German Right-Wing Leader Steps Down After Photos Emerge of Him Posing as Hitler

Lutz Bachmann and his Pegida movement had motivated thousands to hit the streets of Dresden to register their discontent with immigration to Germany.


In the last few months, an ugly kind of right-wing politics has returned to Germany. A movement known as Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, has brought thousands into the streets of Dresden and other cities for rallies to denounce the country’s growing immigrant population. But on Wednesday, Jan. 21, the young group, which was only founded in October, experienced its first major setback. Its leader, Lutz Bachmann, resigned after photos of him posing as Hitler were unearthed by the German press.

The photo, in which Bachmann’s hair is combed in the likeness of the Third Reich leader and in which the Pegida head sports a Hitler mustache, bears the caption, “He’s back!”

Bachmann has told German media that the photograph was taken as an homage to a popular satirical novel, He’s Back, which involves Adolf Hitler waking up in 2011 in a Berlin parking lot with no memory of his past. Since the photograph surfaced, Bachmann has deleted his Facebook page, which also featured a photo of a KKK member with the caption: “Three K’s a day keeps the minorities away.”

Despite leading rallies railing against the influx of immigrants to Germany, Pegida and its hangers-on have insisted that they are not a racist movement. The movement, which has shot to fame for organizing huge protests, has controversially adopted a communist-era slogan, “Wir sind das Volk!” (“We are the people!”), as its own. That slogan was used by protesters in marches prior to the fall of the German communist regime in 1989. Its appropriation by Pegida has been widely criticized in Germany, including by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the East and participated in those marches.

Pegida has emerged as a motley collection of right-wing strains in German politics. According to Der Spiegel, it includes individuals associated with right-wing biker gangs and draws from, among other groups, soccer hooligans, including the famously right-wing fans of Dynamo Dresden.

But Pegida is also a recent addition to the constellation of xenophobic right-wingers on the European scene. It was founded by Bachmann last October after he witnessed a group of protesters in Dresden mobilizing in support of the PKK, the Kurdish guerrilla organization whose fighters are linked to militants on the front lines against the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria.

“We want to gather to oppose the advancing Islamization of our country. We don’t want terrorist, Islamist powers to fight their religious war on our streets. We are against IS, PKK, al Qaeda, and all the others,” one Pegida member wrote on the group’s Facebook page in October, according to Spiegel.

It is perhaps a measure of the confusion and the competing strains of thought present in the European right wing that the PKK, a secular group that otherwise has been designated a terrorist organization by several Western governments, would be thrown in with the Islamic State and al Qaeda — groups which the socialist Kurdish organization is actively fighting against in Syria.

Nonetheless, Pegida, like similar movements across Europe, has gained a vibrant, energetic following. It has articulated a vague argument about how European values and European people — all code for ethnic whites — are being overrun by Muslim immigrants.

In Germany and elsewhere, these movements have only gained energy in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris on the office of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store. These attacks, carried out by professed Muslims in the name of radical Islamist groups, play into a narrative that the West is under siege by a Muslim fifth column that seeks to infiltrate and eventually undo the gains of liberal European society.

In response, European politicians have dutifully tried to marginalize such voices. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen’s National Front was excluded from the unity rally that followed the Paris attacks. In Germany, groups such as Pegida are under investigation by prosecutors for acts of hate speech. Indeed, representatives of Pegida say Bachmann didn’t step down because of the Hitler photo but because of those legal troubles.

If history and the experience elsewhere in Europe are any guide, the Hitler photos won’t be the end of Pegida. In Sweden, for example, the right-wing Sweden Democrats have well-documented ties to the country’s neo-Nazi movement, and its leaders have been implicated in scandals similar to the Bachmann affair. Nonetheless, the party is Sweden’s third largest.

Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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