The monitoring will focus on members of Germany’s “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) movement, which has emerged as the loudest voice opposed to coronavirus curbs and an active promoter of conspiracy theories denying basic facts about the pandemic.
Some protest organisers “have clearly demonstrated that their agenda goes beyond simply mobilising protests against the government’s corona measures”, the ministry said in a statement.
Their main aim appears to be to “permanently undermine trust in state institutions and their representatives”, it added.
They are suspected of seeking out links with right-wing extremists such as “Reichsbürger” (Citizens of the Reich) who question the legitimacy of the modern Federal Republic of Germany, and of spreading anti-Semitic messages and QAnon myths, the ministry added.
They also encourage supporters to ignore official orders and challenge the state monopoly on violence, it said.
“Querdenker” demonstrations over the past year have attracted thousands, at times tens of thousands, of supporters, where anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists are seen marching side by side with neo-Nazis and members of the far-right AfD party.
The demonstrations are notorious for being broken up early by police because protesters fail to comply with rules on social distancing and mask wearing, and have occasionally descended into clashes.
For intelligence officers to be legally allowed to start observing parts of the anti-corona groups, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) had to create an entirely new category because the “Querdenkers” do not fit neatly into the existing classifications of right-wing, left-wing or Islamic extremism.
The new category is for groups suspected of being “anti-democratic and/or delegitimising the state in a way that endangers security”.
The designation allows intelligence officers to gather data about individuals and their activities, and can in a further step include shadowing people and tapping their communications.
The BfV is already monitoring Germany’s anti-Islam, anti-migrant AfD opposition party.