Defending democracy against the ‘Corona dictatorship’? Far-right PEGIDA during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Abstract

This article analyzes how a preexisting far-right social movement organization responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on the case of the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) in Germany. We show that PEGIDA quickly adapted its previous immigration-related collective action frame, now predominantly portraying itself as a defender of democracy, constitutionality, and civil rights, while accusing the German government of installing a ‘Corona dictatorship’. In addition to improving our understanding of the development of a key far-right social movement organization during the pandemic, our article contributes to the study of far-right ideology more broadly. Examining a critical case of far-right activism, our analysis of PEGIDA underscores the need to review the conventional scholarly distinction between radical and extreme right ideology based on formal pro- and anti-democracy stances. While claiming to espouse the idea of democracy, activists sharply attacked democratic institutions and their main representatives as ‘totalitarian’ or ‘dictatorial’–a key extremist feature of contemporary far-right discourse particularly visible during the pandemic. Indeed, PEGIDA’s discursive shift during the pandemic seems to be in line with broader developments of far-right ideology in the protest arena and in party politics, where formal support of democracy goes together with a rhetoric of delegitimization of contemporary democratic institutions and their representatives. Methodologically, we draw from original empirical data collected with the tools of (virtual) ethnography and protest event analysis that we analyze through a frame-analytical lens.

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Volk, S., & Weisskircher, M. (2023). Defending democracy against the ‘Corona dictatorship’? Far-right PEGIDA during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social Movement Studies. https://doi.org/10.1080/14742837.2023.2171385

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