BERLIN — The authorities in the eastern German city of Dresden said Wednesday that they had seized weapons after searching the homes of a group of vaccine opponents who they said planned to kill the Saxony state governor over his support for coronavirus measures.
Five men and one woman, between the ages of 32 and 64, are being investigated, the prosecutor’s office in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, confirmed on Wednesday. The authorities said the group communicated their plans to kill the state governor, Michael Kretschmer, over the Telegram messenger service. A public broadcaster first reported on the alleged plot last week.
The allegations come as anti-vaccination activists and those protesting Covid restrictions have become more emboldened. In recent weeks tens of thousands have marched on nightly “walks” all over Germany. Often supported by neo-Nazis, protesters have attacked police and journalists. A group of torch-bearing demonstrators first gathered in front of the house of the Saxony state health minister earlier this month. Since then several other gatherings in front of the homes of politicians have been stopped by the police.
In August, a 49-year-old man shot a gas station clerk dead after he had asked him to wear a mask in southwest Germany. For months, intelligence services have been warning of the slow radicalization of movements opposing Covid restrictions.
“We will not put up with a tiny minority of uninhibited extremists trying to impose their will on our entire society,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the Bundestag in his first official speech to lawmakers on Wednesday.
The newly sworn-in justice minister has promised to go after online disinformation spread on Telegram, the social media service where a lot of these impromptu, unregistered demonstrations are organized.
“What is circulated on Telegram is not only disgusting and indecent, but in many cases it is also criminal,” the minister, Marco Buschmann, said recently on TV.
Among the weapons found during the raids on Wednesday were a gun and several crossbows, officials said. The suspects met on a group chat called “Dresden offline networking,” where they shared content critical of vaccinations and lockdown measures that German states have been using to try to stop the spread of the virus, the officials said. Some members of the group, which last numbered about a hundred last week, met in person to discuss the plans, the state’s attorney believes.
The group’s administrator bragged in audio broadcast on the chat about weapons — including crossbows — he owned, the broadcast report revealed.
Nancy Faeser, Germany’s interior minister, tweeted about the group’s “fantasies of violence.” But the public attorney is looking into the group for a “serious act of state-endangering violence.” An investigation that, if it leads to an indictment and a conviction, could carry prison sentences of 10 years.
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Mr. Kretschmer has been backing strict rules, as Saxony has the lowest vaccination rate among German states, and is among those with the most infections.
Driven in part by online disinformation, rhetoric from the populist Alternative for Germany party, and distrust in a state that more than three decades ago was part of Communist East Germany, only 62 percent of Saxons are fully vaccinated, nearly 8 percent under the national average.
On Tuesday, Saxony registered 7,170 new cases, meaning that 824 people per 100,000 population were infected in a week, about five times as many as get infected in the Northern State of Schleswig-Holstein, where vaccinations have been much more readily accepted.