The interior minister of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Herbert Reul (CDU), has warned of “new enemies of the state” related to possible winter protests over high energy prices.
“You can already tell from those who are out there,” said Reul. “The protesters no longer talk about coronavirus or vaccination. But they are now misusing people’s worries and fears in other fields. (…) It’s almost something like new enemies of the state that are establishing themselves.”
The aggressive rhetoric may raise eyebrows, but has become par for the course as officials of the German government issue increasingly stark warnings about those who may choose to protest against the rising cost of living.
According to Reul, the security services in NRW, especially the police, are already preparing for possible violent demonstrations this winter, as he explained in an interview with German news outlet NTV. His words come on the heels of warnings from a slew of German officials claiming that “extremists” will infiltrate protests over inflation. The president of the Thuringian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Stephan Kramer, said last week that there may a chance protesters try to overthrow the government.
“Mass protests and riots are just as conceivable as concrete acts of violence against things and people, as well as classic terrorism to overthrow it,” Kramer told ZDF. “In contrast, what we have experienced so far in the coronavirus pandemic, in the form of violent clashes on social networks but also the streets and squares, was likely more of a kids’ birthday party.”
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Reul says the police are preparing, including equipping police stations in NRW with satellite phones and emergency fuel, which Raul says has already happened.
Reul also spoke of 40 fuel tanks with a total capacity of 40,000 liters, which are currently being distributed across the country. He said the fuel can be used anywhere where there is a need, with an eye to possible blackouts and large-scale power failures.
“Protests could escalate in winter”
In view of earlier protests against coronavirus measures, Reul is concerned that current crises could “intensify the occasions” for violent protests. Specifically, he mentioned the Russian war against Ukraine, rising energy and fuel prices and a “cold living room.”
Despite the very real threat posed by all of these scenarios, the NRW interior minister states that it all sows the seeds for “conspiracy theory narratives.”
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Reul, like the country’s federal interior minister, Nancy Faeser, is attempting to tie right-wing ideology and protests against Covid-19 policies to any potential protests in the winter. While some on the right, such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), have stressed that the government’s sanctions against Russia are the primary factor driving the current energy crisis, they have not advocated an “overthrow” of the government. Instead, they have stressed the need to restart the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, end energy sanctions against Russia, and push for a peaceful solution to end the war.
When winter comes, the security authorities should be well-prepared for violent protests, says the NRW interior minister. He also recommended to “keep your ears and eyes open, stay vigilant and alert” on the internet, explicitly naming Telegram, where groups have repeatedly coordinated their protests against government measures.
The government has been actively trying to ban Telegram and has promised to increase surveillance against those on the right.