When the lawyer Burkhard Körner became head of the Bavarian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution twelve years ago, no one suspected the power that conspiracy narratives would develop.

In an interview with WELT, the man from Munich talks about social networks as a catalyst for extremist ideologies, the boundary between freedom of expression and a new kind of “conspiracy extremism” - as well as his view of the storm on the Capitol and the statements of outgoing US President Donald Trump.


Mr. Körner, did it take an escalation in front of the US Capitol to make the power of conspiracy narratives clear to everyone?

Burkhard Körner:

What happened in Washington must be a warning to us.

The dynamics of social media that enable these processes have a similar effect on us.



Strange disguises could be seen in Washington - similar to the attempted assault on the Reichstag a few months ago, a heterogeneous group.

Do we underestimate the fact that colorful and funky people can be extremists?


As the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, of course, we have to make a precise distinction: Our statutory monitoring mandate is only opened in the event of extremist efforts, i.e. if an attitude is explicitly directed against the free democratic basic order.

Just because someone thinks, for example, that the earth is flat, is not an extremist and, of course, we are not observed by us.

Only the connection of extremist ideological fragments with conspiracy theories that call state institutions into question justifies the intervention of intelligence services.

Of course, it doesn't matter what someone looks like.

Burkhard Körner, President of the Bavarian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution

Source: picture alliance / ZUMAPRESS.com


So people today are more difficult to pin down ideologically?



Yes, we are seeing this development in all areas.

It is a consequence of the internet and social networks.

Basically, anyone on the Internet can put together a wide variety of fragments of extremist ideologies.

And because he also finds a following there who shares and reflects his opinion, this means that we find fewer and fewer groups of people in right-wing extremism who have a cohesive, completely right-wing extremist worldview.

We find many more groups that take up individual fragments of the ideology of right-wing extremism.


To what extent were it extremists who went to the Berlin Reichstag in the summer?


Corona deniers of various stripes were involved in the demonstrations in front of the Reichstag: conspiracy theorists, people from the right-wing extremist area and the “Reich citizen” milieu, but also citizens who simply wanted to express their concerns.

It was just a mixed bag.

And this mixture in its entirety cannot be ascribed as a whole to the extremist personal potential.

The question that we as the intelligence services are currently discussing is whether this group of people who deny corona, even if they are not right-wing extremists or “Reich citizens”, can lead to a kind of extremism of its own.

When, for example, democratic institutions are scorned or questioned and violence is not shied away from.



But where do you draw the line?

Is it a contempt when "lateral thinkers" or Corona critics claim that the state does not have the situation under control?


Of course I can criticize the state.

I can also take the view that the state made mistakes here.

All of this falls under freedom of expression.

The threshold between freedom of expression and extremism has only been crossed where I determined to override certain basic principles of the state.

That is the case when I not only have a different political opinion, but actively combat certain basic values ​​of our state system.

The line lies between disaffection with the state and hatred of the state.

In the “DDay2.0” group here in Bavaria, for example, there are people who threaten government officials.

The threshold to extremism has been crossed here.


In Baden-Württemberg, parts of the "lateral thinkers" movement are already being observed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.


This happened because the “lateral thinking” offshoot in question made references to extremist groups.

And we also have sub-groups of the Bavarian “lateral thinker” movement under observation, for example those who are based on a right-wing extremist intention.

For example, the “Lower Bavaria Action Alliance”, which has already registered “lateral thinkers” demonstrations, is being observed by us.

The attempt to storm the Reichstag - it failed because of the police and robust doors and windows



The Hamburg office for the protection of the constitution speaks of a kind of "conspiracy extremism".

Where are you feeling your way?


There are conspiracy theories that are clearly extremist.

For example, the theory of large-scale exchanges, according to which German government representatives or the federal government want to exchange the German people with whomever in the context of the Corona crisis.

There are conspiracy theories that have extremist elements, such as QAnon with an anti-Semitic twist.

And now the question arises whether a conspiracy theory that fundamentally questions the democratic institutions can lead to independent extremism.



If the QAnon movement is anti-Semitic - why is it not yet being observed?


This movement is very heterogeneous.

There are various groups among QAnon supporters who function under this keyword.

We observe within this movement that anti-constitutional elements are transported through this ideology.

But not everyone who adheres to QAnon or one of the many QAnon theories is automatically an extremist.

We are more interested in the dynamic that emanates from such conspiracy theories.

Where right-wing extremist ideology fragments are transported to social classes that such right-wing ideologies were previously inaccessible.


What “citizens of the Reich” and other radicals share: They often do not see themselves as extremists at all, but as those who obey law and order - against which the current government acts against the people.

How does this attitude come about?


The people move around in their echo rooms in social networks and are ultimately kept in these echo rooms again and again by algorithms.

With the effect that the idea of ​​truth also shifts in these people.

They experience what is being discussed in the echo room as truth.


some people also take action.

We saw it when we tried to storm the Reichstag and now in Washington too.


We see that in all areas of extremism, from Islamist jihadism to the “Reich Citizens” scene.

This is also related to the echo rooms just mentioned.

By staying in an echo room and by constantly confirming one's own opinion, a truth emerges from which the individual draws the conclusion that they have to take action here.

Shortly before the storming of the Capitol, US President Trump asked the angry people to march exactly there



In the United States, Donald Trump quasi called for a storm;

he also keeps repeating that the election has been stolen.

If a politician did this in Germany, then he would be a case for the protection of the constitution, right?



If he questions democratic institutions in this way, he would be a case for the protection of the constitution, yes.


What role does the AfD play in this?

Your Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) sees the danger that “a corona mob or a kind of corona RAF” could develop from the AfD environment.


The AfD cannot be accused of advocating or promoting terrorist actions by constantly questioning the Corona measures.

But the dynamism that the AfD triggers leads to this disaffection with the state and even hatred of the state.

Prime Minister Söder points out this danger when he speaks of the “corona mob”.


The decision of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is expected soon as to whether the AfD as a whole party will be classified as a suspected extremist case.

What do you mean?


There is currently an intensive coordination process underway within the constitution protection group on the question of whether the AfD will be monitored in the future.

If the party is observed, it must be clarified whether the AfD is treated as a suspected case or as a secured extremist organization.

We will agree with the decision of the association.