The new head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency said he plans a significant expansion next year of the department that monitors far-right extremists. Thomas Haldenwang told Friday's edition of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily that he wants a 50 percent increase in the department's size next year. He wouldn't give staff figures, saying they are secret.
Haldenwang said that "there has been a new dynamic in right-wing extremism for some time." He added that it is no longer always the case that "normal demonstrators" keep their distance from extremists.
Haldenwang took over the BfV agency when predecessor Hans-Georg Maassen was removed after appearing to downplay far-right violence against migrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz.
He wouldn't comment on the events surrounding Maassen's departure, but said the events in Chemnitz were a good illustration of developments in right-wing extremism — not just in Germany's formerly communist and less prosperous east.
He said the BfV believes there are 24,000 far-right extremists in Germany, a number that is rising, and more than half are "violence-oriented." Haldenwang was tightlipped on the agency's assessment of the anti-migration Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which entered the national parliament last year and now has seats in all 16 German state legislatures. Asked whether that has boosted far-right extremism, he replied that "in any case, it doesn't seem to be detrimental."
The BfV is considering whether to put the party under observation. Political opponents argue that recent protests point to an increasing blurring of boundaries between the party and the extreme right neo-Nazi scene.
German authorities are increasingly concerned over growing right-wing terrorism in the country. Lately, far-right groups have drawn up several "enemy lists" containing names and addresses of more than 25,000 people, a parliamentary inquiry revealed in July. The Interior Ministry said the lists were found in various police investigations and operations against far-right groups in the last seven years. Since 2016, Germany has conducted an increasing number of nationwide raids targeting right-wing groups, including houses, apartments and other properties believed to be owned by members of such groups, targeting the so-called "Reich citizens' movement," known as the Reichsbürgers.