From protest to resistance

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The violent potential of the "lateral thinking" movement

From the very beginning, the "lateral thinking" movement was joined by actors of the extreme right and proponents of conspiracy narratives. Right-wing extremist and conspiracy ideological interpretations quickly dominated the protests.

The "lateral thinking" movement and its environment underwent a process of radicalization last year, both in terms of its content and its forms of expression. Whereas at the beginning of the protests - for example, in front of the Volksbühne in Berlin - the invocation of the Basic Law was still at the center of the motivation for action, for some time now it has been replaced by an ideological and organizational conglomerate in which conspiracy ideological and right-wing extremist interpretations dominate. This dominance became abundantly clear at the latest with the so-called storming of the Reichstag on August 29, 2020.

With the help of right-wing extremist activists and publications, the rhetoric and content of "Querdenken" have come to a head: The movement now sees itself as part of a resistance struggle and considers its protests - which have repeatedly turned violent - to be legitimate self-defense against a supposed "Corona dictatorship.

Under slogans such as "corona dictatorship," "vaccination dictatorship" or "shutdown of basic rights," very different milieus have come together in the "lateral thinking" movement. One of the common denominators here is conspiracy narratives, which are taken up and adapted. Anti-Semitic interpretations of the pandemic and its alleged perpetrators are omnipresent (and not only) in the visual language of the banners and slogans of "Querdenken". In addition, there are historically trivializing equations of the Corona-related restrictions with the persecution and murder of Jews under National Socialism. In East Germany, "Querdenken" also presents itself as the legitimate heir to the "Peaceful Revolution" of fall 1989.

Against this background, the protests gain legitimacy. The "lateral thinking" movement sees itself as a bulwark against an emerging dictatorship and the "Great Reset. Protest thus takes on a new quality: It is interpreted as an act of resistance against an "unjust regime. Violent acts and threats by actors from politics, the media and academia are legitimized as "self-defense.

These sociopolitical interpretations are disseminated and reinforced within social media, especially in the numerous channels of the messenger service Telegram. In them, like-minded people make themselves heard and reinforce their views and perspectives. Their narratives of the threat to freedom posed by the measures to restrict the pandemic are finding media and political resonance even beyond the "lateral thinking" milieu.

The ongoing radicalization of "lateral thinking" and its environment is directly related to the lack of success.

For months, "Querdenken" activists mobilized for demonstrations in Berlin, Leipzig, Magdeburg and many other places. In doing so, they fueled the expectation of a growing nationwide movement that would eventually lead to the overthrow of what they apostrophized as the "Corona regime". Neither the broad social mobilization nor a fundamental change in policy brought about by "Querdenken" was achieved. Contrary to its own perception, "lateral thinking" never represented the majority will of the population. The failure of the protests to achieve a political breakthrough led to different reactions among the activists and their environment: Some withdrew into the private sphere in disappointment, others radicalized further and are looking for ways to compensate for the stagnation of the movement. As a consequence, the use of violence is seen as a legitimate form of intensifying the protest against the "injustice" of the Corona measures.

The killing of a gas station employee in Idar-Oberstein on the occasion of a conflict over the implementation of mandatory masks gives indications of the potential emergence of situations of radical self-finalization: The striving for individual self-efficacy increases into the immediacy of an action against the backdrop of personal and political-ideological motivations. It is to be expected that the decline of the "lateral thinking" movement will produce further forms of radicalization, which will also be accompanied by violence and terror or their legitimization.