that the number of QAnon supporters has grown remarkably after the pandemic. In fact, the first time their presence in the country was known was in August 2020, when many of the anti-vaxxers who demonstrated in the streets carried their flag and tried to break into the Reichstag.
The Q movement has taken advantage of this fertile ground for those nostalgic for past times to penetrate the most radical circles. A study of NewsGuard reveals that the group got a lot of traffic on the German web the day a far-right fanatic murdered ten people in a hookah bar in the city of Hanau in a xenophobically motivated attack. The report The rise of QAnon in German-speaking countries reveals that there is a huge exchange between the group and the Citizens of the Reich movement, that half of the unvaccinated people in Germany and Austria believe in their narrative or that AfD voters are much more likely to sympathize with their slogans. The 2017 elections allowed the ultras to enter the German Parliament for the first time, breaking a taboo that had prevailed since World War II and revealing a reality that is not limited to the country: the rise of the extreme right on European soil.
map in europe
The pandemic was a catalyst in Europe for populist forces and lovers of conspiracy theories. Well-known personalities and social networks have been a key driver in the expansion of these theories on European territory. Despite the fact that many platforms such as Twitter or Facebook have limited and blocked its content, its message reaches further and further. A German influencer or an Italian former deputy have covered these stories, reaching millions of people. The British singer Robbie Williams came to assure in a televised interview that he believed and supported the theory of pizza gate.
The structure is complex and subtle. There is no leader or centralized organization. It’s hard to track. QAnon goes engulfing local organizations and websites using the loudspeaker provided by social networks. It is in October 2021 when the first crime linked to this body on European soil is identified. A mother, who had been deprived of custody of her daughter, kidnaps the minor in France after being convinced that the government is involved in a child trafficking network.
what is the threat
Conspiracy theories are not something new, but their framing in the virtual world is. Social networks and the current climate of uncertainty and global instability have provided the breeding ground for the expansion of ultra movements such as QAnon, which for the FBI they already pose a “domestic terrorist threat”. The latest Europol report already places far-right extremism as one of the main threats to the security of the European Union. “QAnon is almost like a parasite. It just clings to these other extremist movements and ingratiates itself,” Colin Clarke, a counterterrorism and extremism researcher at the Soufan Center, told the portal. grid. The current times of convulsion and social unrest after experiencing the worst pandemic of the century and the return of open warfare to the Old Continent leave a scenario in which these forces want to capitalize on discontent and uncertainty.