Germany’s anti-Islam Pegida movement was in disarray Thursday after its public face, Lutz Bachmann, resigned over a selfie in which he posed in an Adolf Hitler moustache and hairstyle. Pegida, which denies that it opposes Islam or refugees per se, has staged weekly rallies since October against alleged “Islamization.” On Wednesday, the movement’s first big rally outside its home city of Dresden, in Leipzig, was followed by brawling.
The Dresden founders of Pegida dissociated themselves from the Leipzig rally’s organizers, saying they differed over ideology. Bachmann, 41, stepped down after prosecutors confirmed to media that he was under investigation for hate speech, not in connection with the Hitler image, but over alleged Facebook postings in which he described asylum seekers as “livestock,” “rags” and “gang of turds.”
His Facebook page has been deleted, but a former acquaintance provided the media with alleged screenshots of the postings from September, just before Pegida took off in Dresden. Bachmann said the image of himself in a barber’s shop with a toothbrush moustache and Hitler-style cowlick had been a joke.
Pegida spokeswoman and co-founder Kathrin Oertel rejected Bachmann’s comments in the “harshest” possible terms. She said his past outbursts “would not contribute to building trust” in the movement’s goals and participants.
Oertel said Pegida might also take legal action against the right-wing Leipzig offshoot to stop it using the Pegida name.
Pegida, an acronym from the group’s German name, which translates as Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, has laid out a 19-point plan including more selective immigration policies and steps to bar religious fanatics from entering Germany.
She said the Leipzig group refuses to sign up to the plan, which also states Pegida supports taking in refugees from wars and supports those Muslims in Germany who are integrating.
Police admitted Thursday they briefly lost control of crowds after 15,000 Leipzig Pegida demonstrators had marched on main streets while 20,000 anti-Pegida protesters yelled from the sidelines. The fighting broke out later when protesters mixed at the main station while leaving by train. Police said they made three arrests.
“We got into problems afterwards keeping the two camps apart,” said a spokesman.
Parts of the city railway and tramway systems were knocked out when signal gear was deliberately set on fire. Bottles and fireworks were thrown at officers. A car and several garbage skips were set on fire.
The police did not say who was suspected, but radical German leftists have regularly argued that attacks on police and public transport are justified to make cities into no-go zones for rightist marchers. Leipzig Mayor Burkhard Jung said many of the demonstrators for Pegida had been football hooligans and neo-Nazis bent on violence.
“This has unmasked Legida,” he said, referring to the local offshoot of Pegida.
A city newspaper, Leipziger Volkszeitung, and a broadcaster, MDR, said some of their reporters were spat on and hit by supporters of the Leipzig Pegida. Pegida leaders in Dresden insist the movement is not xenophobic.
“We don’t want a revolution,” Oertel said. “We want a different relationship between political leaders and the people.”
She said Pegida had raised issues that were “very difficult to speak about in Germany.” SAPA