On Tuesday morning, German media were filled with images from Dresden showing angry crowds, street altercations and signs denouncing the German government - often with images showing Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Nazi uniform and an Adolf Hitler pose.
The anti-"Islamization" movement PEGIDA marked its first birthday with a significant resurgence - and what many observers saw as a new radicalization. The new influx of refugees over the summer and a significant backlash against Merkel's decision to open the borders to Syrians has apparently given the racist elements in the PEGIDA movement new confidence.
Police put the attendance at Monday's PEGIDA rally at between 15,000 and 20,000 people, with an equal number of counterdemonstrators, making this the largest turnout since the movement's previous high point in February. But there was also a new aggression in the crowds: a Saxony police statement said the two sides threw "objects and fireworks" at one another, and said there were several attacks on officers themselves, who deployed pepper spray.
There were also several injuries, plus three arrests on suspicion of bodily harm and violating explosives laws. As the police tweeted at one point, with some understatement, it was an "emotionally charged" atmosphere.
In the meantime, journalists were struggling to do their jobs. Newspapers reported that it had become difficult, and even dangerous, to find interview partners among PEGIDA supporters, many of whom have come to condemn the media as Lügenpresse, or "lying press." A group attacked DW reporter Jaafar Abdul Karim as he tried to interview PEGIDA supporters.
The media's attention was particularly drawn to a 25-minute speech by the German-Turkish writer Akif Pirincci, otherwise known for a cat-based crime fiction series and a libertarian blog called "The Axis of Good," which has often been accused of racism.
Pirincci's extraordinary and occasionally vulgar ramble, all read from notes, included references to refugees as "invaders," politicians as "gauleiters against their own people," Muslims "who pump infidels with their Muslim juice" and a threat that Germany would become a "Muslim garbage dump."
After the crowd responded with shouts of "resistance, resistance," Pirincci said, "Of course there are other alternatives - but the concentration camps are unfortunately out of action at the moment." The crowd applauded and laughed at that, though they eventually called on the writer to stop after his speech continued for another 20 minutes.
State prosecutors in Dresden said on Tuesday that they would be investigating Pirincci's remarks on suspicion of hate speech.
'Hard-core far-right extremists'
Ahead of the demonstrations, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere had called PEGIDA members "hard-core far-right extremists" on state television. "They describe asylum seekers as criminals, politicians as traitors," the Christian Democrat (CDU) said. "Anyone who goes there should know that they are following rat catchers."
PEGIDA founder Lutz Bachmann, whose Facebook photo sporting a Hitler mustache briefly caused him to step down from the group earlier this year, told the crowd in Dresden that he would also be pressing charges against the minister for "hate speech."
Yasmin Fahimi, general secretary of the Social Democratic Party, took to public radio station Deutschlandfunk on Tuesday morning to call on Saxony's state Interior Ministry to investigate the extremist elements in the PEGIDA leadership. "I think we could ask CDU Interior Minister [Markus] Ulbig to what extent it was only after the public outcry at the gallows-maker that these people were investigated," she said.
Questioning democratic principles
Other German politicians also condemned the new boldness of the far-right elements in the PEGIDA march. Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who had faced criticism in February for meeting PEGIDA supporters, told the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" on Tuesday that the movement had "become a populist right-wing and in parts openly far-right."
"The protagonists are now even questioning the principles of democracy by trying to re-interpret that democracy, using the battle rhetoric of the NSDAP in the Weimar Republic as 'old party democracy' and the parliaments as a 'talking shop for traitors,' while denouncing the media as 'lying press'," Gabriel said.
Gabriel also drew a connection between the PEGIDA and Sunday's knife attack on the Cologne mayoral candidate Henriette Reker: "Because of their slogans, some individual fanatics see themselves as enforcers of a 'healthy people's sentiment' when they plan and execute murder attempts on democratic representatives."
Other observers also noted the new aggressive tone at the PEGIDA protests. "The hate speech has become the decisive discourse, and we're seeing a radicalization in the banners, including this gallows image," Dresden-based political scientist Hans Vorländer told the "Thüringer Allgemeine" newspaper. "Now it is time for politicians to make very clear that there has to be resistance against this hate and the organizers."Ben Knight