Why are people protesting

Protests against corona measuresWhy conspiracy ideologies endanger democracy

"Hitler was a blessing compared to the communist Merkel, because she and Gates are planning a global genocide of seven billion people."

The coronvirus - and vaccinations against it - are supposed to wipe out large parts of humanity. A conspiracy myth, here spread by Attila Hildmann at a rally in Berlin. The cookbook author is one of the leading figures in the protests against the corona measures.

Attila Hildmann, vegan cookbook author and entrepreneur, at a demonstration against the Corona policy in Berlin. (dpa / Bernd von Jutrczenka)
But Hildmann is just one of many who are currently fueling conspiracy ideologies. The corona crisis seems to be a good breeding ground for this. Because the proportion of people in the population who believe in such myths is currently relatively high: "If you look at the studies like this, I would say that you can assume that between 25 and 30 percent - depending on the study and depending on the conspiracy myths that were queried - believe in corona conspiracies, "says social psychologist Pia Lamberty.

Conspiracy ideologues play a central role in the corona crisis

Together with the network activist and publicist Katharina Nocun, she has just published a book on conspiracy ideologies. The title: "Fake Facts". The two authors have been following the spread of conspiracy ideologies for several years. Katharina Nocun also met them when she was still active in the Pirate Party and was doing street election campaigns:

"For me it was the case that I often had the experience that people came to the information booth - in the classic pedestrian zone - and then suddenly started telling strange things. I had conversations with people from are convinced of a 'great population'. Or people who have spoken of a 'secret world government'. That puzzled me, because these people seemed adamant that what they believe in really is so. "

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Individual conspiracy ideologues, whom Nocun has observed for a long time, are now playing a central role in the protests against the protective measures in the corona crisis. "If we look at who mobilizes for such events, then they are actually old friends, you could say. So these are influencers who have built up a fan base over the years and who have been spreading conspiracy ideologies for many years."

"Bill and Melinda Gates, the Gates couple now have more power than Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and Hitler combined at the time."

The ex-moderator Ken Jebsen (picture alliance / dpa / Felix Zahn)
That's what Ken Jebsen claims on his YouTube channel, to which almost half a million people subscribe. The former radio presenter has been using conspiracy narratives in his videos for years - for example about the 9/11 attacks. Jebsen is accused of denying the Holocaust, anti-Semitic and anti-American statements. In the past few months, Jebsen has repeatedly appeared in the forefront of the Corona protests.

"When crises arise, there is a need for interpretation"

Like him, dozens of YouTubers - mostly men - spread conspiracy myths and false reports about the corona pandemic. In doing so, they are also adapting existing myths to the corona crisis. The scene has long claimed that cell phone radiation should be used to control thoughts. Now it is said: The corona virus will be spread with the help of 5G cell phone masts.

Another conspiracy myth is that secret elites are currently carrying out a "Umvolkung", a "major exchange" of the population through immigration. The coronavirus is now an intentionally released biological weapon that is driving the population movement further.

Another popular narrative: The virus was supposed to justify forced vaccinations to make people weak and dependent. Such explanations about vaccination conspiracies existed before Corona. They thrive in times of pandemic. "Whenever a crisis arises, there is a need for interpretation. A financial crisis, an economic crisis, and of course a massive one in the case of a pandemic, in the case of an illness. And of course we have that again today."

Michael Blume is a religious and political scientist and the representative of the state of Baden-Württemberg against anti-Semitism. He also publishes on conspiracy myths.

"At least in stable societies there will not necessarily be more conspiracy believers in numbers. But the people who believe in conspiracies tend in the direction, they network and radicalize themselves and therefore: Yes, we are already seeing a strong increase."

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Basically everyone is susceptible to conspiracy myths, said the religious scholar Michael Blume in the Dlf, and education does not protect either.

In times of crisis, more people join conspiracy ideologies. Research knows this from previous crises, and experts are observing it now too. Like Giulia Silberberger. She left Jehovah's Witnesses a few years ago. With her initiative "Der goldene Aluhut" she campaigns against conspiracy ideologies - often satirically on the Internet, but also with workshops in schools.

"We are in a situation in which many people are afraid. In which they are angry, indignant, desperate. Not knowing what to believe now. And that is where conspiracy ideologies come along and throw their seeds of fake news in Such a small information hole - that's what I always say. Because science naturally needs a bit of time to create knowledge. "

Lab-bred, Chinese bio-weapon, forced vaccination

While the facts are still being researched, the false news has already spread widely. But knowledge about the new virus is growing - and so is knowledge about the conspiracy myths associated with it. In a study published in July, one in four respondents from Germany said that the coronavirus was grown in a Chinese laboratory. 13 percent said it was a Chinese bioweapon.

(imago / Rob Engelaar / Hollandse Hoogte)

This representative study was carried out by the opinion research institute Kantar on behalf of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Further results: One in four agreed with the statement that Bill Gates is aiming for the compulsory vaccination of all people. One in three said the media were hiding facts about the coronavirus under pressure from the government.

Last year - before the corona crisis - the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's "Mitte Study" also dealt with conspiracy ideologies. The "Mitte Studies" regularly examine right-wing extremist attitudes in Germany. If people are particularly sensitive to conspiracy ideologies, then research speaks of a "conspiracy mentality".

"And you can say that, according to the data, 38 percent of Germans had a so-called conspiracy mentality as early as 2019," says the social psychologist Pia Lamberty, who worked on the evaluation of the Mitte study.

"What has been shown in the study is, on the one hand, that people with a strong conspiracy mentality are more suspicious of democracy. The propensity to use violence is also higher. In other words, 25 percent of people who had a conspiracy mentality said they would also use violence to achieve their political goals. "

"We have seen in the last few weeks and months that conspiracy ideologues, in some cases, specifically target journalists, virologists and politicians with their supporters. This has led to death threats."

Katharina Nocun, civil rights activist and network activist (Heiner Kiesel)

Katharina Nocun and others who publicly oppose conspiracy ideologies are repeatedly the target of insults and threats. And there are also acts of violence in connection with conspiracy ideologies - up to and including terrorist attacks.

"We have just seen many right-wing extremist assassins in recent years who have argued exactly like this - Halle, Hanau. Especially in the right-wing extremist scene, the belief in conspiracies is an immense accelerator of radicalization. That is anything but harmless."

Halle, Hanau: The perpetrators relied on conspiracy myths

Stephan B. shot two people in Halle in October 2019 and tried to storm a synagogue. He confessed to the fact and relied on several conspiracy myths: an alleged Zionist world conspiracy, the alleged "Umvolkung" and the suppression of white men he felt. Similar conspiracy myths were also found in the letters of confession and videos from Tobias R., who murdered ten people in Hanau in February 2020. Most of the victims came from a migrant background.

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Minorities are particularly at risk from conspiracy ideologies, as these ideologies are often accompanied by racism and anti-Semitism. Sometimes this worldview comes to the fore, sometimes hidden behind other narratives - for example when talking about elites around Bill Gates or others who supposedly control the world.

The political scientist Jan Rathje has been dealing with conspiracy ideologies and right-wing extremism for the Amadeu Antonio Foundation for many years: "The characteristics that the evil world conspirators have are the same as those attributed to Jews in the myth of the Jewish world conspiracy."

The Baden-Württemberg commissioner for anti-Semitism, Michael Blume, observes something similar: "Judaism is at the top of the conspiracy pyramid. And that's why - unfortunately, unfortunately, unfortunately - it really is like this: sooner or later, those who believe in conspiracies always end up with anti-Semitism."

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Men and people with a lower education are more vulnerable

Anti-Semitic conspiracy myths can be traced back to antiquity. In Christian societies to this day it is often the Jewish minority who are accused of plotting against the majority. The false accusations are similar over the centuries:

In the past, Jews were held responsible for the plague and murdered in plague pogroms. Today some blame them for Corona. Jews were and are accused of secretly kidnapping children, poisoning wells or controlling the financial world. For centuries, anti-Semitic conspiracy myths have contributed to persecutions and mass murders - and are still powerful, as the corona crisis shows.

The experts unanimously agree that this is a threat to democracy, because conspiracy ideologies are currently not just caught in a small section of the population - but across all classes and milieus. There are hardly any differences in terms of origin or age - but between the sexes, according to the psychologist Pia Lamberty: "Men believe in conspiracies more than women."

And education can also make a difference: "The lower the level of education, the more likely people are to believe in conspiracies. But you have to be a little careful not to come to wrong conclusions here. The fact is that intelligence is not relevant here is or knowledge maybe and explains the difference, but that people with a lower level of education tend to have the feeling that they do not have a say in society and that that actually explains the difference. "

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Therefore, education does not generally protect against belief in conspiracies. People with high educational qualifications are also active in the scene - because they too can have a conspiracy mentality because they feel marginalized and are therefore prone to these myths.

Politically, this susceptibility is often accompanied by a right-wing attitude, as the Mitte study has shown. It is therefore not surprising that right-wing parties and movements are particularly widespread in conspiracy ideologies, as the political scientist Jan Rathje observes:

"The alternative for Germany, but also other right-wing extremist parties, repeatedly use conspiracy narratives to ultimately upgrade this old story of 'we against the' of populism and perhaps also to reach other milieus."

Conspiracy ideologies are a health hazard

But in the corona crisis, it is not just right-wing extremists who are fueling conspiracy ideologies. Some of the actors also have completely different political backgrounds, said Jan Rathje with a view to the Corona protests:

"The people who come there can perhaps also locate themselves individually rather than left-wing or rather come from an esoteric-hippiesque milieu. And at the same time it is also the case that we have hardcore conspiracy ideologues with us who are not shy about it New right or right-wing extremists or anti-Semites to work together. "

There have been overlaps between esotericism and right-wing movements for a long time. However, the current studies do not yet provide an answer as to whether, for example, so-called anti-vaccination opponents "only" take to the streets against the corona restrictions or also adhere to right-wing thought patterns. It can be said, however, that the common belief in conspiracies is often stronger than divisive political views. This creates a political cross front of the conspiracy ideologues.

Giulia Silberberger was with the Jehovah's Witnesses (Peter van Heesen) for over 15 years
Giulia Silberberger from the anti-conspiracy initiative "Der goldene Aluhut" also observed: "That people fraternize and unite with one another who had not done so in the run-up, but who now see a common reason for demonstration due to this global crisis and the pandemic situation. And they say: Okay, we are all somehow against this government and against this lying press and against this Bill Gates. So: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And even if one might otherwise not stand each other, we line up together a demo. We’ve seen that too. "

Conspiracy ideologies are not only a political factor, but also a danger for the conspiracy believers themselves and their social environment. For example, a medical risk if people do not seek medical treatment for themselves or their children even though they are ill. Or if they fall for false information, as has already happened thousands of times during the corona crisis: Over 800 people worldwide have died because they drank highly concentrated alcohol, which is supposed to protect against the virus. Thousands more became sick or blind. That was the result of a study by the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

And the belief in fakes and conspiracies can also have serious social effects, says Pia Lamberty: "We often also have that at some point we get lonely. If you smell conspiracies everywhere, you withdraw more and more from your surroundings . Partnerships are broken or family ties are torn. "

"Like leaving a sect"

At the same time, believers in conspiracies are not automatically mentally ill, says the psychologist. She warns against pathologizing: "If people believe in conspiracy myths that they are then portrayed as 'crazy', that is not empirically shown either. And I would like this debate to focus much more on ideology and the dangers The ideology is looked at instead of having such a discussion that one actually uses to rise above these people. "

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So what can be done about conspiracy ideologies? Prevention is important, emphasizes Giulia Silberberger from the "golden aluminum hat", because: "If someone is actually deeply involved in the conspiracy belief, then it is not so easy to get out of there again. Because that requires a great effort on the part of the person himself. That is like leaving a cult. You have to change your entire worldview. You have to take responsibility for what you have done. And also for those around you. "

Therefore, a broad social education about conspiracy ideologies is important, says Silberberger - so that people know about it before they come into contact with the myths. But what to do if someone already believes in conspiracies?

Jan Rathje from the Amadeu Antonio Foundation advises not to be offensive, as is often the case in social networks, but to counter it with facts: "First of all, it is important to object. That means, for example, you can say: This information is correct not, it is wrong, there are facts here. Fortunately, there are now enough portals for so-called debunking. That means, putting facts against myths, etc., and refuting them. "

Such fact checks are available online, for example, from the Tagesschau's fact finder or the Correctiv research center - including on many Corona myths.

Michael Blume, Anti-Semitism Commissioner for the State of Baden-Württemberg (Bernd Weissbrod / dpa)

At the very beginning working against conspiracy ideologies

What if people are no longer receptive to facts? The anti-Semitism officer Michael Blume recommends setting clear boundaries:

"If there is no longer any level at which you can still talk to each other seriously, then I unfortunately have to say that it can also be right to say: 'Okay, get in touch again when you can talk to you again. But that's how it works that just doesn't go on. ' Then you can protect yourself too. "

At the same time, experts are demanding more money for prevention and advice on conspiracy ideologies. So far, there are hardly any specific offers. Instead, families and friends of conspiracy believers seek help from sect consultations or from institutions that deal with right-wing extremism.

"In the course of our book research, we also spoke to many advice centers. We spoke to associations that have been dealing with this topic for many years, doing educational work, and in some cases have developed great programs for schools - and they are unrestrainedly underfunded."

So the publicist Katharina Nocun. And Giulia Silberberger also sees politics as an obligation: "Political work against conspiracy ideologies is really still in its infancy. We as a society, as private individuals, as teachers, as politicians must definitely continue to work on it if we want to see results . "