Music festivals have gained serious significance for right-wing extremists in their effort to draw more supporters in Germany and across Europe, the country's domestic intelligence agency told VOA on Friday.
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or BfV, said it estimated the number of right-wing extremists in Germany at 24,000 in 2017, up from 23,100 in 2016. Over half of them were thought to have no affiliation with organized groups while 4,500 showed allegiance to the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).
Unlike previous years, when a small number of organized music festivals by right-wing members attracted only few participants, they now draw thousands of participants, said Elke Altmuller, a spokesperson for BfV.
"These events are very attractive for young people to bring them into the right-wing extremism scene," Altmuller said. They are also important for networking and "bring a lot of money to the local right-wing extremism scene," she added.
According to BfV, the biggest right-wing concert, "Rock Against Foreign Domination," was held last July in Themar, where 6,000 people gathered, including supporters from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland and Slovakia.
Videos obtained from the event by police showed dozens of people displaying the Hitler salute and chanting anti-immigrant slogans.
Nazi symbols are illegal in Germany and their display is associated with anti-Semitism and glorification of Nazi crimes.
Despite the surge in the number of supporters, German authorities point to a significant decline in violence by right-wing extremists, from 907 recorded cases in 2016 to 286 in 2017. Most of the attacks targeted accommodation centers for asylum seekers.
According to the BfV spokesperson, the drop in the violence is mainly due to country's courts imposing long prison sentences against perpetrators and the fading of the anti-asylum debate within the right-wing extremist arena.
"But in general, you have to notice that the decline of violence does not mean there is not any danger of violence by the individual actors in this scene," Altmuller added.
Debate over immigration
In recent years, Germany has been faced with divisions and fierce debate about the country's immigration and asylum policies. Far-right leaders blame "the refugee crisis" and "the asylum problem" for security breaches in the country.
In its annual report published Tuesday, the BfV estimated that in 2017 there were over 25,000 "Islamist followers" in the country, with more than 10,000 having links to Salafists.
The report warned that the risk of attacks by lone jihadists and those who returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq remained high in Germany.
"It still has to be expected that there will be members, supporters and sympathizers of extremist and terrorist organizations covertly entering Germany among the migrants," the report concluded.
The agency's investigation found that violence committed by extremists in various politically motivated areas in Germany had declined, but the number of potential extremists had gone up.