German police on Monday braced for an anti-Islam demonstration in Dresden that was expected to draw up to 10,000 participants.
The eastern German city is home to a movement called "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West" (more commonly called Pegida), whose members have been called the "pinstriped Nazis," according to the Guardian.
Pegida is led by Lutz Bachmann, 41, a graphic designer with a criminal record for burglaries and drug-dealing. At a recent rally in Dresden, he told supporters that foreigners benefit from Germany's welfare system while impoverished Germans were “unable to even afford a single slice of Stollen [Christmas cake]," according to the Guardian.
A recent poll has shown two-thirds of Germans believe Merkel is not doing enough about immigration and asylum-seekers, while 34 percent of Germans think the country is enduring a process of “Islamization."
Pegida has been condemned by leading German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reportedly said, "There is no place in Germany for Islamophobia or anti-Semitism, hatred of foreigners or racism.”
Ralf Jager, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, has said the group has “a very subtle and opprobrious strategy for fomenting xenophobia," according to the Guardian. He went on, "We have to unmask these rabble-rousers.”
Merkel faces challenges from allies and rivals to confront a rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment driving the increasingly popular anti-Islam marches that take place in Dresden every Monday.
Merkel's security officials are warning of an increase in hate crimes, while opinion polls show support for the marchers' calls for a tougher German immigration policy.
There has been a spike in both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment this year, with right-wingers joining football hooligans to fight Salafist Muslims and a spate of attacks on Jews. At the same time, with record levels of immigration, Germany has become Europe's biggest recipient of asylum-seekers.
The marches have already spawned copycat protests in cities to the west like Dusseldorf, which have larger immigrant populations than Dresden, home to very few of Germany's four million Muslims.
Hajo Funke, a Berlin professor, said many of the estimated 10,000 people who marched last week voiced vague "discontent with society and their own lives," while the organizers played on fears of armed insurgents like Islamic State and Al-Qaida.
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