by Christine Buchholz and Rene Paulokat
“Querdenken” – German for “thinking outside the box” or, literally, lateral thinking – is a campaign started in April by Stuttgart-based IT entrepreneur Michael Ballweg. The movement’s focus is on criticizing the measures put in place to contain the spread of Covid-19, which it characterizes as a “dictatorial” infringement on fundamental freedoms. “Querdenken” argues that economic consequences should be given greater weight than impacts on health; however, they fail to articulate any social demands for things like financial aid for people who are suffering economically in the pandemic. 
By now, “Querdenken” has evolved from a campaign into a movement, organizing similar protests every week around the country. On August 1st, an estimated 30,000-50,000 people joined the demonstration in Berlin, with the goal of uniting the movement. Since then, the number of protesters has multiplied – even in places where, until recently, scarcely more than a dozen people had shown up. 
“Querdenken” is once again calling for people to converge on the capital on August 29th, this time under the banner “Berlin invites Europe.”
No clear separation from far right
Members of the AfD and NPD, as well as adherents of the Reichsbürger movement – and neo-Nazis – can all participate in “Querdenken” without objection. Fascism and racism are styled as “opinions” to be accepted. In a published manifesto, “Querdenken” declares: “We are non-partisan and do not exclude any opinion.” . Ballweg’s catch-phrase about the unity of “Querdenken” is: “Where we go one, we go all”. This is a slogan lifted directly from the anti-semitic conspiracy theory QAnon. The oft-repeated stacatto refrain is: “We’re neither right nor left; we’re for freedom, peace and the Basic Law.” The adversary is “the Merkel regime,” “the mainstream media,” or “compulsory vaccination.”
Such simple explanations make “Querdenken” a magnet for fans of conspiracy myths. They see in the pandemic a secret plan to control the world (aka the “New World Order,” or NWO). They use the prevailing uncertainty to spread their simplistic explanations. Myths like these provide fertile ground for right-wing, anti-semitic and nationalist narratives. This ability to connect with such ideas is part of “Querdenken”’s concept.
What they all have in common is a clear picture of the enemy: politicians, scientists, and, above all, the mainstream media.  Chants of “Lügenpresse” (a Nazi-era slur meaning “lying press”) fill the air whenever television cameras are nearby. The majority are in agreement with the organizers’ strategy of disallowing any overt distancing from the far right at the demonstration. 
Neo-Nazis take part with no objection
Organized neo-Nazis were free to take part in the march on August 1st in Berlin unhindered. To be seen were members of the NPD, known Holocaust deniers, Identitarians, Compact magazine, the AfD, Reichsbürger with Imperial flags, German flag-wavers, Nazi hooligans, and antisemitic T-shirts. Eric Graziani’s Nazis from “Patriotic Opposition Europe” rode along with the “Corona-Rebellen” (“Corona Rebels”) on a Love Parade-style party truck.
At the nationwide “Querdenken” protests, members of the Reichsbürger movement are even allowed to lobby freely for a referendum to abolish Germany’s Constitution. The fascistic far right, up to and including some on the terrorist spectrum, was present at the “Querdenken” rally in Berlin – people like Martin Wiese, who in 2003 conspired with other neo-Nazis to bomb an event for the laying of the foundation stone for a Jewish cultural center in Munich. 
AfD and ‘Identitarian’ tactics
The AfD, which currently finds itself internally divided and in crisis due to the huge anti-Fascist mobilizations, is using the movement to style itself as the parliamentary arm of the “Coronaleugner” (“Corona deniers”).  Members of the party’s neo-fascist wing have been especially vocal in calling for “lateral thinking.”
One tactic of the fascistic right, both within and outside of the AfD, is to gain strength within the movement without overtly appearing to dominate it. ‘Identitarian Movement’ leader Martin Sellner has issued a tactical instruction  to participate actively yet unobtrusively in “Querdenken.” “Recruiting people… building up nests of resistance… to disturb the growth of the movement as little as possible with visible and thereby criticizable rightwing positions, until the movement has grown big enough.” Not until the economic consequences of the pandemic have become palpable will the time be ripe “to test and to activate the latent identitarian potential of these protests.” Commenting on an exchange with Bodo Schiffmann (a leading figure in “Widerstand 2020”! [Resistance 2020] and “Querdenken”), Sellner has revealed “that the base of the movement does not want to keep avoiding this taboo [of migration policy] in the long term.”
Currently, both the ‘Identitarian Movement’ (IM) and the AfD are still practicing tactical restraint by not dominating the movement with their racist themes of “migration,” “Islam,” and “population replacement.” The group ‘Mobile Beratung gegen Rechtsextremismus’ (MBR), a mobile counseling center against rightwing extremism, reports  that some neo-Nazis have toned down clearly racist and fascist slogans and so were not easily recognizable. However, following the successful mobilization on 8/1, a greater number of speeches veered unambiguously into this racist territory at “Querdenken” rallies held the subsequent weekend in Stuttgart, Dortmund and Augsburg. 
Training ground for fascists inside and outside the AfD
“Querdenken” is once again mobilizing across Europe for its August 29th event -“Berlin invites Europe – Festival for Freedom and Peace.” Charter bus companies are providing critical infrastructure to travel to the city. Neo-Nazis and fascists will take advantage this opportunity. In a video message, far-right politician Björn Höcke calls on people to “perform this service for your country.”  It can be assumed that more violence-prone Nazis will be in attendance.
Like ‘Pegida’ before it (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West), the “Querdenken” movement is a training ground for fascists both within and outside of the AfD. The AfD is attempting to put an end to its decline in popularity by capitalizing on an issue that will allow it to reach out to new milieus. Fascists both inside, as well as outside the AfD – link these efforts expectations to gain new forces to grow a street-level rightwing movement. To prevent this from happening, we need widely supported counter-protests.
DIE LINKE must be part of the counter-movement
An alliance  started by ‘Aufstehen gegen Rassismus’ (Stand Up to Racism, Germany) has been organizing in Berlin. It appeals for counter-protests on 29th August under the banner: “Solidarity instead of common cause with Nazis.” It – Aufstehen gegen Rassismus – states: “We all need social security and access to good health-care for all, especially during the pandemic. To achieve this and much more, solidarity struggles are possible and necessary. Hostility towards the scapegoats of Nazis and racists is not OK!“ 
The extent to which “Querdenken” is able to continue to build momentum and provide a breeding ground for the fascist far-right is dependent in part on how strong the counter-protest turns out to be. As DIE LINKE, we cannot allow neo-Nazis to take to the streets unopposed and spread their fascist ideology. It is thus critical as DIE LINKE that we become an active and visible part of the protests against the alliance between “Querdenken,” the AfD and neo-Nazis.
It is up to all of us – DIE LINKE must make its social critique of the federal government more visible, mobilise more intensively and build the solarity required to answer the questions posed by Covid-19. The rich and the corporations must pay the costs of the pandemic rather than the vast majority of people.
This article first appeared in German in links-bewegt, the online magazine of Die LINKE. Translation by Julie Niederhauser
1 The “dazzling decay of political life” sometimes takes a bizarre shape, like when it is alleged that the coronavirus was invented by “powerful people” in order to prepare Germany for the “international locusts” that will then invade and “introduce Socialism.” A recommended report on August 1st by Gerhard Hanloser on wolfwetzel.de
2 (Weekend of 15th August: Hamburg approx. 3,000, Stuttgart approx. 2,000, Dortmund approx. 5,000)
3 “Querdenken” manifesto
4 See the video edit by the ARD series Kontraste:
5 Again and again from the sound-truck speakers booms the message: “We see a few Reich flags here. The press will once again use that as a reason to talk about right-wingers, conspiracy theorists and antisemites at the protest. But we will not allow ourselves to be divided. The real fascists are in the government.”
6 Not until after the event did this “undercover participation” come to light, thanks to an antifascist research group
7 AfD chairman Tino Chrupalla said in an interview: “People have taken to the streets for their rights; that can only be welcomed.” Bundestag member Peter Bystron tweeted: “Hundreds of thousands” came out to demonstrate and asked: “How long can she [meaning Merkel] keep sitting it out?” MP Stephan Protschka tweeted about an alleged 1.3 million demonstrators.
8 Martin Sellner (Identitarian Movement), quoted in Sezession’ after 1st August –
9 MBR in an interview by Supernova magazine:
10 Masks came off in Stuttgart on 8/8/2020 – and a national anticapitalism was invoked: Thomas Bauer (a retired first lieutenant) on 8/8. at the “Querdenken” rally in Stuttgart – “Mass migration of poorly qualified and totally unqualified workers will put a further strain on social security funds and the middle class, which funds the whole party. […] Elections will be reversed […] I will stop religious social gatherings and attempt to take away people’s faith. I will transform the media so that anyone who does not pay homage me will be denounced. […] By skillfully manipulating the media, I can now finally make the richer even richer.” https://youtu.be/T2HOLkfuYsU?t=473
12 Currently the preparatory alliance includes the DGB (German Trade Union Confederation), ver.di (United Services Trade Union), SPD, Omas gegen Rechts (Grannies Against the Right), unteilbar (Indivisible), campact, VVN (Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime), and residents’ campaigns.