Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, became a beacon of hope last year as millions of refugees poured in from the war-torn Middle East seeking shelter. The country’s open-door policy has invited a million immigrants into its cities and towns, but in Leipzig on Monday night, a couple hundred masked people went on a rampage across the city.
Their message: to keep Leipzig “light,” or in other words, Caucasian. For these right-wing supporters, often called Nazis by the leftists who oppose their xenophobic message, Muslims are not welcome in Germany. They set cars and trash cans alight, smashed windows, and defaced buildings to make their opinion known, Reuters reported.
The rampage hit as a peaceful, anti-Muslim protest marched through the city center. About 2,000 protesters gathered, shouting “Merkel must go,” “Merkel, take your Muslims with you and get lost,” “Deport them,” “Refugees not welcome,” and “Islam=terror,” according to the Local.
The rally was sponsored by an anti-immigration group called LEGIDA (a Leipzig chapter of a national right-wing group called PEGIDA). The acronym roughly translates to “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West,” Deutsche Welle explained.
As police waited with water cannons at the ready and their opponents shouted “Nazis! Nazis!” from across a police barricade, one of the LEGIDA protestors explained the reasoning behind his sign, “Islamism not welcome here.”
“I don’t want my grandchildren to live in a Sharia state,” his friend said, adding, “They’re f**king our children!”
And as these 2,000 Leipzig residents shouted their anti-Muslim vitriol into the rainy night, a small contingent of about 211 others broke off from the main group to unleash a more violent rampage across the city, United Press International added.
Their faces cloaked in masks, their rampage began; so-called hooligans smashed windows, burned cars, broke windows, set off fireworks, erected barricades, and destroyed property. The top floor of one building caught fire. And they carried their signs that read “Leipzig bleibt Helle”, or “Leipzig stays light,” an apparent reference to the skin color of the city’s native residents.
Thankfully, police brought the rampage under control pretty quickly, although Deutsche Welle reported that five officers were hurt. After their brief rampage was quashed, the right-wingers were forced onto a bus, which was then set on fire by their left-wing foes.
In total, the Leipzig rampage resulted in the commission of 57 separate crimes linked to weapons, explosives, and drugs. About 211 people were arrested.
As the smoke cleared, Leipzig Mayor Burghard Jung had harsh words for the hooligans, calling their behavior “open street terror” and nothing but “bare violence.”
“This isn’t a political debate. This is real terror,” said another politician, Jürgen Kaesk, while another, Daniela Kolbe, was furious that the state’s intelligence services didn’t catch the rampage before it started.
“How can it be that a mob of 250 violent Nazis can rage through (the city) without the intelligence agency warning of this danger beforehand?”
Incidents like Monday night’s rampage, and peaceful rally, had become rare as PEGIDA’s activities started to wane after their formation a couple years ago. But the sexual assaults in Cologne sparked the events in Leipzig, and local authorities fear more are to come.
In Cologne, immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East are suspected of perpetrating a series of sexual assaults against women on New Year’s Eve. Merkel is working on legislation to make kicking out such criminals easier and faster, while anti-Muslim groups are using the incident to stoke hatred and fear.
Before the Leipzig protests, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that “those who now hound refugees — on the Internet or on the streets — have obviously just been waiting for the events of Cologne.” “The “hooligans,” therefore, have been “shamelessly exploiting” the attacks.
[Photo by Markus Schreiber/Associated Press]