The German anti-immigration group Pegida held its first rally after Friday’s terror attacks in Paris on Monday, drawing a record crowd as backlash grows against the government’s promise to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Middle East, Al Jazeera reported. Pegida, a German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, has been holding weekly demonstrations in Dresden for the past year that typically draw crowds of 10,000.
On Monday, an estimated 25,000 people showed up in support of the anti-refugee message that has only grown stronger since the Paris attacks. “Stop asylum fraudsters/cheaters. One refugee is too many. Go home! Not welcome! Deport!” read one of the signs held by protesters. “Islamic flooding of Germany is deadly/lethal,” read another.
Pegida’s membership largely consists of conservative, middle-class voters and unemployed workers, according to Al Jazeera. Many of the group's followers say refugees are coming to Germany to exploit the welfare system rather than flee war, and some have espoused conspiracy theories about “The New World Order” and American world domination. Supporters also carry Russian flags in support for President Vladimir Putin’s strong stance against purported U.S. imperialism.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas condemned Monday efforts to equate refugees with terrorists. “(There is) not a single proven connection between terrorism and the refugees except perhaps one: that the refugees are fleeing from the same people in Syria that are responsible for the attacks in Paris,” he told ARD public television. “No one should capitalize on these barbaric crimes to create hostility to refugees here in Germany.”
Pegida strongly opposes Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policies, and she in turn has denounced their activities and said they have embraced “prejudice, coldness and hatred.”