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Spy chief says right-wing radicalism spreads in Germany

BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said on Tuesday that militant right-wingers were mixing with less radical conservatives, blurring the lines to make extremism more acceptable and harder to detect.

FILE PHOTO: Participants carry flags and a banner that reads, "We are the people!" during a far-right "Pro Chemnitz" group demonstration in Chemnitz, Germany August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

Speaking less than three weeks after a man who had published a racist and anti-Semitic manifesto shot two people near a synagogue in Halle, Thomas Haldenwang added that lone attackers were also an increasing threat.

“The proverbial ‘right wing corner’ which allows for a clear distinction between extremists and the conservative camp, no longer exists,” said President of the BfV domestic intelligence agency Haldenwang in a parliamentary hearing.

“We are increasingly dealing with mixed scenes including people who are open to the right - such as at the demonstrations in Chemnitz in 2018,” he said.

Last August, Germany saw the worst far-right riots in decades after in the eastern city of Chemnitz after a man was stabbed to death.

The leader of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the state of Thuringia, Bjoern Hoecke, a hardliner within the party, joined in those demonstrations.

Hoecke, who wants to rewrite history books to focus more on German rather than Jewish suffering in World War Two, is intent on pulling the party further to the right. In Thuringia, he overtook Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives to come second in an election on Sunday.

Haldenwang said individuals belonging to the “new right” were becoming politically active with the aim of making right-wing radical thinking, even extremist thinking, acceptable.

“Bridgeheads are established in the media and attention-grabbing forms of protest are carried out to find resonance,” he said, adding that ideologies often included anti-pluristic tendencies.

Haldenwang reiterated his agency’s estimates that around half of the roughly 24,100 “right wing extremists” in Germany were potentially violent.

He also highlighted the increasing danger from attackers who are radicalized on the Internet and act alone and compared the Halle attacker to those in Oslo and Christchurch, New Zealand.

“Investigations so far indicate that the perpetrator had not shared his plan for the anti-Semitically motivated attack in Halle with anyone at all up until the moment he carried it out,” said Haldenwang.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Sabine Siebold, Editing by Angus MacSwan