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Far-right seizing pandemic 'opportunity' to expand - study

The study carried out in Germany, France, Britain, the US, Sweden, and Finland by the Counter Extremism Project documents the emergence of a new far-right movement since 2014 that is 'leaderless, transnational, apocalyptic and oriented towards violence'.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas talks to the press on novel coronavirus as he arrives for a meeting to review the roadmap’s implementation of a joint initiative with France on the control of small arms and light weapons in the Western Balkans by 2024, on 31 January 2020 in Berlin. Picture: AFP

BERLIN - Far-right militants in Europe and the US are increasingly forming global links and using the coronavirus pandemic to attract anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists to their cause, a study commissioned by the German foreign ministry said Friday.

The study carried out in Germany, France, Britain, the US, Sweden, and Finland by the Counter Extremism Project documents the emergence of a new far-right movement since 2014 that is "leaderless, transnational, apocalyptic and oriented towards violence".

The extremists believe in the nationalist theory of "great replacement" being orchestrated to supplant Europe's white population with outsiders.

And they are increasingly networking across national borders with other like-minded militants, including with Russian and East European extremists.

Music festivals and mixed martial arts fights are rallying points, where extremists also seek to draw new members, the study noted.

Over the last year, the pandemic has also become an opportunity seized on by the extremists to "expand their mobilisation efforts around anti-government conspiracy myths criticising the current restrictions," it said.

"Right-wing extremism is the biggest threat to our security - across Europe," said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Twitter.

Voicing alarm that the scene is "increasingly acting and networking internationally", Maas added that Germany is seeking to counter the menace through coordinated action with other EU members.

A rally of nearly 10,000 opponents of government-imposed social restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Berlin this week saw extremists mingling among a motley crew of protesters.

About a dozen demonstrators were shouting "Sieg Heil" while performing the stiff-armed Hitler salute, in the presence of police, an AFP reporter saw.

Anti-Semitic slogans have been a fixture of some of the demonstrations against coronavirus policies in Germany this year.

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