German Intelligence Puts Coronavirus Deniers Under Surveillance 新冠陰謀論漸失控 德當局戒備
文/Christopher F. Schuetze
Germany's domestic-intelligence service said late last month that it would surveil members of the increasingly aggressive coronavirus-denier movement because they posed a risk of undermining the state.
The movement — fueled in part by wild conspiracy theories — has grown from criticizing coronavirus lockdown measures and hygiene rules to targeting the state, its leaders, businesses, the news media and globalism, to name a few. Over the past year, demonstrators have attacked police officers, defied civil authorities and, in one widely publicized episode, scaled the steps of Parliament.
"Our basic democratic order, as well as state institutions such as parliaments and governments, have faced multiple attacks since the beginning of the measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic," the Interior Ministry said in a statement confirming that parts of the denier movement were under observation. The Interior Ministry oversees the intelligence agency, called the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
In announcing the decision to keep tabs on conspiracy theorists, intelligence officials noted the movement's close ties to extremists such as the Reichsbürger, who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the modern German state.
Many coronavirus deniers say they also believe in QAnon conspiracy theories, and protesters are frequently seen holding signs with anti-Semitic tropes.
The movement, Querdenken, which is German for lateral thinking, communicates and recruits over social media and has a large presence on the encrypted chat service Telegram, where its main channel has 65,000 subscribers.Parts of AfD, a German right-wing populist party that is also under surveillance, have allied themselves with protesters.
Still, the Interior Ministry took pains to say that the danger from coronavirus deniers and conspiracy theorists does not fit the mold posed by the usual, politically driven groups, including those on the far left and right, or by Islamic extremists. As a result, the authorities are setting up a new department specifically tasked with handling cases that seek to delegitimize the state.
The news comes days after Germany instituted new virus rules that apply nationwide and allow the federal government to enforce lockdowns. It also suggests that the authorities believe coronavirus-denier groups could continue to flourish and pose a threat after the pandemic ends.
"This dog is going to save lives," Inspector Frank Digiacomo of the department's Technical Assistance Response Unit said in a television interview in December. "It's going to protect people. It's going to protect officers."
Instead, the machine, which the police named Digidog, became a source of heated debate. After it was seen being deployed as part of the response to a home invasion in the Bronx in February, critics likened it to a dystopian surveillance drone. And when officers used it at a public-housing building in Manhattan this month, a backlash erupted again, with some people describing the device as emblematic of how overly aggressive the police can be when dealing with poor communities.
Now, the robotic dog's days in the city have quietly been cut short.
In response to a subpoena from City Councilman Ben Kallos and Council Speaker Corey Johnson requesting records related to the device, police officials said a contract worth roughly $94,000 to lease the robotic dog from its maker, Boston Dynamics, had been terminated April 22.
John Miller, the Police Department's deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, confirmed late last month that the contract had been canceled and that the dog had been returned to Boston Dynamics or would be soon.
In an interview, Miller said that the lease had been scheduled to end in August and that the police had planned to test the robotic dog's capabilities until then. The department changed its plans, he said, after the device became a "target" for people who he said had improperly used it to fuel arguments about race and surveillance.
"People had figured out the catchphrases and the language to somehow make this evil," Miller said.
Kallos, a Democrat who represents the Upper East Side, took a different position, saying the device's presence in New York underscored what he called the "militarization of the police." He said the robotic dogs resembled those featured in the 2017 "Metalhead" episode of the television show "Black Mirror."