BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (BfV) classified the Identitarian Movement as an extreme right-wing group on Thursday, a sign that authorities are increasingly worried about radicals with anti-Islamic and racist views.
The murder last month of a prominent regional politician by a suspected neo-Nazi shook Germans and prompted the interior minister to warn that right-wing extremism was a threat to Germany’s democratic system.
The Identitarian Movement has not been directly linked to the killing, but the intelligence agency said the group discriminated against non-Europeans and Muslims and as such was incompatible with the constitution.
The official classification makes it easier for the agency to monitor the group’s activities and members - of which it says there are 600 in Germany. The movement, with French roots, has been under scrutiny for about three years.
The BfV, which says Germany is home to 24,100 far-right radicals of whom 12,700 are potentially dangerous, said it was important not only to watch violent radicals but also those who use words to stoke racism.
“These verbal fire-raisers question people’s equality and dignity, they speak of foreign infiltration, boost their own identity to denigrate others and stoke hostile feelings toward perceived enemies,” said BfV President Thomas Haldenwang.
The Identitarian Movement branded the BfV’s decision disproportionate and driven by political motives linked to anti-right wing hysteria.
“The intelligence agency is not warning about a real danger, but is constructing an extremist apparition and making itself a stooge of the left-wing establishment,” it said on its website
“Our actions are subversive and sometimes provocative. But under no circumstances are they anti-constitutional or extremist,” it added.
Identitarian Movement activists in Germany take part in far-right marches and hold meetings of their own, while individuals have been investigated for using banned symbols and for incitement.
In 2016, members of the movement scaled the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and unfurled a banner to protest against what they called the “Islamization” of Germany due to mass immigration.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 open-door migrant policy, which led to the arrival of more than 1 million people, led to a surge in support for anti-migrant groups including the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Many Germans feels a special responsibility to root out racism and intolerance due to the country’s Nazi past.
However, critics say verbal attacks by some AfD politicians - some of whom have links with the Identitarian Movement - against Muslim migrants, have legitimized a language of hate that fuels far-right sympathizers to embrace violence.
Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt; Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Toby Chopra