The start is surprising. In the 2021 annual report, the Berlin Office for the Protection of the Constitution does not initially deal with a special milieu of extremists, but instead describes insistently the hatred of fanatics for journalists.
The contempt and hatred meted out to those working in the media are “no less than an attack on freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” warns the news service in the “Special Topic: Journalists in the Focus of Constitutional Enemies.” An entire profession should be discredited as a “system of lying press”. Interior Senator Iris Spranger (SPD) and the head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Michael Fischer, will present the report this Tuesday in the Red Town Hall.
In the past year, more attacks on journalists were documented in Germany than ever before, writes the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The European Center for Press and Media Freedom had counted a total of 95 attacks by November 2021. There is no number for Berlin in the annual report of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, but it names hard cases.
In April 2021, a television broadcast in front of the Federal Chancellery had to be interrupted because opponents of vaccination were causing massive disruption. In August, Jörg Reichel, state director of the German Union of Journalists (DJU), was thrown off his bicycle by corona deniers on the sidelines of a demonstration in Kreuzberg, hit to the ground and kicked.
In December, a lateral thinker in Friedrichshain snatched a reporter’s mobile phone. The person concerned was Julius Geiler, who worked for the Tagesspiegel. Other colleagues were also massively attacked.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution also states that hatred of the media is widespread in all extremist scenes. Right-wing extremists strike, keep “enemy lists” and try to counter journalists’ reports with fake news on the Internet.
Islamists and autonomists alike threaten if reports in the press, radio, television and online portals do not suit them. Attacks, albeit of varying intensity, are “part of the action repertoire of all extremist phenomena,” according to the annual report of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. That is “unacceptable” for a liberal democracy.
And fanaticism grows. The extremist spectrum in Berlin approached the 10,000 mark in 2021. It may even have been exceeded. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution reports a total of 9,950 extremists, which is 290 more than in the previous year and an increase of over 400 compared to 2019.
However, the news service does not give any figures for the milieu of radical corona deniers, opponents of vaccination, conspiracy theorists and other “delegitimizers” who have become radicalized during the protests against government measures to contain the pandemic.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution of North Rhine-Westphalia recently spoke of around 300 delegitimizers in the state. However, the association of constitutional protection authorities is finding it difficult to quantify the fragmented spectrum of corona protesters nationwide. Berlin is not the only country that does not provide specific information. Nevertheless, the danger is described in detail.
In 2021, Berlin was one of the central stages that were repeatedly misused for their rallies and demonstrations by supporters of the “spectrum of state delegitimization relevant to the protection of the constitution,” according to the annual report.
Several aggressive demonstrations are mentioned, including the aforementioned attacks on journalists. In addition, the spectrum is networked and radicalized in social media and via messenger services. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution calls Telegram the “authoritative platform for the dissemination of conspiracy stories and fake news about the pandemic”.
The authority is also concerned about the growing willingness of radical corona deniers to use violence. In August 2021, two arson attacks were carried out on a rapid corona test station in Spandau. A similar attempted attack at a test center at the Lichtenberg train station followed in the same month. In December, a mask opponent on a tram beat up a man who had pointed out that masks were compulsory on public transport.
For right-wing extremists, however, the pandemic was no longer the dominant issue in 2021, says the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Rather, the scene tried to use the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley, the withdrawal of the German armed forces from Afghanistan and the developments on the Polish-Belarusian border as an opportunity to “propagate an alleged failure of the state and to conjure up fears of a refugee crisis”.
At the same time, the emphasis shifted in the right-wing extremist spectrum. The small party “The Third Way” is increasingly setting the tone. In August, activists hung posters at the Brandenburg Gate with the slogan “Kill Communists”. The busy neo-Nazi party in Berlin was able to double the number of its members from 30 to 60.
Overall, the right-wing extremist scene remained stable with 1,440 people (including 750 “violent-oriented”). This also applies to the partly right-wing extremist Reich citizens (670 people as in 2020 and 2019). However, the majority of neo-Nazis and other right-wingers (850 people) stay away from parties and other organizations and, according to the findings of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, remain “largely unstructured”.
The NPD, which once sat in several district assemblies, continued to drop (2021: 180 members, 2020: 200). The Berlin Office for the Protection of the Constitution does not mention the AfD for legal reasons.
In addition, the AfD-internal group “Der Flügel”, which was mentioned in the 2020 annual report, no longer appears in the new report. In August 2021, the AfD reached the Berlin administrative court that it could “demand the deletion of individual information in the Berlin constitutional protection report 2020 on the internal party grouping of the ‘wing'”.
A problem that is embarrassing for the Berlin security authorities is also mentioned by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution: right-wing extremists and citizens of the Reich in their own ranks. From January 2017 to August 2021 there were 74 suspected cases involving a total of 93 people. The suspicion of right-wing extremist networks in the public sector has not yet been confirmed, according to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
The radical left spectrum is traditionally the strongest extremist scene in Berlin. The protection of the constitution speaks of 3800 people, including 950 violent. The trend has continued for years, with the scene growing by around 200 people. The decisive factor is the uninterrupted flow of people into the “Red Aid” association.
With 2,350 members (2020: 2,150, 2019: 1,900), the Berlin local group is the largest left-wing extremist in the city. The Red Aid provides financial and political support to left-wing radicals who come into conflict with the judiciary. This makes the club attractive for the scene as a whole, despite the differences of opinion simmering within it.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution certifies that the approximately 550 Autonomen (minus 20) have been acting with “aggression and violence against the loss of meaning” for years. The authorities are concerned that autonomous people are targeting people and accepting serious injuries. In September, incendiary bottles were thrown at the building of the police’s central property protection. A letter of confession stated that “the aim of our action was the vehicles on the fenced-in area, in the knowledge that the cops are also on the area in the bungalow”.
However, the radical climate protection group “Ende Gelände Berlin” no longer appears in the annual report. In 2020, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution had still assigned them to the left-wing extremist scene and emphasized the approval of violence.
The spectrum of Islamists is the second largest milieu of extremists. Some attracted attention in Berlin in May 2021 with riots and anti-Semitic hate speech when the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip and the state responded with massive airstrikes.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution speaks of 2,260 Islamists in the city, 90 more than in the previous year. By far the largest scene remains that of the Salafists (1,100 people), but it is stagnating. However, two organizations that are subject to a nationwide ban on activities were able to increase.
The Lebanese-Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah (“God’s Party”) grew by 50 to 300 people, and the international Sunni Hizb-ut-Tahrir (“Liberation Party”) grew by ten to 70 people. The previously unbanned Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas is now estimated by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution at 100 people (plus 20).
Foreign extremists not associated with Islamism also took part in the anti-Israel riots in May 2021. This applies above all to the left-wing extremist Palestinian terrorist organization PFLP. She was one of the driving forces behind the aggressive anti-Israel demonstrations.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution assigns 40 people to her, ten more than in 2020. Overall, the spectrum of “foreign-related extremism” in Berlin has hardly changed in terms of numbers (2021: 1650 people, 2020: 1660). By far the largest association is the left-wing Kurdish terrorist organization PKK with an unchanged 1,100 members. The extreme right-wing Turkish Ülkücü movement, also known as the “Grey Wolves” (400 people), also remained stable.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution also continues to monitor Scientology. In 2021, the sect-like organization tried in vain to gain attention with its own proposals to combat the pandemic. Scientology got stuck at 130 members.
The annual report also names the dangers of espionage and cyber attacks from problematic countries such as Russia. Last year, 19 hacker attacks “with an alleged intelligence background” on political and scientific institutions as well as on associations and companies in Berlin became known.
The number of attacks has more than doubled since 2020. It was nine then. In Berlin, however, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution primarily deals with the topic of cyber defense at the level of the domestic intelligence services.