A demonstrator wrapped in a flag of the German empire joins an anti-lockdown demonstration, in Berlin, Germany, on August 29, 2020.
  • Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Germany has seen a growing anti-lockdown movement which has become one of the largest in Europe.
  • The protesters are an eclectic mix of people, including conspiracy theorists, far-right extremists, coronavirus skeptics, and anti-vaxxers. 
  • Many of the protests have been organized by the controversial "Querdenken 711" group, which has been backed by President John F. Kennedy's nephew and anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
  • Experts worry that the protests are becoming increasingly radical as more demonstrators openly identify with the conspiracy movement, QAnon.
  • Photos show how Germany became the epicenter of Europe's anti-lockdown movement.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

In recent months, Germany has become the epicentre of Europe's anti-lockdown movement, as thousands of people have been taking to the streets to defy social distancing measures and mask mandates.

The anti-lockdown protesters, who include conspiracy theorists, far-right extremists, anti-vaxxers, and coronavirus skeptics, have united to accuse German lawmakers of triggering unnecessary panic and infringing on civil liberties.

Many of the recent protests have been organized by the "Querdenken 711" movement, which has also been backed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent anti-vaxxer and the nephew of former president John F. Kennedy.

Experts also worry that the movement is becoming increasingly radical. Most of QAnon's European followers are largely based in Germany, and more demonstrators at anti-lockdown protests are seen waving Q flags.

QAnon advocates claim that the US is secretly controlled by a cabal of politicians, celebrities, and media figures who engage in child abuse and pedophilia and that President Donald Trump will eventually move against these people. Its believers seek clues from an unknown government insider known as Q. There is no evidence to support the theory, and none of its foretold reckonings have taken place.

Scroll down to find out more about how Germany became the epicenter of Europe's anti-lockdown movement and how QAnon played a role.

Over the last few months, Germany has seen a growing anti-lockdown movement which has become one of the largest in Europe.

Riot police and water cannons stand guard during protests next to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany on November 18, 2020.

This week, Berlin saw more than 10,000 protesters rally in front of the Reichstag — Germany's parliament — in defiance of social distancing measures and mask orders.

Participants stand in front of the Brandenburg Gate during a demonstration against the coronavirus restrictions of the German government in Berlin on November 18, 2020.

Source: BBC

Police used water cannons to disperse the protester and several arrests were made.

Police officers forced back demonstrators in front of the Brandenburg Gate with water cannons in Berlin, Germany on November 18, 2020.

Source: BBC

German anti-lockdown protesters include conspiracy theorists, far-right extremists, anti-vaxxers, esotericists, coronavirus skeptics, and ordinary citizens who say the threat of the pandemic is exagerated.

A demonstrator holds a sign reading "5G, this is a war" during protests in Berlin, Germany on November 18, 2020.

Although these diverse groups have drastically different world views, they have united to accuse German lawmakers of triggering unnecessary panic, calling the COVID-19 measures "dictatorial."

A demonstrator holds a Christian cross during the protest in Berlin, Germany, on November 18, 2020.

While the movement claims it's "neither right nor left", it does not condemn fascism and racism and has welcomed neo-Nazis and members of the far-right political party, AfD.

Counter-demonstrators block a street to protest against the Querdenken movement on November 14, 2020, in Frankfurt, Germany.

Recent demonstrations have been organized by the "Querdenken 711" group, which translates into "Lateral Thinking 711" and was first launched in Stuttgart (the city's phone code is 711) in mid-April.

A demonstrator wears a toilet paper roll instead of a protective face mask and another a shirt with an inscription reading "Querdenken - Leipzig" during a protest on November 18, 2020, near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

It was founded by a 46-year-old computer entrepreneur called Michael Ballweg who claims on his website that the group is "non-partisan" and does "not exclude any opinion".

Michael Ballweg, initiator of "Querdenken 711", speaks at a rally in Berlin on August 1, 2020.

However, Ballweg's slogan about the unity of the group is: "Where we go one, we go all," lifted directly from the conspiracy theory QAnon.

Mostly right-wing protesters, including a young woman wearing a QAnon shirt, observe riot police clearing Unter den Linden avenue during protests against coronavirus-related restrictions and government policy on August 29, 2020, in Berlin, Germany.

The protests have become increasingly radical, with the number of followers of QAnon-related accounts on all platforms in Germany rising to more than 200,000.

A policeman instructs men wearing QAnon conspiracy shirts to move along during scattered protests at Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, on May 16, 2020.

People regularly wave Q flags during protests against coronavirus measures.

Source: New York Times

"I was astonished that QAnon is gaining such momentum here," Patrick Sensburg, a lawmaker in Angela Merkel's conservative party, recently said."It seemed like such an American thing. But it's falling on fertile ground."

A demonstrator holds a QAnon flag during protests on November 18, 2020, in Berlin, Germany.

But it's not just Germany that is worrying political leaders. Other European domestic intelligence and law-enforcement services, including those in France and Belgium, now also consider the QAnon conspiracy theory a significant security concern.

Police intervene in demonstrators defying social distancing and mask orders as thousands gather near the German parliament to protest coronavirus restrictions in Berlin on November 18, 2020.

One prominent American figure who has also openly endorsed "Querdenken 711" is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. arrives at the 10th Annual GO Campaign Gala at Manuela on November 5, 2016, in Los Angeles, California.

Kennedy is an anti-vaxxer who owns an organisation called Children's Health Defense, which promotes the idea that Bill Gates has a "globalist" agenda for mandatory vaccinations.

The 66-year-old also once insisted that top US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci seeks to poison "an entire generation of Americans" with a Covid-19 vaccine, The Daily Beast reported.

Source: The Daily Beast

Kennedy even spoke during one of the movement's rallies in Berlin alongside Ballweg. According to some reports, his appearance prompted German QAnon Telegram channels to go into a frenzy.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (C), greets people during an anti-lockdown protest in Berlin, Germany as Michael Ballweg (L), founder of the Querdenker movement, looks on, on August 29, 2020.

Another outspoken figure in the movement is Heiko Schöning, who is a founder of the anti-vaccination group Ärzte für Aufklärung ("Doctors for Enlightenment") and is also a regular speaker at Querdenken events.

Heiko Schöning, doctor and member of the initiative "Doctors for Enlightenment", speaks at a demonstration on May 3, 2020, in Hamburg, Germany.

Schöning was arrested in London in September after he appeared at an anti-lockdown protest in Trafalgar Square.

Source: Mayor of London,NDR

A partial lockdown has been in place across Germany since 2 November and lawmakers are discussing extending the lockdown until Christmas.

A man stands in front of a closed Christmas tree decorations stall at the canceled annual Christmas in Essen, Germany on November 12, 2020.

Government spokesman Stefan Seibert said lockdown measures "were not expected to be relaxed" and that winter festivities were unlikely to go ahead, the Guardian reported.

Source: The Guardian

Germany has previously been praised for its handling of the pandemic and some experts believe that its success is partly to blame for the rise in protests.

"Virologists say there is no glory in prevention; if prevention is successful, people don't see the danger," Thorsten Quandt, a professor at the University of Münster, told CNN in September. "The irony is the less you can feel it, and more successful you are with pandemic measures, the more people say we should stop [those measures]."

Source: Business Insider

Even though there is a growing movement against the Covid-19 lockdown, the majority of Germans are still in support of it.

Demonstrators confront riot police during protests next to the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, on November 18, 2020.

In a recent national survey, more than 58% said that the lockdown measures were just right.

Polls also show that trust in Merkel's conservative government is high, while the far-right party known as AfD, has been struggling, the New York Times reported.

Source: Forschungsgruppe Wahlen

Read the original article on Business Insider

Receive a daily news update on your cellphone. Or get the best of our site emailed to you.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.