Just a week into the job, new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz finds himself confronting an increasingly radical anti-vaccination movement that, according to police, has plotted to murder elected officials and is actively threatening others.
Authorities arrested six suspects and raided several properties in Dresden on Wednesday morning after uncovering plans to murder Michael Kretschmer, the pro-vaccine governor of Saxony, police in the state said. The six people were questioned and later released.
Politicians and media outlets in recent days have also reportedly received packages containing raw meat and threats from alleged anti-vaxxers, Berlin police spokeswoman Heidi Vogt said. The letters inside the parcels contained messages saying the meat inside was toxic and that more such shipments will follow if mandatory vaccinations are implemented in Germany. The meat was found to be safe, Vogt said.
Scholz, who took office on December 8, used his first declaration to parliament to castigate the actions of a “tiny minority of unhinged extremists.”
“We will counter this tiny minority of people filled with hate, that attacks all of us with torch-bearing marches, violence and murder threats, with all the tools of our democratic state based on rule of law. Our democracy is a combative democracy,” Scholz said, drawing applause from a chorus of lawmakers.
Scholz recently said he is in favor of mandatory vaccinations in Germany and wants a law drafted that could be voted on by the parliament in late February.
Vaccinations will already become mandatory from March 16 for people working in hospitals, nursing homes and other medical practices.
Protests against restrictions on the unvaccinated and plans to make jabs compulsory for some groups in Germany have recently become more violent, with increased attacks on doctors, politicians and journalists, Reuters reports.
Scholz said while Germany welcomes a robust debate on the government’s response to Covid-19, political disagreements should be viewed as distinct from “the denial of reality, absurd conspiracy theories, wanton disinformation and violent extremism.”
“To state it clearly: A small extremist minority has not only turned its back on science, rationality, and common sense, but also on our society, our democracy and our community,” Scholz said.
A murder plot uncovered
Authorities began their probe into the Telegram group after German investigative TV magazine ZDF Frontal 21 first reported on the alleged assassination plot last Tuesday.
The unnamed suspects are all German nationals, including five men aged 32, 34, 42, 45, and 64, and one 34-year-old woman, according to police. Evidence obtained during the ongoing investigation has so far revealed several crossbows and other weapons.
Saxony’s governor, Michael Kretschmer, condemned the alleged plot on his official Twitter account. “Now is the hour to act. Our democracy must be defended,” Kretschmer said. “Groups on Telegram that spread disunity and demagoguery must be shown their limits.”
Kretschmer has been vocal in his support of the country’s vaccination drive, and on Tuesday tweeted encouraging people to get their booster shots.
“We need a federally unified strategy against Omicron. We will expand booster shots and the vaccination of children,” he said.
Saxony, which has the second highest rate of new coronavirus cases in Germany and the lowest vaccination rate, has seen protests by opponents of coronavirus restrictions in recent weeks, according to Reuters.
Nationally, Germany has struggled to rein in yet another wave of Covid-19 cases, and officials are concerned about the spread of the Omicron variant as families prepare to gather for Christmas. Omicron is thought to be more infectious than previous strains, but research is still limited on exactly how likely it is to cause severe disease.
Former Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on December 2 that unvaccinated people would be banned from accessing all but the most essential businesses, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Germany last week recorded its highest number of daily deaths from Covid-19 since February, and many hospitals are struggling to cope with the increasing number of intensive care patients. German medics have warned that intensive care occupancy could soon exceed that seen during last winter’s peak.
CNN’s Chris Stern contributed to this report