An alarming number of Germans favor using violence against human beings who are desperately fleeing their countries from war and misery.

A representative survey conducted by the renowned opinion research firm YouGov asked a total of 2,080 German residents if they thought the use of armed force justifiable or not in order to prevent unarmed refugees from crossing borders. Even though more than half of the surveyed people (57 percent) answered it was not justifiable, a disturbing number of 29 percent would support the use of weapons against refugees at German borders.

Political arsonists

The occasion for this survey was a recent utterance by the head of the right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD). In an interview with the regional newspaper Mannheimer Morgen, Ms Frauke Petry said police officers must “use firearms if necessary” to “prevent illegal border crossings” claiming that “armed force is there as a last resort”.

The German Member of the European Parliament and vice president of the AfD, aristocrat and granddaughter of Adolf Hitler’s Secretary of the Treasury Beatrix von Storch, fleshed out this despicable demand of her fellow party member. When asked on Facebook if her party really wanted to use armed force against migrant women and children to be denied access to Germany von Storch answered with a mere “Yes.”

After these inhumane and unconstitutional statements from the AfD leadership, a massive outcry went through the entire German online scene, suggesting that this desired treatment of refugees was only the opinion of a tiny minority among the German society. The results of the cited survey proved this presumption wrong. It seems the self-proclaimed Alternative for Germany has a good instinct for how far they can go with their shameful, anti-migrant utterances and for how to push the acceptable limits of the public debate stepwise to the right end of the spectrum.

Founded in 2013, the young party AfD grew rapidly in popularity with its distinct Euroscepticism satisfying the growing anti-Euro-resentment among the German population. As time passed, the party engaged in more and more anti-migrant and especially in anti-Islam populist rhetoric revealing its actual far right-wing nature. In a synergetic interplay with the successful spread of the infamous racist PEGIDA rally movement (German abbreviation for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) the AfD is skyrocketing in the polls, becoming the third strongest party in Germany surpassing The Greens and The Left.

Taking the law into their own hands

In the wake of the horrific series of sexual assaults in the city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve in which scores of women were molested, robbed and in two alleged cases even raped by hundreds of men of “Arabic or North African appearance”, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants indiscriminately seem to have been put under general suspicion. Racist sentiments further infiltrate the German mainstream and the recent tide of racist-motivated violence further escalates.

Another survey conducted by YouGov is as worrying as the one mentioned above. According to the poll, a number of 29 percent of those surveyed could imagine participating in vigilante groups using violence to defend their interests, if the state fails to do so. This high number reflects a widespread increase in the perceived menace posed by migrants and has started to manifest itself in the streets.

Taking advantage of the Cologne attacks, mostly right-wing citizens have been forming vigilante gangs in several German cities, shamefully disguising their clearly racist intentions under the banner of advocating women’s rights. After an online call for “clean-up” of their city, one of these groups in Cologne was roving the streets in a “manhunt” that resulted in attacking eleven men from Pakistan, Guinea and Syria, some of whom needed to be admitted to hospital. The phenomenon of vigilante groups is not a Germany-only problem but also in many other European cities, such as in Finland where the “Soldiers of Odin” are prowling the streets in 25 cities across the country.

Poisoning the social climate

A rally of the racist PEGIDA in Leipzig degenerated into rioting when about 200 masked hooligans broke off from the rally and vandalized the left-leaning alternative neighborhood of Connewitz. The senior mayor of Leipzig Burkard Jung (SPD, Social Democrats) denounced these violent acts, which were unprecedented in recent German history, as “street terror” that aimed to spread fear and loathing.

Even though PEGIDA, their Germany-wide offshoots and even the thrashing vigilante groups desperately try to portray themselves as peaceful protest movements of “worried citizens”, time and again violence occurs on the sidelines of their marches. An atmosphere of aggression is troubling in every corner of Germany. In 2015 alone, 263 people fell victim to right-wing motivated criminal assault and an unfathomable number of 132 arson attacks on refugee accommodations were reported.

The different racist movements on the street along with an increasing radicalization of the AfD in the political arena, is poison for the social climate in the country. As a result, we find 29 percent of the German population okay with using weapons against human beings who are desperately fleeing their countries from war and misery.