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German Authorities Crack Down On Leader Of Anti-Islam Group

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's talk about the effort to contain populist anger in Germany. That country has welcomed more than 1 million migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere, which has made Germany a leader in a crisis.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

But not all Germans support the policy. Attacks on asylum-seekers have increased. Experts link those attacks to rhetoric by the founder of an anti-Islam movement.

INSKEEP: So German leaders are going after that man as part of a crackdown on hate speech. The question is whether the crackdown will work. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Lutz Bachmann has become a fixture here in Dresden, although not necessarily a welcomed one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in German).

NELSON: On most Mondays, he and thousands of members of his anti-refugee movement called PEGIDA march around this eastern German city to protest what they see as the, quote, "Islamization of Europe." Offshoot movements have sprung up in other German cities as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUTZ BACHMANN: (Speaking German).

NELSON: During the Dresden gatherings, Bachmann gets on stage to accuse Muslim asylum-seekers of destroying German culture. He blames Chancellor Angela Merkel for the large number of refugees who've been granted asylum here and accuses her of lying to the German people about the newcomers' impact.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BACHMANN: (Speaking German).

NELSON: For the past year and a half, the German government hasn't done much to stop PEGIDA other than to denounce the movement as racist and wrong, which is why it took many Germans by surprise when the Dresden prosecutor decided to put Bachmann on trial last week on charges he incited hatred. Specifically, he's accused of a calling asylum-seekers cattle and scumbags on Facebook 18 months ago. Bachmann faces five years in prison if he's convicted.

EVALINE FIEFA: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Some Dresden residents, like, Evaline Fiefa (ph), say they are relieved the PEGIDA founder is finally being prosecuted.

HAJO FUNKE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Hajo Funke of the Free University in Berlin, who is an expert on right-wing extremism, says he hopes the trial will get Germans talking about the impact hate speech is having on human rights and criminal activity here. But Khaldun Al Saadi, a university student and spokesman for the Dresden Islamic Center, says even if Bachmann is convicted, prosecutions alone won't stop people from joining PEGIDA. He says they embrace the group's suggestion that asylum seekers, especially Muslim ones, are to blame for all of their problems.

KHALDUN AL SAADI: I think what we see right now is a whole other level because it's not about prejudice anymore. It's about hate. And it's about hate which leads to violence, actual violence in the real world. And that's highly problematic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATEAS PROUGNISE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Mateas Prougnise (ph) of The Network For Democracy And Courage, which works to eliminate racism in young people, agrees that prosecutions alone won't stop the growing appeal of PEGIDA. But he adds the group's rhetoric has made it easier for him to talk to young people about their racism because they aren't as likely to hide it. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Dresden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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