Berlin -- The German domestic intelligence agency said Thursday it is stepping up observation of theIdentitarian Movement in Germany, a group that campaigns against immigrants and Islam. The agency, known by its German acronym BfV, said after two years of investigating the group it has concluded that it has "passed beyond the stage of suspicion" and "is now classified as a verified extreme right movement.
In a statement, it said the group "ultimately aims to exclude people of non-European origin from democratic participation and to discriminate against them in a way that infringes their human dignity."
The decision comes amid fresh fears about far-right extremism in Germany following the arrest last month of a man with a long history of neo-Nazi activity over the killing of a regional politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel's party.
Identitarianism in the U.S.
The Identitarian Movement in Germany was founded in 2012, after originating in France. It has sister organizations in other European countries, and many of its members are students. There is a Facebook page for the "American Identitarian Movement," but it has less than 100 followers. According to the page, the "goals of the American Identitarian Movement is to push back against 'multiculturalism' and to preserve American culture."
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors and works to expose and thwart organized extremism in the U.S., wrote in 2015 that "small American hate groups" were "stepping up efforts to spread local variants of identitarianism" in the U.S.
The organization said the Identitarian Movement "preaches opposition to multiculturalism, often taking shape in the form of anti-Muslim xenophobia. While Identitarian groups on both sides of the Atlantic claim their opposition to multiculturalism isn't racist, their direct action tactics and end goals indicate otherwise."
"U.S. efforts are multiplying," the SPLC wrote. "At least four American groups are pushing versions of Identitarianism, often parroting the words and the flashy, youth-oriented style of the Europeans."
High-profile American white nationalist Richard Spencer announced on his altright.com website at the end of 2017 that an umbrella group he backs would work to "train and mentor young activists, and foster collaboration among Identitarians in America and around the world," according to the SPCL.
In Germany, the group has thus far refrained from openly engaging in the kind of street violence for which the country's established neo-Nazi groups are known, though its flags are often seen at far-right rallies. It is best known for publicity stunts such as draping banners from public buildings and disrupting lectures or theater performances.
Still, BfV chief Thomas Haldenwang accused the group of "intellectual arson," saying "there mustn't be any tolerance of extremists."
The new classification assessment gives the BfV additional powers of surveillance against the group, which is estimated to have about 600 members.
The announcement also comes exactly one year after the verdict in Germany's highest-profile neo-Nazi murder trial. Beate Zschaepe, the only known survivor of the National Socialist Underground group, was sentenced to life in prison for her role in the killings of 10 people -- most of them migrants -- who were gunned down between 2000 and 2007.
While four others were also convicted of supporting the group in various ways, anti-racism campaigners say authorities -- including the BfV -- never fully investigated the wider network that Zschaepe and two deceased co-conspirators must have relied on during more than a decade on the run.