Pegida network – HOPE not hate

Pegida network

The German Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Pegida – Patriotic Europeans against Islamisation of the Occident) was formed in October 2014 in Dresden, Saxony (Germany), as a reaction to public concern about violent street clashes between supporters of the Kurdish PKK and Islamist extremists in the city.

Pegida’s primary targets are Muslims, refugees, the media and mainstream politicians, not least Germany’s federal chancellor Angela Merkel. Among those addressing its rallies have been the populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders (who has called for the Quran to be banned), the German extreme-right Götz Kubitschek, the Turkish extremist author Akif Pirincci and Stephen Lennon (former leader of the anti-Muslim street movement the English Defence League, and former head of Pegida UK).

Until April 2015, when it began to falter, Pegida marched almost every Monday evening in Dresden. Starting with 300 people, the demonstrations grew to a peak of 25,000 in January 2015 and led to numerous unsuccessful attempts to replicate them across Germany. However the group was struck a blow after leader Lutz Bachmann was pictured dressed as Hitler. The ensuing scandal, alongside competition from the more politically adept and influential right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, pushed the group into a downwards spiral.

The refugee crisis that commenced in 2015 has come to Pegida’s rescue, breathing life back into the bedraggled movement and for a period demonstrations in Dresden again regularly drew thousands of people.

As traditional counter-jihad notions of Western Civilization being under attack are central to Pegida’s rhetoric, international cooperation has long been an important aim of its organizers. Bachmann has stated, “It is more important than anything else that the patriots in Europe connect and cooperate to fight this menace.”

Pegida’s initial successes in Dresden spawned copycat groups around Europe, including in the UK, Holland, Norway, Denmark Spain, Belgium, USA, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Canada, Portugal, Poland, Austria, Bulgaria, Russia and Hungary.

However, in the same way the Defence Leagues failed to spread as expected, so too have the international offshoots of Pegida. Most were stillborn or emerged straight after the Charlie Hebdo killings, but have done nothing since. In a retrospective in June 2017 Deutsche Welle reported that even the Dresden home of Pegida, their numbers had “dwindled since around February 2016, and have numbered just 1,000 – 2,000 in 2017”.

That said, its spread into other countries has made Pegida internationally known and supplanted the Defence League movement as the go-to counter-jihad street protest brand.

On 23 January 2016 representatives of 14 groups linked to the Pegida Network met with Tatjana Festerling and Lutz Bachmann in the Czech Republic to sign the Prague Declaration which stated their belief the “history of Western Civilization could soon come to an end through Islam conquering Europe.”

The meeting set up a loose network for working together which they called ‘Fortress Europe’, though, beyond the occasional appearance by a member at a rally under its banner, the movement has been largely inactive since.


Pegida Germany

Founder: Lutz Bachmann

Key Activists: Siegfried Daebritz and Tatjana Festerling

The Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Pegida) was born in October 2014 in Dresden, Saxony. The organisers have claimed they started the movement as a reaction to a demonstration by Kurdish people. Since its formation the fortunes of the organisation have ebbed and flowed.

Pegida has rallied almost every Monday evening in Dresden since its inception. Starting with 300 people, the demonstrations quickly became several thousand. The largest, held on 12 January 2015 – a few days after the Charlie Hebdo attack – attracted 25,000 people.

Pegida-style demonstrations have spread to 30 other towns and cities across the country but most attracted derisory numbers, Leipzig and Munich being notable exceptions.

In the summer of 2015 Pegida was thrown into crisis when an image of Lutz Bachmann, the face of Pegida, posing as Hitler went viral. This nearly spelt the end of the movement with demonstrations shrinking back to just a few hundred.

However, the advent of the Migrant Crisis and the influx of Muslim refugees from Syria in the summer of 2015 gave Pegida a much-needed boost with attendances at demonstrations shooting back up and peaking at almost 20,000.

Pegida targets are Muslims, refugees, the media (the Lügenpresse as they call them) and of course so-called establishment politicians. Among those who have addressed its rallies are: Geert Wilders, Götz Kubitschek (New-Right), Stephen Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) and author Akif Pirincci. All of them are calling on their followers to resist the “invaders” for the sake of the West.

In September 2016 Festerling and between 60 to 100 supporters assembled as a splinter group at the margins of the main PEGIDA protest in Dresden (comprising of an estimated 2,500 people).

In November 2016 Bachmann was fined 9,600 euros after being found guilty of inciting hatred against foreigners. In a 2015 Facebook post Bachmann referred to refugees as “cattle”, “garbage” and a “dirty bunch”.

In October 2017 Pegida’s third anniversary demonstration had in attendance an estimated 3,000 supporters with speakers including Bachmann, Identitäre Bewegung Österreich co-leader Martin Sellner and various Alternative fur Deutschland MPs.

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 Pegida Österreich (Austria)

The group held its first demonstration in Vienna in February 2015, attended by just a few hundred people. Reports claim that fascist salutes were thrown at the event.  

A further demonstration in Vienna in April 2016, at which Ed Utrecht from the Dutch Pegida spoke, failed to gather more than 50 people.

The branch is now inactive on the streets, although its Facebook page remains active; as of January 2018, it has more than 20,800 Likes.

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Pegida Vlaanderen (Pegida Flanders)

Leader: Kristof De Smet

The Flemish branch of the Pegida was formed in January 2015, but it has been rather unsuccessful so far.

The movement is led by activists from the far-right party Vlaams Belang and supported by the nationalist action group Voorpost.

Despite massive media attention, most of the demonstrations have only attracted 100 to 200 people. During the first (legal) demo of the movement in Gent, a journalist working the national television VRT was subjected to racist insults.

Pegida Flanders has had to deal with a lot of internal problems from the outset and faces domestic competition from groups such as ‘Pegida Belgium’ and ‘Pegida Benelux’. These Pegida groups are only alive on Facebook and have not yet organised anything in public.

A demo in Antwerpen in January 2016 was attended by roughly 300 people. Speakers included Filip Dewinter and Lutz Bachmann. 150 attended a subsequent march in Zeebrugge in March 2016.

Their most recent action was an April 2016 demo in Antwerp, co-organised by members from Alliance for Peace and Freedom.

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Pegida Bulgaria

This group held its first event on 11 January 2015, which was a small meeting outside the office of the European Parliament in Sofia. At the demonstration a large Stop the Islamization of Europe (SIOE) banner was displayed.

The group has an active Facebook page, although as of January 2018 it has under 800 Likes.

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Pegida Nederland

The group was first formed at the end of 2014, although was not to launch successfully until October 2015 when Edwin Wagenfeld, a Dutch organiser of Pegida in Germany, held a demonstration in Utrecht.

Pegida Nederland has attracted activists from Voorpost and Blood & Honour, some veterans of the Centrum Democrats and football hooligans from various cities. Among the speakers at the Utrecht launch were Lutz Bachmann of Pegida Germany and Stephen Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson), the former leader of English Defence League. The event was attended by just 200 people.

In June 2016 Edwin Wagenfeld and Tatiana Festerling (former frontwoman of Pegida Germany) travelled to Bulgaria and joined a vigilante group hunting migrants at the Bulgarian border.

The group has an active website and continues to organize demonstrations, including a Opstaan Tegen de Islamisering (Rise Up Against Islamization) demonstration on 4 June 2016. Events were held in May, June, September and November 2017, with the September event co-organised with Hooligans against Salafists and Fortress Europe Netherlands.

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Pegida Norway

Inspired by its more successful German brother, Pegida Norway was set up by Max Hermansen, a teacher, historian and navy commander. The group’s first demonstration in Oslo on 12 January 2015 attracted 190 people. Although this may sound like a small number, it is the largest far-right gathering on the streets of Norway since the Second World War.

However, since its formation the group has been troubled by infighting and splits as former Norwegian Defence League leader Ronny Alte set up his own rival Pegida, Pegida Norge. The group has quickly declined; its second event saw just a hundred people attend and the following one attracted just ten.

There have been attempts to set up other Pegida chapters across Norway but they have also failed, the little support they did have seemingly being absorbed by Stop Islamization of Norway (SIAN).

Pegida Norway has an active Facebook page, which as of January 2018 has more than 13,800 Likes.

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Pegida Polska

The group was launched with a Facebook page in January 2015, following the attacks on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

In February 2016 Pegida Polska had a planned demonstration in Wroclaw but it was hurriedly cancelled after the far-right Radical Nationalist Camp (Oboz Narodowo-Radykalny – ONR) threatened to sabotage an event it deemed a “German import”.

The Pegida Polska Facebook page has been inactive since August 2017 after it posted looking for new admins and a spin-off page, ‘Presja’ (Pospolite Ruszenie Europejskiego Społeczeństwa Jako Antysystemowcy). The page is currently down.

Despite Pegida Polska/Presja’s recent inactivity, an estimated gathering of 60,000 people marched through Warsaw on Polish Independence Day, November 2017 including numerous nationalists and extreme far-right groups.

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Pegida Schweiz

Prominent activists: Ignaz Bearth

One of its main activists is Ignaz Bearth, former member of the far-right Swiss Nationalist Party (PNOS) and founder of the Direct Democratic Party of Switzerland (DPS). Many of its demonstrations in 2015 and 2016 were held in Germany over the Swiss/German border.

The group is inactive on the streets, holding its last demonstration as Pegida Schweiz on January 2016. The Facebook group remains active and as of January 2018 has over 17,600 Likes.

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Pegida Canada/Pegida Québec

Leader: Jean-François Asgard

Pegida Canada launched in January 2015 after the terror attacks on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and called its first demonstration in March 2015. The event, in Montreal, attracted very small numbers and was disrupted by a large ‘counter-protest’.

In November 2015 an alleged Pegida Quebec member started publicising the location of Mosques online and calling for “action” against them. Pegida Germany has since dissociated itself from the administrator.

Other demonstrations were held in Toronto in September and December 2015. A flash demo was held in Toronto in February 2016 in solidarity with European Fortress and further demos were held in April, May and August 2016.

The group has held demonstrations throughout 2017, most recently in November in London, Ontario, though they have consistently attracted very few participants.

The group still have an active Facebook page, which as of January 2018 has over 32,400 Likes.

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Pegida UK

The now-defunct Pegida UK was initially launched in Newcastle in March 2015 but did not appear to have the full blessing and cooperation of the German parent organisation.

The organisers of the event (aside from Donna Treanor, a London BNP official who had appointed herself as an ‘adviser’) were relatively unknown. However, the event in Newcastle attracted figures across the far right, including leader of the British National Party (BNP) Adam Walker, seasoned English Defence League (EDL) activists, former EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) and jackbooted nazis from the National Front. With around 300 participants, it was the biggest far-right demonstration in Britain in 2015.

The BNP, EDL and a host of small satellite nazi groups attached themselves to Pegida UK, which was troubled from the start. By the time Pegida made it to London for a demonstration outside Downing Street, it had already taken a very different shape with members of the EDL dominating the small protest. The organisation collapsed soon afterwards, its early leadership engaging in internecine squabbles.

Matthew Pope, who wrestled control of the organisation, then appeared to fall under the spell of Lennon who assured him that he had no interest in leading Pegida UK but merely wanted to advise him.

In October 2015, Lennon addressed Pegida’s first anniversary rally in Dresden. Referring to the refugee crisis, he likened the mass movement of people across Europe to the Crusades, telling his 20,000 listeners:

“Our borders are being overrun. There is little or no control. A country that cannot control its borders will soon not be a country… We need one banner. Save our culture. Save our country. Save our future. Unite to save a future for our children”.

He was also uncompromising in his hostility to Muslims and not just Islamist extremism. He told the crowd that he wanted a Europe “free from Halal food”, “free from Muslim rape gangs”, free from “the visual scars of minarets” and the “sounds of call to prayer” and free from people “who cover their faces, walk around our streets and refuse to integrate”.

Pope was rapidly shoved aside to make way for Lennon, although the former EDL chief was always keen to have a front man to hide behind. In December, he installed former mercenary Timothy Scott as his puppet leader but within twenty-four hours Scott had quit after an extraordinary car-crash interview with Channel Four News exposed his intellectual shortcomings.

With nowhere else to turn, Lennon returned in January 2016 alongside Paul Weston of Liberty GB and Anne Marie Waters of Sharia Watch and, later, For Britain.

Birmingham Relaunch

The major relaunch of Pegida UK came in Birmingham on 6 February 2016. The chief problem was the disappointingly low turnout on the day. Fewer than 200 people made the journey to the Midlands with the demonstrators being outnumbered by police. The march started in the car park of the Birmingham International train station and crawled along empty roads before finishing at an industrial estate.

Despite its relaunch, the overlap between Pegida UK and the EDL was considerable, sharing the same organisers, many of the same speakers, same security team and many of the same demonstrators.

Pegida UK has since ceased with its various leading figures pursuing other activities, including Lennon’s work with anti-Muslim YouTube channel Rebel Media from early 2017 (though he is still supportive of the movement, having covered their three year anniversary in Dresden in October 2017 for the channel). Waters has gone on to have an unsuccessful leadership bid for the United Kingdom Independence Party and subsequent launch of her anti-Muslim For Britain party in late 2017.

Whilst a few small Facebook pages and groups exist for Pegida UK, they are largely inactive.

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For Frihed

Leader: Tania Groth

Formerly Pegida Denmark, the group had its first demonstration in Copenhagen in January 2015, which was attended by just 300 people. In 2015 they held a series of “evening walks” once a week but starting in late 2016 they changed to demonstrations held on the first Saturday every month.

On January 23 2016 the group invited the leaders of Pegida UK, Stephen Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson), Paul Weston and Anne Marie Waters to join their demonstration. Other speakers at their demonstrations have been, among others, Ingrid Carlquist, Lars Hedegaard, Gavin Boby, Tatjana Festerling, Katrine Vinkel Holm and Dan Park.

The group was organised by Nicolai Sennels who was once a candidate for the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party but he has since stepped down, making way for Tania Groth. The group changed its name to For Frihed (For Freedom) as the German name was not deemed suitable for a Danish audience.

They have continued to hold demonstrations though these have tended to have fewer participants – mostly around 30-40.

As of January 2018 the group’s Facebook page had almost 2,900 Likes.

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