Far-right extremism is on the rise in Germany as neo-Nazis seek to join protests against COVID-19 restrictions, authorities said on Tuesday.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said there were an estimated 33,300 far-right extremists in 2020, an increase of almost 4% from the previous year.
"Far-right extremists were repeatedly able to protest side-by-side'' with non-extremist opponents of the pandemic restrictions, Seehofer said.
The minister added that it was concerning how the protesters often didn't distance themselves from the far-right extremists marching among them.
According to an annual report by the domestic intelligence agency known by its German acronym BfV, some 40% of the far-right extremists in Germany are believed to support the use of violence for political ends.
The report also noted a rise in the number of left-wing extremists last year compared to 2019, though a smaller share was considered supportive of violence.
The number of Islamist extremists remained stable in 2020, according to the report.
Carsten Nickel, managing director of the think tank Teneo, recalled how a mob of conspiracy theorists, many with far-right views, tried to storm the parliament building in Berlin last year during protests against pandemic restrictions.
The expert noted that the two constituencies overlapped because conspiracy theories were "very popular in extremist circles".
"Far-right activists see it as a reservoir of disgruntled citizens that they couldn't reach before," Carsten told Euronews.
All eyes on September elections
"Anything that has to do with the far right is watched very closely ahead of the elections in September," the expert added.
German chancellor Angela Merkel is due to retire after the general election to be held on September 26. The far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, is currently polling at around 11%, according to recent opinion surveys.
AfD fed on anger at Merkel’s welcoming refugee policy in 2015 and recently has championed opposition to COVID-19 restrictions.
A BfV investigation found that the entire party was "a case of suspected far-right extremism" and could face strict surveillance. AfD has challenged the decision in court.