‘Pandemic of hate’: Leaders, experts warn anti-lockdown protests linked to far right

Of note:

Online conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and protests against public health orders are helping to spread dangerous ideas laden with racism and bigotry, says a network monitoring hate groups in Canada.

The executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network said since last year people espousing hateful beliefs have linked themselves to conspiracy and anti-lockdown movements around the novel coronavirus.

“We have two pandemics: We have the actual pandemic and then we have this pandemic of hate,” Evan Balgord said.

“Things are kind of getting worse both online and offline … with maybe one pandemic, we have kind of a solution for, but the hate thing, we don’t have a vaccine for that.

Federal New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh was the latest on Monday to note a connection between anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests and far-right extremism.

His comments came as rallies against COVID-19 health orders are being staged across the country while many provincial doctors battle a deadly third wave of the pandemic.

“To brazenly not follow public-health guidelines puts people at risk and that is something that we’ve seen with extreme right-wing ideology, ” he told reporters.

These demonstrations have been met with frustration from some in the public over what they say appears to be a lack of police enforcement, and a few premiers have promised stiffer fines for COVID-19 rule-breakers.

The far right has become adept at integrating populist grievances into its own narratives and exploiting them to enhance membership, said Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, in a recent interview.

As a result, members of the far right have turned up at virtually all of the recent anti-lockdown gatherings, “trying to lend their support to that movement, and thereby garner support and sympathy, or solidarity, with their more extreme movement,” she said.

Mr. Balgord said such events make for “fertile hunting” for new recruits because hateful ideas are not being policed, and once someone believes in one conspiracy theory, it’s easy to believe in others.

“We now have a greatly increased number of people who are coming into close contact with racists and bigots of all stripes with more conspiracy theories,” he said.

And more than a year into the pandemic, Mr. Balgord said, organizers behind anti-lockdown protests in Vancouver, Toronto and the Prairies know figures from the country’s “racist right” are involved in their movement.

More recently, he said, some protesters have started showing up with Nazi imagery to depict themselves as being persecuted by the government.

“The racist right that we monitor and the COVID conspiracy movement are inseparable from each other at this point. We monitor them as if they are the same thing because they involve all the same people,” Mr. Balgord.

He said the network’s information is based on what it observes and the far-right figures it follows, but there is a lack of data tracking how conspiratorial thinking around COVID-19 has moved across Canada.

After Mr. Singh’s comments, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet played down the idea of a connection between the protests and far-right extremism, saying arguments suggesting a correlation were politically motivated.

“I am absolutely certain — absolutely certain — that people which have been involved in such discussions in the last hours and days know very well that there could be no link between … two things that should not be what they are, but are not related,” he said.

The NDP leader said he sees a link between those refusing to follow public-health advice and the ideologies of the extreme right because both show a disregard for the well-being of others and put people at risk.

“There is a connection, certainly.”

Mr. Singh said declining to listen to COVID-19 health orders is dangerous and needs to be called out.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi earlier called such demonstrations “thinly veiled white nationalist, supremacist anti-government protests” on Global’s “The West Block.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-pandemic-of-hate-leaders-experts-warn-anti-lockdown-protests-linked-to/

Alarm as German anti-maskers co-opt Nazi resister Sophie Scholl

Of note:

Sophie Scholl, the German resistance figure executed by the Nazis who was born 100 years ago on Sunday, has become an emblem of courage and a national hero for many.

But the legacy of the young woman sentenced to a brutal death for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets has recently been co-opted by Germany’s anti-lockdown movement, to the dismay of historians and the Jewish community.

At a demonstration in April, one woman had a placard featuring a picture of Sophie Scholl draped on string around her shoulders.

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace,” it read — words famously pronounced by the resistance campaigner.

Even one of her nephews, Julian Aicher, has prominently spoken at corona skeptic demonstrations, including on a stage decorated with white roses — evoking the name of Scholl’s resistance group.

In a country where right-wing extremism is seen as the number one threat to security, and where a record number of xenophobic and anti-Semitic crimes were recorded in 2020, historians say the misappropriation of Scholl’s memory is deeply alarming.

Some also warn that democracy itself is being attacked at a time when living witnesses of World War II have dwindled significantly in numbers.

“By trivialising the Holocaust and dictatorship, these activists are endangering democracy,” said Ludwig Spaenle, Bavaria’s anti-Semitism commissioner.

– Fourth favourite German –

On February 22, 1943, Scholl and her older brother Hans, both members of a small resistance group called the White Rose, were beheaded in the Stadelheim prison in Bavaria following a summary trial.

They had been found guilty of distributing pamphlets on the grounds of Munich University, having converted to the resistance after being exposed to the horrors of the Third Reich as members of Nazi organisations in their teens.

Sophie Scholl, born on May 9, 1921, has become the most famous face of the resistance movement, with surviving photos showing her distinctive cropped hair and determined smile.

Hundreds of schools and streets now bear her name, and in 2003 she was named the nation’s fourth favourite German behind Konrad Adenauer, Martin Luther and Karl Marx.

The country’s political class also like to evoke the memory of the young biology student who stood up to the Nazis.

Annalena Baerbock, the Green party’s candidate to become Germany’s next chancellor after Angela Merkel retires in the autumn, has named Scholl as one of her “heroes”.

Carola Rackete, the former captain of the Sea-Watch 3 migrant rescue ship, has said if Scholl were still alive, she would be part of the Antifa left-wing political movement.

But at the other end of the political spectrum, the far-right AfD also claimed in 2017 that Scholl would have given them her vote.

And now the resistance campaigner’s image has been hijacked by protesters against coronavirus restrictions in Germany, who have often sought to compare themselves with victims of the Nazis.

– ‘Vaccination makes you free’ –

Some protesters have been seen wearing yellow stars similar to those Jews were forced to wear under the Nazis, carrying the words “not vaccinated”.

Others have worn concentration camp uniforms and carried placards with the words “Impfen macht frei” (“Vaccination makes you free”), a reference to the “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) inscription at the entrance to Auschwitz.

“I feel like Sophie Scholl, because I’ve been active in the resistance for months,” one protester told a rally against virus restrictions in Hanover in November, leading to widespread condemnation.

“Followers of conspiracy theories like to imagine themselves as victims, while demonising and delegitimising the democratic field,” Samuel Salzborn, the city of Berlin’s point man on anti-Semitism, told AFP.

According to Jens-Christian Wagner, a German historian who specialises in the Nazi era, the appropriation of Sophie Scholl by the anti-mask movement shows a loss of “historical awareness” among parts of the German population.

There are “almost no remaining witnesses” to the Nazi era, Wagner told AFP.

“They can no longer defend themselves when they are instrumentalised or when the far right rewrites history and the present by reversing guilt. It worries me,” he said.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has said it will monitor the “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) movement, a particularly vocal anti-lockdown group, over concerns it poses a threat to democracy and has ties to right-wing extremism.

Source: Alarm as German anti-maskers co-opt Nazi resister Sophie Scholl