Police arrest a right-wing protester in Berlin on Saturday.
Protests in German cities grow as people demonstrate against the government imposing limits on freedoms.
Prominent voices feeding conspiracy theories include a star vegan cook, author, pop star and a cardinal.
A celebrity cook who called the coronavirus a government trick to plant mind control chips into Germans under the guise of vaccinations was hauled away by police from an unlawful demonstration in front of the parliament building. A pop star attacked face mask requirements and demanded evidence that Covid-19 really exists, while a leading Roman Catholic Cardinal in Germany added his name to a letter claiming the pandemic was a pretext to create a global government.
Prominent supporters of conspiracy theories are focusing on the Covid-19 shutdown that has crippled economies around the world, with angry protests against government-imposed limits on freedoms erupting across the country in the past week, despite rules banning such gatherings.
Police use pepper spray at a demonstration in Berlin.
Police and journalists have also been injured in spasms of violent outbursts at the at-times unruly demonstrations. There are growing fears that the eclectic groups could exacerbate doubts about democracy in Germany by capitalizing on the turmoil of the coronavirus.
Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, lashed out at the conspiracy theorists who have been gaining adherents in Germany at a news conference in Berlin – many of whom believe the government would make a future anti-Covid-19 inoculation compulsory in a country deeply suspicious of such vaccinations. He noted on Monday that peaceful demonstrations during these times were a welcome outlet for people to express their different opinion.
In Germany, coronavirus protests bring people together – maybe too close
“But it’s an entirely different story to spread abstruse claims, hateful stereotypes or theories seeking a scapegoat for global villains,” Seibert said. “Anyone spreading these cooked-up conspiracy theories only wants to cause divisions in our country and pit people against each other. Those attacking police officers or journalists won’t be able to hide behind free speech protections.”
Katharina Nocun, the author of a German book about conspiracy theories called Fake Facts, told South China Morning Post that the pandemic had created an ideal breeding ground for conspiracy theories.
A protester wears a pilot helmet in Berlin earlier this month.
“Studies have shown that conspiracy theories are always out there but they become especially visible during times of crises like this,” Nocun said. “When people feel a loss of control, conspiracy narratives appear more attractive. It helps some people to deal with it if they have someone to blame for it all.”
At rallies across Germany last weekend, tens of thousands of ordinary Germans demonstrated together with right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists against government anti-coronavirus restrictions, and other demons identified on some of their posters such as billionaire Bill Gates, Merkel and her peripatetic medical adviser, Christian Drosten. The epidemiologist in Berlin has even been the target of death threats for advising Merkel to keep the country locked down.
Some protestors chanted Freiheit (freedom) at a rally of 10,000 in Stuttgart while 3,000 took part in another protest in Munich, some carrying signs reading “Mask on, brain off” and “Traitors, not leaders”. There were also large rallies of 1,200 in Berlin, 250 Mannheim where police were hurt by firecrackers thrown at them from a group of 50 youth, 500 in Cologne and 150 in Dortmund.
“It alarms me when normal citizens are out there demonstrating together with right-wing extremists, anti-democratic forces and conspiracy theorists,” said Christine Lambrecht, Germany’s Justice Minister, urging Germans to be more careful about rallies they take part in.
A rally against coronavirus restrictions in Stuttgart, Germany on Saturday.
The leader of Germany’s vestigial Jewish Community, Josef Schuster, sounded a similar perilous warning: “Right-wing extremists are using the fears created by the Corona crisis to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Anyone taking part should be aware on whose side their marching with. There should be no place for anti-Semites and right-wing extremists.”
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned in a February 15 speech at the Munich Security Conference about the dangers of fake news in an era of heavy social media use that has pushed the pace of such developments more than ever before.
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” he said. “Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus and is just as dangerous.”
According to other fringe conspiracy theories circulating, without evidence, in Germany and around the world, Gates predicted such a pandemic years ago but also now stands to profit from Covid-19.
Police detain a protester in Berlin, Germany on Saturday.
In Britain, 5G mobile telecommunications masts have been set on fire by arsonists inspired by a bogus conspiracy theory linking them to the spread of the coronavirus. The government has called that “dangerous nonsense”.
In Germany, some of the prominent voices feeding the conspiracy theories include a diverse group such as star vegan cook and author Attila Hildmann, pop star Xavier Naidoo and Roman Catholic Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller.
Hildmann, who called the virologist Drosten a liar, said the recent requirement in Germany to wear face masks “is a symbol for a new form of slavery”. He said he had secret information about the nefarious government plans to take advantage during the pandemic. “They are using corona to vaccinate us and to insert chips,” he said.
Naidoo said in a video he made of himself that he did not believe there was a pandemic or a coronavirus and demanded to see proof. “Everyone should be aware that we don’t want to be fooled with any more,” he said. “We’ve got to act like there is this lethal pandemic out there. Bring us some damn evidence that this thing is real.”
And Catholic leaders in Germany were quick to repudiate a letter signed by Müller as well as Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano from Italy and retired Hong Kong cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun that casts doubt on the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts by governments to stop it. It criticized government lockdown measures as disproportionate and unjustified and said “the imposition of these illiberal measures is a disturbing prelude for a world government beyond all control”.