Michael Ballweg is the founder of Querdenken ("Lateral Thinking"), the far-right initiative behind the latest Corona denier mass demonstrations in Germany, aiming at building up a mass movement across political camps against the Merkel-led government. The IT entrepreneur Ballweg flirts with the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, and has been promoted on far-right platforms, such as Tichys Einblick1 and Compact magazine.2 According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung3:
During the demonstrations he organized, the Stuttgart-based Ballweg initially presented himself as an advocate of basic rights, but also polemicized against the wearing of masks and an allegedly coercive vaccination plan. In the meantime he has also expressed sympathy for the conspiracy group QAnon, which is particularly well-known in the USA.
Under the pretense of freedom of expression, Ballweg's Querdenken initiative aimed from the beginning at the core of Germany's democracy, its Basic Law, as evident from a manifesto4 :
We are non-partisan and exclude no opinion ... To that end, after the restoration of the Basic Law, all democratic means will once again be available.
That Ballweg's claims of having distanced himself from far-right circles are nothing but hot air, is evident from his immediate surroundings.
A close associate of Ballweg and Querdenken press spokesman, Stephan Bergmann, has a track record of hardcore racist statements according to the Tagesspiegel, although in the meantime he has gotten rid of the most revealing of his social media posts5:
Stephan Bergmann repeatedly posted content in which he warns of a "mixing of the races." In one instance he warns against the breeding of a "light brown race in Europe." By genetic intermixing the intelligence quotient of the white population would go down. In order to understand the "great connections of world events," Bergmann also recommended a video describing how the German people are supposed to be systematically wiped out by the import of "tribal warriors from Africa" and "masses of Muslims."
According to Tagesspiegel research, the founder of the "Association for Indian Ways of Life" (Verein für indianische Lebensweisen) had also shared posts that could be attributed to the Reich Citizen movement, since he spoke of the Basic Law as "occupation law."5
The holocaust denier Nikolai Nerling on the main Querdenken stage, together with key organizers of the Corona denier mass demonstration in Berlin on August 29, 2020, including Stephan Bergmann (right).
According to an article in the weekly Zeit, Ballweg receives legal advice from4:
... Ralf Ludwig, who is working with him at the helm of Querdenken. Ludwig worked in Leipzig as a lawyer for parents who want to sue for daycare places. Together with the doctor Bodo Schiffmann and the psychology student Victoria Hamm, he had founded the meaningless party Widerstand 2020. While Ballweg takes care of the entrepreneurial side of things, Ludwig covers the legal side - among other things, he contests rulings regarding demonstrations that have been banned by the authorities.
The word Querdenken consists of quer, meaning "lateral" or "diagonal" in German, as well as denken, i.e. "thinking." While on the surface evoking a kind of "inclusive way of thinking," the term serves rather as a badly veiled synonym for the word "Querfront": i.e. the cooperation of right and (ostensibly) left forces or the mixing of right and (ostensibly) left positions (Third Positionism) in order to establish cross-camp action alliances opposed to existing political positions (mostly the political center). The Nazis (national socialists) initially pretended to combine the opposing ideologies of nationalism and socialism to lure workers sympathetic to socialism into the Nazi party, ultimately to gain political power.
No less treacherous and opportunistic seem the endeavors of the Querdenken organizers, who are obviously ruthless enough to pretend that Querdenken is an apolitical anti-establishment umbrella initiative, while it is clearly a far-right project. This enables them to instrumentalize gullible and confused forces that do not identify themselves with the right or far right, but rather consider themselves centrists or left-wingers.
Ballweg has appeared together with notorious Querfront agitators, such as Ken Jebsen during a Querdenken demonstration on May 9, 2020, in Stuttgart, Ballweg's hometown.6
Crossfront agitator Ken Jebsen together with Querdenken initiator Michael Ballweg on May 9, 2020, in Stuttgart.
The Querdenken initiative has been organized along the lines of the Gilets Jaunes ("Yellow Vests") movement in France: numbered regional "cells" with their own social media presence, and ostensibly no centralized organization or team.7 The Gilets Jaunes movement looked on the surface like having spontaneously emerged after an upped gasoline tax, but in fact was just an extension of a cross-front attack on the political center represented by President Emmanuel Macron, with the French far right wholeheartedly embracing the movement.8
Analogously, Querdenken is a continuation of the "Merkel has to go" (Merkel muss weg) trope that unifies a heterogenous right and a gullible center/left for an attack against the political center. The August 2020 demonstration in Berlin was organized by the cell "Querdenken711," managed by Ballweg.9 The uniform Querdenken logo, which for the purpose of maximum inclusion does not bear any symbols or colors, shows that the various local groups are working in a coordinated way.
Querdenken accounts on Twitter
Gilets Jaunes groups on Facebook, numbered according to the associated districts.
Querdenken711 organized a mass demonstration on August 29, 2020, in Berlin, which made international headlines, since among the participants were hardcore neo-Nazis, Reich Citizens (Reichsbürger), Identitarians, anti-vaxxers, adherents to the QAnon conspiracy theory, and other proponents lured into the "crossfront" under an anti-scientific and conspiracist umbrella, who attempted to "storm" the Reichstag building, housing Germany's parliament. In the course of the August 29 demonstration 33 policemen were injured, over 130 criminal complaints were filed and 316 people were detained.10
Michael Ballweg spoke to tens of thousands at the August 29, 2020, Querdenken demonstration.
That day, the QAnon-affine Ballweg spoke to tens of thousands of demonstrators. In his speech, he called on people to all come to Berlin and work on a new constitution.10
In the aftermath of the August 29, 2020, Querdenken mass demonstration in Berlin, on September 2, 2020,11 Ballweg can be seen on pictures with a notorious far-right figure: the völkisch and antisemitic video blogger and repeatedly convicted holocaust denier Nikolai Nerling.
Michael Ballweg with Nikolai Nerling in the course of the August 2020 Corona demonstration.
Nerling had appeared already one day before the main demonstration started, on August 28, 2020, in front of the Reichstag building. As can be seen on the picture below, he gave a völkisch dance interlude there in traditional garb, wearing Thor's hammer around his neck, a symbol popular among German neopaganist neo-Nazis.12
Antisemitic People's Teacher Nikolai Nerling with Thor's hammer around the neck.
Michael Ballweg also questions things: I once met him, we had a nice BBQ together, and I promised him that I would talk to absolutely no one about this. Whatever. What should you care about my yesterday's prattle. At any rate, Michael had asked me a whole lot of questions. Also about Germany's history he had asked questions. ... We really have to thank Michael for the six million people that are right now on the streets here in Berlin. They have come here because there is Querdenken.
Six million being of course an allusion to the six million victims of the holocaust that he denies. Nerling was also among those neo-Nazis who "stormed" the Reichstag on August 29, 2020.14
According to an article in the weekly Zeit4:
In mid-November , Ballweg and several supporters met with Peter Fitzek, a Reich citizen with a criminal record, in Saalfeld, Thuringia, for a strategy meeting. Fitzek runs his "Kingdom of Germany" under the name Peter I. The outfit, founded in 2012, denies the state legitimacy of the Federal Republic. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution [Germany's domestic intelligence service] cites this meeting as one of the reasons for its [Querdenken-711's] observation.
In December 2020, Germany's domestic intelligence service in the state of Baden-Württemberg decided to surveil Ballweg's Querdenken-711 group because of its ties to "racists, conspirators and 'Reich Citizens' (Reichsbürger)," as per aforementioned Zeit article4:
According to [Thomas] Strobl [State Minister of the Interior of Baden-Württemberg], the authority is concentrating on ten to 20 Querdenken organizers who cooperate with Reich citizens and right-wing extremists who seek to overthrow the government.
- 1. Alexander Wallasch, "Querdenken-Gründer Michael Ballweg will zur Not vors Bundesverfassungsgericht," Tichys Einblick, August 28, 2020, https://www.tichyseinblick.de/kolumnen/alexander-wallasch-heute/ballweg-interview/.
- 2. "Compact-Magazin - Ausgabe September 2020," Kopp-Verlag, https://www.kopp-verlag.at/a/compact-magazin-ausgabe-september-2020.
- 3. Claudio Henzler, "Michael Ballweg: Der selbsternannte Querdenker agitiert gegen Auflagen wegen Corona," Süddeutsche Zeitung, August 27, 2020, https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/profil-michael-ballweg-1.5012098.
- 4. a. b. c. d. Tilman Steffen and Nicolas Wildschutz, "Querdenken und Verfassungsschutz: Wenn das Denken zu quer verläuft," Zeit, December 29, 2020, https://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2020-12/verfassungsschutz-querdenken-711-baden-wuerttemberg-verschwoerungstheorien-rechtsextremismus.
- 5. a. b. "Der Hass, den Stephan Bergmann im Netz verbreitete," Der Tagesspiegel, July 31, 2020, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/dokumentation-der-hass-den-stephan-bergmann-im-netz-verbreitete/26054768.html.
- 6. Gesa von Leesen, "Querdenken an der Frontlinie," Kontext Wochenzeitung, May 13, 2020, https://www.kontextwochenzeitung.de/gesellschaft/476/querdenken-an-der-frontlinie-6733.html.
- 7. Ryan Broderick and Jules Darmanin, “The ‘Yellow Vest’ Riots In France Are What Happens When Facebook Gets Involved With Local News,” BuzzFeed News, December 6, 2018, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/amphtml/ryanhatesthis/france-paris-yellow-jackets-facebook.
- 8. Adrien Sénécat, “Derrière la percée des « gilets jaunes », des réseaux pas si « spontanés » et « apolitiques »,” Le Monde, April 17, 2019, https://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2019/04/17/derriere-la-percee-des-gilets-jaunes-des-reseaux-pas-si-spontanes-et-apolitiques_5451242_4355770.html.
- 9. "Impressum," Querdenken 711 - Stuttgart, https://querdenken-711.de/impressum-%2F-kontakt.
- 10. a. b. "Ohne rechten Abstand Die Corona-Demo in Berlin," Frontal21, ZDF, September 1, 2020, https://www.zdf.de/politik/frontal-21/corona-demo-in-berlin-102.html.
- 11. Twitter post by Björn Kietzmann, September 3, 2020, https://twitter.com/bjokie/status/1301309201260711938.
- 12. "Hygienedemos in Berlin: So ein Volk," Panorama, Der Spiegel, September 1, 2020, https://www.spiegel.de/panorama/spiegel-tv-ueber-hygiene-demos-in-berlin-was-fuer-ein-volk-a-e1c7c825-4deb-4982-8c25-67eb920812b0.
- 13. "'Querdenken' mit Nazis: Wirrköpfe unter sich," Der Spiegel on YouTube, September 7, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMC_yOgCPIo.
- 14. Twitter post by @DIEWELLE7, August 29, 2020, https://twitter.com/DIEWELLE7/status/1299776953604599808.