Therapist on corona protests: “Belonging to the viewers”

The German senior teacher lives on “hygiene demos”, says Klaus Ottomeyer. One should not be fooled by the “concerned citizen”.

A “lateral thinking” demo in Stuttgart. Photo: Jens Gyarmaty

taz: Mr. Ottomeyer, there is currently a lot of talk about conspiracy theories in connection with the measures against the spread of Covid-19. Can you do anything with the term as a psychotherapist?

Klaus Ottomeyer: Yes of course. World history is full of successful conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism is the best known. The syndrome is linked to authoritarianism. According to a recent study, around 40 percent of respondents are authoritarian: they are willing to submit to an authority, follow rigid rules and maintain a willingness to be aggressive who needs objects.

And that in turn correlates to a high degree with a conspiracy mentality. The hatred of external enemies is currently floating around freely because Corona has destroyed the familiar business model of the right wing, who had stylized the refugee crisis as the “mother of all crises” (Horst Seehofer). You are now double angry.

The aggression makes sense if we look at the so-called hygiene demos. However, the people there explicitly see themselves as anti-authoritarian. How do you accommodate that in this model?

Klaus Ottomeyerborn 1949, was a professor of social psychology in Klagenfurt. He is a board member of the Aspis association, which is dedicated to the treatment of refugees.

The hatred is similar in all variants. The concept of conspiracy is always associated with an insult, an exposure of sinister forces that must then be chased away. There is something bossy about that. One cannot be refuted, the reference to facts remains without consequences. You are like a senior teacher. And maybe every German wants to be that a bit.

It always frightens me when the taz in articles on medical topics gives a completely one-sided view of conventional medicine and critical approaches are not mentioned at all. ”We currently receive such letters to Corona – but this comes from 1995, at that time at so-called vaccine debate. Is there a special affinity of the left-wing alternative milieu for questioning scientific knowledge under the guise of the “critical”?

The people concerned are obviously afraid that something will be “injected” into them or the children. There is a much greater unconscious fear involved. As far as I remember, we were at least on the verge of conspiracy theory in the student movement. Capitalist machinations have been suspected everywhere, a big plan that people should be exploited and fooled and that something should be inoculated from them picture– Newspaper with Springer all the way to industry in the background. We criticized the professors and then exposed them as servants of capitalism and imperialism.

Which they often were as former Nazis.

Yes, but that can overshoot.

What does this uncovering bring us personally?

It is a great feeling to be one of the viewers. And that makes you part of a hunting community. It is exciting to scare and harass your opponents.

Now Angela Merkel is no old Nazi. Has Post-68 failed to provide a critical reappraisal of its own monocausal world explanation?

Yes. It is about depoting authorities and parental figures. Angela Merkel stands for the bad mother, who does not really care for us, who is in contact with other powers and betrays us. This is the fairy tale by Hansel and Gretel. There is also the conspiracy idea in there. The children eavesdrop on the parents and the stepmother says we have to get rid of them. But then the children are smarter than the parents. And set yourself up as a new authority. Bill and Melinda Gates are also constructed like parents who only seemingly do something for children in their foundation and actually want to enslave them.

But Merkel is also a symbolic figure of neoliberalism with his motto: “There is no alternative.” When it is said that on a rational basis, certain decisions have no alternative: Isn’t it necessary to switch to irrationalism?

That’s just typical for parents: “You have to go to school, you have to wash your hands, there is no alternative.” Parents like to hide under a blanket in their bedroom and come up with plans. In terms of affect, this is a pubescent reaction, a rebellious anger that runs its own accord as soon as someone tells us there is no alternative. The conspiracy productions are not about coping with “real fear” (Freud), which is always connected with a reality check.

Rather, they rely on a “neurotic fear” of an inner experience that, like a confused child, we are subjugated and humiliated by something big and that others have been preferred. This is largely unconscious and has little to do with the current external dangers. Thirdly, in the indignation and the call for freedom, the annoying “fear of conscience” is warded off, which is currently particularly linked to the consideration of others and the deferral of our selfishness. According to Freud, we always move between real fear, neurotic fear and fear of conscience.

How can you deal with this fear mixture?

By not being chased by fenugreek by the long-popular figure of “concerned citizen”, in which all these fears are mixed together. Name the fears and spread them apart. Even your own. Stay calm and steadfast with rules and laws.

And what kind of pleasure do we get from rationally dealing with the ultimately small minority of conspiracy theorists? Can we feel nice about it?

Yes, we are all narcissistic. But more important is the responsibility to help ensure that the protests are not hijacked by the right. Otherwise the world will be terrible.

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Psychologist on conspiracy beliefs: “Immunize against criticism”

In the “hygiene demos”, a wide variety of people meet who share the belief in a conspiracy. Pia Lamberty explains why.

Many people with Germany flags can be seen, plus the infamous hat Photo: Jens Gyarmaty

taz: On Saturday there were so-called “hygiene demos” nationwide. All sorts of people meet there. How contagious are conspiracy stories?

Pia Lamberty: There are hardly any studies on this. But laboratory experiments have shown that people confronted with a conspiracy narrative were subsequently more suspicious, felt more distant from society, less willing to engage in it. I suspect that other conspiracy stories are also taken up and internalized in such demonstrations.

Which people are particularly at risk?

There is no particular type of conspiracy. It is also not a mental illness. The belief in conspiracy is universal and widespread. Almost every fifth German believes in conspiracy stories about vaccination. A third thinks that politicians are just puppets from the powers behind them.

But conspiracy believers surely have similar characteristics?

Classic personality dimensions in psychology, such as openness to new situations, are irrelevant. East-west differences, age or a migration background are also irrelevant. However, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s Mitte study found that men believe in conspiracies more than women.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, anti-Western conspiracy stories quickly spread during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Can collective experiences like suffering under colonialism influence the spread of certain conspiracy stories?

You always have to ask yourself where such generalized distrust comes from and clearly, in some cases this has a real basis. In the United States, for example, black Americans believe more strongly in HIV conspiracies and a genocide attempt behind them. If a person with a biography that has been characterized by white oppression since birth believes in such a narrative, it has a different basis than a white, heterosexual person.

Many conspiracy stories are known primarily from right-wing circles. Are rights particularly vulnerable?

Conspiracy belief is actually particularly widespread among groups on the right. But it can also be found in left-wing, anti-capitalist scenes. One of the dangers of conspiracy telling is that it connects people from different spectra. The vaccination topic, for example, brings together vaccine-critical, left-alternative parents, esoterics and people from the extreme right.

How seriously do we have to take the current security agency conspiracy story warnings?

We know that the abstract belief in conspiracies goes hand in hand with an increased affinity for violence. These are people who use fewer opportunities for political participation and instead turn to violent alternatives. In the context of Corona, one also realizes that belief in conspiracies is related to certain behaviors. Anyone who thinks that Corona only came up with the federal government to introduce the gold system and abolish cash is wearing fewer protective masks, washing hands less often and doing less physical distancing. But who thinks Corona is a biological weapon from a laboratory that – this data comes mainly from the USA and Great Britain – is more likely to buy weapons and shows prepper behavior.

36, is a social psychologist and doctoral student at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. She has been researching conspiracy ideologies for six years. Together with digital expert Katharina Nocun, she wrote the book “Fake Facts”. The authors do not use the term “conspiracy theory” in the book because the “stories” lack the theoretical basis.

The extreme right terrorist attacks of the past two years have all been legitimized by conspiracy stories. For example, the “Umvolkung”, which around 20 percent of the population in Germany agree with. That is every fifth. It’s scary. In the past, conspiracy believers were often said to simply have a whim. There was no social awareness, no sensitivity to the topic. But we need it. We have to be extremely careful here.

Why do people follow conspiracy stories?

There are two aspects to why people believe in conspiracy stories.

One is an increased need for uniqueness that can be satisfied through conspiracy stories. You think that you have some kind of secret knowledge that you have found the truth. If you don’t recognize them, be naive, blind to the system, or even the enemy yourself. This offers the opportunity to exalt yourself above others and thus increase your self-esteem.

The second reason is the loss of control. For example, through drastic life events or structural circumstances such as insecure employment. Conspiracy stories provide a clear picture of the enemy, a simple worldview based on black and white, “we down there” and “those up there”. This offers a simple structure in uncertain times.

Can’t we give these people uniqueness on a different, more personal level, strengthening them against conspiracy beliefs?

It takes a lot of patience and the right circumstances. And it depends on the motivation of the person. When we researched the book, we often heard stories like this: someone lives in a small town in the east, the relationship breaks up, the person has no job and no perspective and suddenly he needs an enemy. The powerful are very suitable because fewer people are listening. In left circles, for example, the lines between criticism and conspiracy belief are often blurred. People then get further and further into their conspiracy story. You can try to understand this need – but it won’t always work.

And where are the boundaries between critical awareness and a conspiracy narrative?

Critical thinking is critical in different directions: with regard to sources or a system, but also with oneself. In conspiracy thinking, on the other hand, the enemy is clear beforehand – these are “those up there” – and the enemy image is personalized.

What role do individualism and loneliness play in spreading conspiracy stories?

On the one hand, it seems plausible that in an individualistic society people have an increasing need to stand out from the crowd. On the other hand, conspiracy belief also occurs in collectivist societies. It is difficult to divide the proportions by which historical, cultural, evolutionary biological or psychological aspects influence conspiracy beliefs.

In psychology there are the so-called “WEIRD samples”. WEIRD stands for white, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. The majority of all studies work with samples from this population group. Cultural differences are hardly examined. Research is just beginning.

Are there also evolutionary psychological explanatory models?

Conspiracy belief has always existed all over the world. This suggests an evolutionary connection. The idea is that people who believe in conspiracy work like a hypersensitive warning system: they recognize actual conspiracies, but they also suspect conspiracies where there are none. Like a pregnancy test that works too often: You don’t miss a pregnancy, but the test also shows false positive results. The metaphor shows how much stress this hypersensitivity has to trigger.

Why do conspiracy stories get such a boost, especially when it comes to major collective events?

People exchange more about major events than about individual strokes of fate because they are all affected. The background to such events is complex, the uncertainty is great. People think this is no accident and are looking for a simple explanation. This makes the situation more controllable for them. It alleviates the feeling of fainting from ‘something is happening here that I cannot influence’. Corona is a particularly good example of this, the virus is practically the prototype of a collective loss of control.

How can we best deal with this loss of control?

You can try to remain able to act, for example by engaging in neighborhood help or sewing masks.

How can we deal with people who believe in conspiracy stories?

It depends on who I want to reach. If I meet someone on the social media that I don’t know, who has already gone underground, I will not convince them otherwise with a link to the fact finder. But our reaction is important for those who read along.

And how do I react to conspiracy believers in a narrow environment?

It is important to intervene early. One should ask: what is the function of these conspiracy narratives for the person concerned? If it becomes misanthropic, one should draw clear boundaries. There are now also advice centers for relatives.

What to do when people are so deep in conspiracy belief that they can resolve any contradiction simply by denying the truth of scientific facts?

That’s the big problem: conspiracy stories immunize against criticism. If you try to deconstruct them, you either get vague answers, the person jumps to another topic or it is said that studies and facts are fake. How do you just prove that a study is not fake? But refuting something that does not exist at all, that is, the content of a conspiracy story, is impossible per se. The challenge is not to get tangled up in the smallest detail in order not to get to this point in the first place, but to remain on an abstract level. There are very narrow limits to such a discussion.

Katharina Nocun and Pia Lamberty: “Fake facts. How conspiracy theories shape our thinking ”. Quadriga-Verlag, Cologne 2020, 348 pages, 19.90 euros

What can you accuse the press of dealing with corona conspiracy stories?

What bothers me is that the topic is being discussed as occasionally as it was previously negated or pushed into the crazy corner for years. Reporting is now focused on the demonstrations and a party that has just started. You have to be careful not to make it bigger than it is.

It would be important to provide structural analyzes and historical classifications in the media so that people can see that this is not new, it has historical forerunners. Where do certain analogies come from, how can I classify and understand them? So that we talk about the topic in the long term and communicate socially about how we deal with it. These are complex questions for which we need long-term reporting that classifies and goes into depth.

What does the pathologization of the evil “mainstream media” do to people who are currently on the cliff?

Overall, I find it difficult to speak of madmen, stupid or #covidians. The phenomenon of conspiracy is so widespread in society that it cannot be called pathological. Unless you say that all of society is sick. The social debate throws around wrong terms and this pathologization is dangerous: it depoliticises, it pulls out of context and in the end it sometimes stigmatizes people with actual mental illnesses. That doesn’t help.

We are also talking about an ideological component. The point is not that these people are unable to understand facts, but that facts want to be understood in a certain way. It is a process of motivation. I can imagine that some form of reporting drives people even deeper into conspiracy stories.

Pop culture has been using elements from conspiracy stories for decades: chemtrails, laboratory accidents, secret societies. Does that affect how quickly we believe in conspiracies?

Studies on file X have found no effect. People who watched an episode of File X did not believe in conspiracy narratives afterwards more than before. But the data on this is thin.

People are fascinated by this hunt for secret knowledge; then you are the person who has this knowledge. It’s fun in a twisted way.

And there is this ambivalent relationship between the victim role and the hero or heroine who is in resistance. One has “found out about those up there, those who are rich, who have it so easy in life, who hold the strings in their hands”. Suddenly you are the misunderstood, omniscient resistance fighter.

A myth that some celebrities are currently building.

The staging of people who have a certain reach is currently very relevant. If they are censored on Facebook or YouTube, they go to another channel or say: “I can’t tell the truth on YouTube.” The scene creates such a resistance myth. On the one hand, they are the oppressed, on the other, the heroes, the liberators. It is about enlightenment, the “fight against cleansing”. Then we are very quickly in trivialized Nazi analogies. At the same time, their relationship with the media is extremely ambivalent. They shout lies press, but quote the press if it underpins their own worldview.

Are parts of our society radicalizing faster through the corona conspiracy narratives?

Yes, I think the corona crisis has an increased potential for radicalization. Suddenly, celebrities gather a very heterogeneous group behind them. People who would otherwise not go out on the streets are now following this revival fantasy. Attila Hildmann posts pictures in which he poses with guns and evokes the end-time mood. In his video “The Fall of the Cabal” he writes that we have been persecuted for millennia, that “they” want to kill us all, that “we” have to fight back. We are quickly in anti-Semitism.

His followers, whom I direct in his life decisions, for example in terms of nutrition, and who take him as his role model, constantly see this staging. That can have consequences. These consequences can show up at demonstrations and discharge there, but they can also radicalize individuals.

Can people find their way back to a world without a conspiracy?

Every now and then one reads of people who tell in retrospect that they believed in conspiracy stories. But once you’re in this rabbit hole, it’s hard to find out. Many isolate themselves from their surroundings and at some point there is no longer anyone who is critical and who opposes it. This can break families and relationships. But I do believe that under certain circumstances, with the right motivation, people can find out again.

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Constitutionalist about Corona deniers: “Forget history and stupid”

Brandenburg’s head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Jörg Müller, considers the protests by the corona relativists to be “dangerous”. The AfD also clicks in.

Right-wing extremist and video blogger Nikolai Nerling interviews an AfD supporter in Stuttgart Photo: Björn Kietzmann

taz: Mr. Müller, there are currently demos against the corona restrictions nationwide. In some places there is talk of dictatorship and lies, you hear conspiracy narratives – also in Brandenburg. Is this an issue for the protection of the constitution?

Jörg Müller: Of course, we look at how extremists deal with the corona crisis. The NPD and the III. Weg discovered this very early on as a topic for himself, linked it with conspiracy theories and conducted a debate about restrictions. And now these rallies are added. We see a dangerous mix there: conspiracy theorists, extremists, imperial citizens, preppers, but also ordinary citizens – that is difficult to determine.

What makes the rallies so dangerous?

We had a rally in Cottbus, organized by the Islamophobic association “Zukunft Heimat”, and a speaker spoke the word empowerment law in the first few minutes. This is forgotten in history, stupid and a border crossing.

The empowerment laws abolished democracy in Weimar, they led to the Holocaust and the World War. The corona regulations, however, have the clear goal of protecting health. At the same time, the Cottbus rally is called Covid-1984 – as if we were in an Orwellian surveillance system. You can see where the trend is going.

Is the protest at risk of radicalization?

A lot depends on how the situation develops. Many of the population are fed up with sitting at home. But surveys say that there is still great trust in the government. And there are now loosenings. That’s why I don’t see masses coming onto the street or even a second pegida emerging.

Not even with you in Cottbus, where right-wing extremists recently wanted to build a second Pegida stronghold?

The protests in Cottbus were almost dead. With the corona crisis, the organizers now sense a new opportunity. And indeed there could be an influx again. Extremists and others have been working closely together in Cottbus for a long time: Pegida, the identities, the AfD, the Institute for State Policy, Future Home, one percent – a toxic entity.

Recently AfD politicians also clicked into the corona rallies. What role does the party play?

In fact, the AfD is now promoting the rallies in some places. And in Cottbus the organizer, Christoph Berndt from “Zukunft Heimat”, is also a member of the AfD’s state parliament. I cannot yet see a nationwide strategy. The AfD still has no clear position on the pandemic: some say the virus should be taken seriously, others consider it a fictitious or at least greatly exaggerated story that the state is now allegedly using for repression. In Brandenburg the party follows, as always, its chairman Andreas Kalbitz, who serves the last story.

Jörg Müller, 46, is a non-partisan administrator and has been head of the Brandenburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution since February. Previously, he worked in the management department of the Interior Ministry there.

Most recently, the AfD was primarily concerned with itself: the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution classified the “wing” as clearly right-wing extremist, which then dissolved formally at the end of April. Party leader Jörg Meuthen started a split debate. Where does the AfD stand today?

There is still some unrest. Basically, not much has changed. The dissolution of the “wing” is an apparent dissolution, its protagonists are all still in the party and very dominant. It’s like aspirin: first the tablet lay next to the glass, now it dissolves in the glass. And of course the active ingredient continues to work. The ethnical-nationalistic attitude of Björn Höcke and the others has not disappeared. And there is no apparent opposition to a democratic center of the AfD.

Are the “wing” people already reorganizing?

I am sure that we will soon see something that will accommodate this group. Then maybe there is a national conservative attitude community. They will keep their feet still for a while, but then there will be substitute events, also for the Kyffhauser meeting. And Höcke finally said clearly that the “wing” would be dissolved because it had achieved its goal. He did not distance himself from the nationalist ideas and neither did any of the protagonists.

In Brandenburg you are dealing with Andreas Kalbitz with the second central “wing” leader next to Höcke. How is Kalbitz doing now?

Kalbitz has by no means distanced himself from the “wing” either, on the contrary. He is a right-wing extremist and continues on his course. His Brandenburg State Association is thoroughly winged and has clear extremist references, there is no relevant counter-current here.

But, to my surprise, Kalbitz is now under pressure from the Federal Executive Board: With the decision to declare his membership in various right-wing extremist organizations, including the HDJ, the home-loyal German youth who wanted to bring in a new National Socialist elite in their camps.

Her constitutional protection accuses Kalbitz of “being rooted in organized right-wing extremism for decades”. Will he be able to talk himself out of it?

So far he has always tried. In western associations he would probably have been excluded long ago, but in Brandenburg he is firmly in the saddle. Now it will be difficult for him. Because the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has proof of membership, for example an HDJ membership entry of a “Andreas Kalbitz family” from 2007 with the number 01330. It will be the decisive yardstick here of how the AfD federal board deals with Kalbitz.

With all of this, would your Brandenburg constitutional protection not only have to classify the “wing” but also the entire AfD state association as right-wing extremist?

Observing a party in democracy is tied to the exact rule of law and is a serious interference. If you do such a classification, everything must be stable. But if the wing continues to consolidate, this question will come up more and more.

Thuringia has already reacted and classified Höcke’s AfD state association as an extreme right-wing suspected case. Can’t you?

Of course we can if the conditions are there. Things are a little different in every country. There are high hurdles to overcome before an observation. And no constitutional protectionist likes to lose in court. The process is therefore very complex. But one thing is clear: if an effort works against the free democratic basic order, then it becomes our object of observation. There’s no way around it. We will see how things develop at the AfD in Brandenburg.

If the “wing” supporters remain so dominant in the AfD, doesn’t the constitutional protection have to watch the whole party at some point?

Of course, this question arises if the dominance of the previous “wing” continues and if country associations are gradually declared as objects of observation. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution then makes this decision. But as long as the AfD still has a democratic part, and this still exists in the western associations, this threshold has not yet been exceeded. But you can be sure that we will examine this question intensively.

On the other hand: do the classifications bring anything at all? Doesn’t the AfD continue to radicalize anyway – and is it still voted by the voters?

Counter question: Do you think there would have been a dissolution of the “wing” without the classification?

Probably not.

Then the classification was useful. That Kalbitz now has to explain itself – that would not have happened a quarter of a year ago. And if only one AfD MP now says that I no longer share these right-wing extremist views, it has been useful. And the Brandenburgers should know that if they choose the AfD, they are voting for a party led by right-wing extremists.

Most recently, that too CompactMagazine classified by Jürgen Elsässer. That too is based in Brandenburg. What makes the magazine so dangerous?

The magazine is the intellectual supplier of fuel for the right-wing extremist scene and perfects border crossings. And it offers extremists a platform. That is why we have now classified the Compact magazine in Brandenburg as a suspected case.

And Jürgen Elsässer is a right-wing extremist for you?

For me, Alsatian is a right-wing extremist.

How closely are you watching Compact now?

If there is a suspicion, we can use intelligence, including covert information or observations, the entire repertoire – but only within narrow limits. But Mr. Elsasser has hardly any inhibitions about making public what he thinks.

You have only been the Brandenburg constitutional protection chief for three months. Your predecessor was considered rather hesitant to deal with the AfD …

I don’t know if that was the case.

Some had this impression. Are you taking a different course now?

I already said on the first day that I want a constitutional protection agency that takes care of all areas of extremism. According to my analysis, the biggest threat right now is right-wing extremism. We cannot just watch an ever-increasing delimitation and we have to face it clearly. My concern is not that society is fraying on the fringes, but that extremism is reaching the center. That is why we have to clearly identify extremists and border crossings. I do that with Mr. Kalbitz and with others too.

Added on May 13, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Climate deniers discover Corona: the same tricksters

Anyone who denies climate change often senses a conspiracy with Corona. Now a dossier shows how the scenes are related.

“Stay home”: For these protesters in Chicago this is oppression Photo: Nam Y. Huh / ap

BERLIN taz | The subject is very different, but the allegations are the same: the concern is exaggerated and hysterical; the data and models of science doubtful; governments just tried to limit people’s freedom, everything was not so bad, a hoax or a big conspiracy.

These “arguments” of climate change deniers, who have been haunting the world for decades, are currently gaining new momentum: as contributions to the global corona debate – largely brought up by the same people who are also polemic against climate science. In an open worldwide letter, hundreds of doctors and nurses are currently turning against this “infodemic on social media”, which “endangers human lives all over the world” through false reports. They are asking companies like Facebook and Twitter to take action “immediately and systematically”.

The relationship between climate and corona denial has now been documented for the first time. The US research platform “Desmogblog.com” has compiled in a “COVIDeniers Report” how argumentation patterns, actors, financiers and political intentions among climate and corona skeptics work hand in hand, especially in the USA. “A flow of incorrect information about the corona virus has flowed from think tanks, experts (some of whom are self-appointed), academics and right-wing activists, who have also made climate science contemptuous and aim to slow down action against the climate crisis,” the analysis says .

“Desmog” is a platform that has been researching connections between climate “skeptics” to energy companies and conservative financiers since 2006 and exposes their tactics and false reports. Since March 2020, the Desmog team has compiled statements, tweets and articles that show that many US think tanks such as the Heartland Institute, “Americans for Prosperity” or “Competitive Enterprise” mix when discussing the scientific basis and responding to the corona pandemic Institutes ”, some of which are financed by the US oil industry. “They use tactics that they have perfected since the 1990s to sow doubts about climate science,” the authors write.

Five common strategies

The German website “klimafakten.de” has just created a new graphic on the methods of deniers: It describes the five usual strategies called “PLURV”: pseudo-experts, logic errors, unfulfilled expectations, cherry picking and conspiracy myths.

Author Richard Ebeling

“Covid-19 is a social and medical problem, not a political one”

Similar to the false information on climate change, according to the “Desmog” dossier, Corona always endeavors to use the same argumentation patterns: with some absurd reasons, it is said that scientific computing models are unreliable and Corona is no worse than flu. Some critics do not want climate protection because Corona now has priority. Others polemicize that one does not want to have a “wind-powered hospital” or that no money should flow for a “green deal” in an emergency. The abuse of the UN health organization WHO and conspiracy theories around the big donors George Soros and Bill Gates are also increasing.

The central narrative of the deniers accuses governments of using the pandemic and the climate crisis to create fear in order to suppress the population. “Governments should do little to nothing against Covid-19,” writes libertarian US author Richard Ebeling, “because it is a social and medical problem, not a political one.”

This “political worldview is the strongest link among all deniers,” says Bob Ward, who has been researching strategies of the denial scene at the London School of Economics for a long time. “They reject the influence of governments on people’s lives. Your opposition to climate protection or the fight against corona relates to this ideological attitude, not to criticism of science. “

The ideologically convinced cannot be reached

This is also evident in the German climate deniers. On the homepage of the aggressively climate-skeptical Eike Institute there are currently many entries that, with sometimes confused conspiracy theories, present corona politics as wrong, unscientific and dangerous.

“The same people who want to shut down the economy are also looking for socialism under the banner of climate change,” it says. Applications from the AfD parliamentary group, which calls for the pandemic to contain “CO2nd– consider emissions as subordinate ”.

However, the corona crisis could change the mood on this issue, says Bob Ward. “How governments treat this crisis could have a major impact on what their role in protecting the population should be.” If the states get their people through the crisis well, they could also trust them more in terms of the climate. Ward is skeptical for those who are ideologically convinced, “but who essentially believe that the government should not interfere”.

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Bodo Ramelow on Corona skeptics: “This is provocation”

When Pegida, AfD and civil concerns mix, it is toxic, says Thuringia’s Prime Minister. The conspiracy fantasies frighten him.

The main thing is the Germany flag … and an enemy Photo: Carsten Thesing / Imago

taz: Mr. Ramelow, at the weekend thousands of people nationwide took to the streets to protest against the corona restrictions, also in Thuringia. What is to be made of it?

Bodo Ramelow: First of all, this is a curiosity: people claim that their right to articulate themselves is limited, but they can and are allowed to do exactly that. The parties themselves obviously do not notice this contradiction. This is symptomatic: There is a lot of falsehood and motivation from completely different political soups at these rallies.

Who is going to take to the streets: concerned citizens, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccinationists, right-wing extremists?

You have to differentiate. We had restaurateurs in Thuringia who put chairs in front of their restaurants or travel agency owners who protested with their suitcases packed. They have articulated worries about economically kneeling because of the restrictions. This is different from these strange walks that claim to deprive them of their freedom of expression, from a world conspiracy ranging from Bill Gates to Ms Merkel, or from a compulsory vaccination that nobody discusses. Who consciously forego mouth-nose protection and stand together in a confined space. It is provocation. If police officers or journalists are also attacked, this is alarming.

The FDP country chief Thomas Kemmerich also demonstrated in Gera in Thuringia. How do you rate that?

The pictures of it show that Mr. Kemmerich ran along there without mouth-nose protection and sufficient distance. Role model? Nothing. To do this, Mr. Kemmerich has to ask himself who he is moving with in spiritual companionship. If you just run along where people express themselves about world conspiracies or anti-Semitic, they make this their own.

As the Thuringian Prime Minister, you yourself decided on the corona restrictions. Were these too little conveyed when people now take to the streets like this?

The state has declared itself permanently. But the dynamic of development is currently higher than ever. If we as a state make a statement on the measures, on the one hand the thunder starts, why we haven’t decided that long ago. On the other hand there is the countermovement that thinks everything is excessive. And then we have the AfD in Thuringia, which simply maliciously claims falsehoods, such as that we now open brothels, but not kindergartens – which is simply not true. It is clear why we are doing all of this right now: we are doing it for the protection of life and limb.

The Left Party politician is Prime Minister of the Free State of Thuringia.

And yet people are now taking to the streets. How must politics, how do you have to react now?

The protests are the good, legitimate right of the people. We don’t live in a police state that prohibits this. We in Thuringia were the first to allow the right to demonstrate again, even before the federal government. Because it is an important fundamental right. But react to the protests, how then?

More dialogue and mediation?

How am I supposed to react to these baseless conspiracies? How should I react to opponents of vaccination when there is no debate about whether vaccination is compulsory, or when there is no vaccine at all? That is the problem: I cannot react to a lot of what is being discussed. I can only accept that these people are on the go. But we have to be careful where Pegida and AfD, civic and livelihood mingle, that’s toxic. You shouldn’t underestimate that. The real concern I have is another.

In fact?

The one before a second wave of infections. I worry about the trivialization and recklessness that these self-proclaimed strollers are currently doing. Or that even clever people send me this conspiracy stuff. In Sonneberg, people demonstrate that the virus is absent or harmless, and at the same time we have to close the clinic because of the illness. This simultaneity alarms me, yes, it really scares me.

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Crazy protest mix in Stuttgart: Germany’s largest corona party

People protested the corona lockdown at numerous locations on Saturday. The focus of the demonstrations was in Stuttgart.

Distance rules and mouth-nose protection were not so popular with the Stuttgart demonstrators Photo: Sebastian Gollnow / dpa

STUTTGART taz | The acceptance of mask requirements, distance rules and other corona-related restrictions seems to be waning among parts of the population. Thousands of people protested Saturday’s restrictions on fundamental rights due to the corona pandemic. Around 3,000 people were gathered in Munich at Marienplatz, and around 2,000 came to Nuremberg. Several hundred people had gathered in Frankfurt am Main, Cologne, Gera, Berlin and numerous other cities.

The protests focused on Stuttgart. There, demonstrators had even had the choice between two events – albeit with very different intentions. If you wanted to demonstrate against injustices in the burden sharing in the corona crisis, you could go to a rally in front of the Cannstatt Kurhaus organized by the Verdi trade union, the Fridays for Future, the Left Party and anti-fascist groups – and at the same time make a statement against right and against conspiracy ideologues .

But you could also join a wild mix of concerned citizens and conspiracy ideologists of almost all political shades. No party or trade union had called for their event, but the Waiblingen entrepreneur Michael Ballweg.

It is already clear in the early afternoon that Ballweg’s digital grass roots movement is far more attractive. Around 3:30 p.m., the Stuttgart festival area on the Cannstatt Wasen is full of people. Some of them wear the Basic Law around their necks, German flags flutter in the wind next to pace flags.

Others come with self-made banners, with inscriptions such as: “Because of 137 dead, politics destroys the psyche of the people”, “We are not the slaves of the dictatorship Angela”. Above all, many T-shirts are on their carrier Bill Gates and his foundation behind the corona lockdown suspect: “Don’t give Gates a chance”, or even more tasteless “Kill Bill” can be read there.

More than 10,000 participants

The city of Stuttgart had limited the number of demonstrators due to infection protection to 10,000 participants. But you don’t have to be a friend of the movement to estimate the number of participants to be much more. People also came from the region. In the coming weeks, the demo could prove to be Germany’s largest corona party.

Although the organizers sprayed white crosses on the floor at a distance of two meters, it is still particularly tight in front of the stage. And among the individual groups that claim to belong to the same household, hands are demonstratively shaken and hugged. Families with children have settled down with folding chairs and blankets, a woman marks the Corona safety distance with a Hulahup tire.

The crowd that has gathered in the sunshine looks like someone has beaten Pegida clientele with left-wing protest movements. In the margins there is meditation and calls for peace; Vaccination opponents and animal lovers meet people who say it is their first demonstration. These include many small business owners, restaurateurs and hairdressers who proudly printed their company logo on a hat or polo shirt. People who are affected by the crisis.

But you can also see experienced demonstrators. These include right-wing extremists, such as Jürgen Elsässers Compact magazine to distribute. The right is standing around a bit indecisively while the stage sings “We shall overcome”, the hymn of the black civil rights movement in the USA. The mixture could remind long-serving Greens of their founding party conference in Karlsruhe in 1980, where commoners and esoterics also met the left and the right.

But to form such an amorphous crowd into a real protest movement, you need political minds like the Greens had back then. The initiator of the “lateral thinking” movement, the digital entrepreneur Ballweg, is clearly not that. The Sinzheim internist Bodo Schiffmann and the Leipzig lawyer Ralf Ludwig, who support Ballweg and allegedly founded a corona protest party online, do not make this impression.

Scientists “all corrupted”

Whatever else separates the assembled, they all share their sometimes fanatical opposition to the lockdown. The Hanoverian professor Stefan Homburg berated the stage with cheers, scientists who advise the government in the Corona crisis as “all corrupted”. Homburg, who as an economist in the civil service likes to demand pension cuts, is not afraid of Nazi comparisons. Since Corona, he has better understood what happened in 1933 when he took power.

The questionable highlight of the afternoon is Ken Jebsen, a digital wandering preacher who repeatedly spreads conspiracy theories on his YouTube channel. In praise of the Basic Law, he effortlessly combines it with the claim that Germany has only been a “democracy simulation” since 1949.

Jebsen, who introduces himself with the puzzling formula “I am Ken Jebsen, my target group remains human”, is something like a political simulation. He disappears from the stage after a few minutes because, as he says, he wants to “speak to people at eye level”.

The now invisible Jebsen then warns of an alleged vaccination requirement. She allegedly used only one, the American billionaire Bill Gates, who had put it all together for a long time.

Michael Ballweg said in advance that he knew that Jebsen was controversial. Then he gives the simple and populist reason why he still lets him speak: “Someone who reaches 2.7 million people with a YouTube video is qualified to speak his mind.”

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