This document provides some recent news reports relating to direct action in 2022, and the context for what we are seeing globally.
In its simplest form, direct action is a way for a group to circumvent the normal democratic process for the advancement of a goal. While freedom of speech is part of the democratic process, direct action attempts to be a louder more impactful form of speech.
A common example would be protesting a war, where the protesters believe that the military industrial complex and moneyed corporate interests have an imbalance of control over governments, resulting in little incentive to end wars and military conflict. The protesters hope that with a sufficiently large showing of protesters, media coverage would put pressure on leaders to respond to their concerns.
In a democracy, a show of numbers is interpreted as a display of public will. The actions are generally considered to be a peaceful pursuit of goals that are in the broader public interest. Although sometimes they are neither.
Increasingly, globally, we are seeing an increase in direct action among far-right militant groups. They have a goal they believe in, and they don’t think the normal democratic process will be favorable to their agenda. Instead of carrying protest signs and handing out flowers, they are heavily armed with plans to overthrow democratic governments, and/or further their cause through threats and intimidation.
In 2021, the United States saw some examples of militant direct action at the state and federal level, and in December 2022, similar events unfolded in Germany as reported below.
News stories related to this topic are below in chronological order with the most recent at the top. Entry headers include the source and date.
Deutsche Welle (13 Dec 2022)
“Reichsbürger coup: Conspirators planned armed units for ‘arresting and executing’ people” — Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, held closed-door sessions on Monday to debate investigations into a coup plot by extremists linked to the far-right Reichsbürger movement and QAnon conspiracy theorists. The revelations about the group’s alleged plot to overthrow Germany’s government have sparked widespread outrage, with a former member of parliament among those accused of taking part. On Monday, three special committee sessions were held in the Bundestag behind closed doors. The legal affairs committee and the interior affairs committee were holding meetings where Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government and federal prosecutors will deliver “reports and results” from the raids and provide further information about the operations. In a third session, lawmakers posed questions to the parliamentary control committee, which is responsible for Germany’s domestic and foreign intelligence services. [Source]
VICE (10 Dec 2022)
“The Rise of Far-Right Female Influencers” — Across Europe, female far-right politicians are making gains. Many argue their femininity has helped to detoxify male-dominated right-wing politics across the continent, taking their parties to new levels of power. In Italy, Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy became the biggest party in parliament in 2022. In France, Marine Le Pen has taken her party from the fringes to the main opposition, two presidential elections in a row. All the while, over in North America, a legion of female alt-right influencers have become figureheads for the far right. A new generation of vloggers, podcasters and “celebrities”, using their platforms to push alt-right views to the masses – reshaping the right in ways like never before. This is how women have become the secret weapon of the far right. [Source]
Deutsche Welle (8 Dec 2022)
VIDEO TITLE: “More arrests expected in wake of the plot to overthrow the German government” [Source]
YOUTUBE VIDEO DESCRIPTION
A group of “Reichsbürger” allegedly spent months preparing for a “Day X,” on which they wanted to overthrow the government. In a large-scale raid on Wednesday morning, several suspects were arrested, including ex-soldiers and a former member of the Bundestag.
Since November 2021, they had been holding secret meetings and engaged in shooting exercises in preparation for a coup, according to the attorney general. In their plans, the suspects did not shy away from the use of military force or homicide.
“The sheer number of arrests and searches has shocked me,” sociologist Timo Reinfrank, executive director of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation told DW. The foundation is one of Germany’s leading NGOs working against right-wing extremism, racism, and antisemitism.
“A real coup d’état can hardly succeed in Germany, as the state order and the constitution are too solid for that, but these people believe it is possible. That shows how caught up they are in their delusion.” But attacks like the one on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, would also be possible in Germany, Reinfrank fears.
Reichsbürger reject the German legal system and the country’s parliamentarism, and most of them propagate the re-establishment of the German empire founded in 1871. They also believe that the victorious Western Allies of World War II, who defeated Nazi Germany, still secretly rule the country. In recent years, the growing number of Reichsbürger has alarmed German security authorities. In its June 2022 report, the domestic intelligence service estimated that around 21,000 people belong to this scene — and their number is rising. The high potential for violence among the self-proclaimed Reichsbürger was described as particularly worrying: “Around 500 of these people still have at least one weapons permit,” the intelligence report read.
The Reichsbürger are not a homogeneous group, according to a 2018 study by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. Instead, the term refers to a “large, very diverse milieu of ideologists” who vary in their propensity for violence and militancy, but all are united by the belief that the Federal Republic of Germany is not a sovereign state. They reject the constitution and all state institutions.
Around 1,150 of the Reichsbürger — or just over 5% — were classified as right-wing extremists in 2021. But many others also use elements of right-wing extremist ideology or believe in antisemitic conspiracy myths. The idea that Germany’s borders should be extended to include territories in Eastern Europe, which were occupied under Nazi rule that ended in 1945, is also found in its milieu.
The suspects targeted by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office’s investigation include a soldier from the German Armed Forces’ Special Forces Command (KSK) and several Bundeswehr reservists. A former member of the Bundestag for the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is also said to be among the suspects, as is a former police officer who was responsible for the security of Jewish communities in Lower Saxony before his suspension, which happened before the arrest.
For years, observers have warned about right-wing networks active within security agencies and the Bundeswehr. In July 2020, then-Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer disbanded an entire company of KSK, where the banned Hitler salute had allegedly been used, and where far-right music was played at parties. Police in Saxony also found a weapons cache with ammunition and explosives at the home of one soldier in the company. [Source]
ABC (7 Dec 2022)
“Police in Germany say far-right extremists were planning a coup, arrest 25” — This report contains news of other headlines. A description is available on the YouTube post. [Source]
MSNBC (7 Dec 2022)
“Far-Right Coup Plot With Similarities To January 6th Foiled In Germany” — MSNBC Political Analyst Matt Dowd, Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher and host and executive producer of Showtime’s “The Circus” John Heilemann discuss with Nicolle Wallace the news that 25 people were arrested in Germany who plotted to install a shadow government. [Source]
PBS (7 Dec 2022)
“German police arrest dozens of far-right extremists attempting a coup” — More than two dozen people suspected of plotting an armed coup have been arrested in raids carried out across Germany. The suspects are linked to a far-right extremist group and had allegedly begun preparations to carry out a plot that included storming the capitol and executing the chancellor. Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss. [Source]
Deutsche Welle (7 Jul 2020)
“The right-wing extremists plot to overthrow the German government” [Source]
Amid reports of right-wing extremist activity in the German police and armed forces, radical groups are said to be preparing a coup against the government. The federal Interior Ministry has promised to crack down on right-wing groups.
Concerns are growing about reports of right-wing extremist activity in the German police and armed forces — but senior officers and politicians seem reluctant to deal with the situation.
Journalist Dirk Laabs has found evidence that far-right conspirators illegally received ammunition from government warehouses, stockpiled weapons, and made concrete plans for a coup attempt — to be known as “Day X.”
The attempt was supposedly to be carried out during a time of national emergency — like the current coronavirus crisis. Some domestic security experts, including the Left Party’s Martina Renner, are worried about these developments. Renner says this may be the moment that the alleged plotters were waiting for.
In June 2019, several current and former officers of an elite police unit in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern were arrested, suspected of supplying one of these far-right conspirators with large quantities of ammunition. Investigators say that the ammo came from military and police units from all over Germany, including the states of Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia. Authorities in those two states have not yet been able to explain how the ammunition ended up in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Fears about right-wing activity among the German police and military have been growing for years. In December 2019, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced plans to expand and strengthen federal police agencies that are involved in the effort to combat right-wing extremism and terrorism.
BBC (22 May 2019)
“The Rise of the Right: Populism in Hungary” — A new wave of far-right politics is sweeping across Europe, promising to smash the ruling elite, end migration and shake-up the EU. But are these parties fuelling hate? The Nine’s Europe Correspondent Jean Mackenzie travels across the continent, to find out why these movements are surging – meeting the people celebrating their rise and those fighting to stop them. [Source]
BBC (7 May 2019)
“The Rise of the Right: Populism in Germany” — A new wave of far-right politics is sweeping across Europe, promising to smash the ruling elite, end migration and shake-up the EU. But are these parties fuelling hate? The Nine’s Europe Correspondent Jean Mackenzie travels across the continent, to find out why these movements are surging – meeting the people celebrating their rise and those fighting to stop them. The first in this series comes from Germany, where the far-right party the AfD is now Germany’s main opposition. We ask whether their place in Parliament is emboldening more extreme groups. [Source]
BBC (28 Sep 2018)
“Switzerland: The cradle of populism?” — Switzerland. Neutral, wealthy, and peaceful, the home of direct democracy. But is it also the birthplace of populism? When back in March, Steve Bannon embarked on his tour to unite Europe’s populist parties, he gave his first public address in Zurich. Switzerland is where the anti-globalist fightback began, he told his audience, when its people said no to joining the European Community in a referendum in 1992. Now it may retreat further still, as the Swiss prepare to scrap international treaties in favour of national laws. Gabriel Gatehouse has the story of populism vs globalism, an epic battle for our age. Newsnight is the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs TV programme – with analysis, debate, exclusives, and robust interviews. [Source]
Monash University (18 Feb 2018)
“The Rise of Populism” — Populism is rapidly rising around the globe. It’s more than political resistance to change – its impact can be felt across the United States, Europe, Australia and beyond. It’s taken shape in the form of Brexit, Donald Trump and One Nation as traditional national states try to retain their power in a more globalised world. The rise of populism is forcing us to rethink foreign policy, business strategy, and human rights issues. As economic uncertainties grow, a rejuvenation of right wing politics continues to gain momentum, forcing us to reconsider who we are as a society. But is the rise of populism all bad? Is this shift in politics temporary, and is it an opportunity to realign democracy’s values? [Source]
BBC (3 Apr 2017)
“Inside France’s young far-right” — A new generation of far-right activists are trying to get the Front National’s Marine Le Pen elected as France’s president. We follow them as they campaign in northern France, witnessing hatred on both sides. We also meet those terrified of them and the alt-right extremists who want nothing more than their victory. [View]
Council of Europe (2 Mar 2017)
“The Dangers of Populism – Interview with Jan-Werner Müller” [Source]
Professor of Politics at Princeton University and leading expert on populism, Jan-Werner recently gave a lecture at the Council of Europe entitled “How Populism endangers Democracy – and how to fight it”.
One of the world’s leading experts on populism, Professor Müller defines populists as a kind of “moral majority” who regard anyone who disagrees with them as either illegitimate or disloyal to the “will of the people”. According to Professor Müller, this approach represents a real danger to democracy, because it could lead to the tyranny of the majority over the minority.
Speaking about the European Union, he advocates the upholding of basic democratic standards in all of its member states, including Poland and Hungary, even if this requires the imposition of sanctions.
Further afield, he urges democrats to call out contradictions and expose misleading propaganda espoused by the populists, and to put pressure on supporters of populism within mainstream parties, who either adopt populist policies themselves, or who allow populists to gain power.
The Economist (17 Jan 2017)
“Populism is reshaping our world” [Source]
From the streets of Turin to Silicon Valley, people power is taking the world by storm. With frustrations rising and the old order apparently crumbling, who really has the answers?
Click here to subscribe to The Economist on YouTube: http://econ.trib.al/rWl91R7
December 2016 Italy’s populist opposition is shaking up the establishment. They’re days away from a referendum that could spell the end for the Italian government and make it the latest domino in the toppling international order.
Around the world populist leaders are connecting with voters fed up with politics as usual and exploiting anger at an establishment out of touch with ordinary people. But giving voice to people’s frustrations is one thing, offering them real answers is quite another.
Five Star’s anti-establishment message is resonating with voters. It is now Italy’s biggest opposition party. The country has been crippled by recession and stagnating wages. With rates of inequality among the highest in Europe many people feel left behind by globalization and let down by political leaders.
Now the populists sense there may be an opportunity to bring those leaders down. A referendum on constitutional reform has become a vote of confidence in the ruling elite. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said he will resign if the country votes no. He’s the latest politician to find himself in the firing line. Tonight, thousands of five-star supporters are gathering at a rally in Turin. Some are starting to ask what they might do with success.
Beppe Grillo has vowed to get rid of political parties but he certainly knows how to start one. Grillo’s success has come through impassioned charges against the corrupt elites and global forces he blames for Italy’s woes but five stars leaders may soon have a harder note to hear. A question of how they would tackle unemployment and inequality.
Two days after the rally Italians overwhelmingly voted no in the referendum. Prime Minister Renzi made good on his promise to stand down. It’s another victory for populism as across the world charismatic leaders defy expectations. They’re finding success selling deceptively simple answers to difficult questions. They almost always blame the failings of free trade and mass migration for rising inequality but is this the right target?
Few cities are immune to the uneven impact of globalization.
The latest venture from a San Francisco startup has the potential to turn one of America’s most iconic industries on its head. Last year Uber paid $680 million for Otto, a company whose technology could fundamentally change trucking forever. It allows a truck to drive down a highway with nobody at the wheel. The company claims it could save the industry billions of dollars a year, reduce emissions by a third and eliminate the driver errors that cause up to 87% of truck crashes. But this bright sounding future has a dark side. A series of studies have found technology, not globalization, to be the biggest driver of inequality in developed countries. There were three and a half million people employed in trucking in America and with their industry seemingly the next in line for automation many face an uncertain future.
As inequality grows in Western democracies, wealthy California has become one of the most economically unequal states in America as technology has displaced many lower skilled jobs.
An alienated public turned on the establishment because it failed to provide answers. As some tech giants become as powerful as that establishment, it’s a lesson they’re starting to learn. So they’re going back to school.
For too many people in western democracies progress is still something that happens to other people. Wealth does not spread itself. An underclass appears beyond help, finding a way to reconnect with them and provide an alternative to populism will be at the top of the agenda for the political and business leaders of tomorrow
THE AGENDA explores the defining questions of our time and seeks out the stories, solutions and the personalities who might just hold the answers. Discover the mould-breakers experimenting with new ways to approach some of the modern world’s most fundamental issues; find out what happens when bold ideas and real life collide, and meet the leaders whose thoughts and actions are themselves helping to shape the agenda.
Series One of The Agenda: People Power gets to grips with the rise of populism and what lies behind it.
VICE (29 Mar 2016)
“Rise of the Right: Marching in Europe’s Largest Nationalist Event” — Every year tens of thousands of Poles attend a nationalist march in Warsaw. It’s an event that has the people of Poland’s capital city staying indoors. Since its inception, far-right football fans – or ‘ultras’ – turn violent against the police, and the march becomes a ferocious battle between hooligans and the state. This year, however, something is different. A right wing government is elected on the eve of the march. How will this affect this traditionally bloody parade? [Source]