The anti-Muslim group PEGIDA has brought thousands of people to the streets of Germany — now one man is trying to spread the group's message in the UK.
Following the massacre at the satirical newspaper, firebombs, gunfire, pig heads, and grenades were used in attacks on 26 mosques in Paris. Right-wing politicians across Europe began using the Charlie Hebdo murders to support their anti-immigration stances, and outbreaks of anti-Islamic violence began springing up in countries such as Denmark, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland.
The German group PEGIDA – Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West – has been behind much of the unrest. It first formed in October, but rocketed into the public eye after the Paris attacks, drawing thousands of people to weekly demonstrations in Dresden against the "Islamisation of Europe" – one drew 25,000 people. Despite the movement's claims to be non-racist and nonviolent, anti-racism protesters have been demonstrating against it in large numbers.
Now PEGIDA, which has been growing in popularity across Europe, has a UK presence.
BuzzFeed News spoke to David, the man who began PEGIDA's operations in the UK.
David (who refused to give his last name for anonymity reasons) is of German-Swiss heritage and is currently coordinating PEGIDA UK's efforts while traveling between Germany and England.
The PEGIDA group in the UK, he said, is led by 30–40 people, mostly middle-aged, who he met online during his time as an "internet warrior". He said the members would describe themselves as "normal working-class people", and mentioned he'd been in touch with UKIP supporters – but not UKIP leaders.
"The group in the UK has been built from scratch – there are so many people who want in on this," David said. "I want to build a whole new team with experience of politics, but not with those on the far right or with people with extreme views, which is difficult. I want people with the strength or balls to get a movement going on the streets."
But the group's goal is clear: It wants "ordinary" people to join its mission against "radical Islam".
"More and more people are coming out to talk, a lot of very ordinary people – people that are not politically active, some of them haven't even voted," David said. "We are not after the extreme right-wing groups: What we want is to put pressure on the government to be much harder against radical Islam, terror cells – which are growing – and the Islamification of this country."
David believes that if he hadn't set PEGIDA up in the UK, "it would have started anyway" because a lot of people were eager to set up PEGIDA on UK soil. But has PEGIDA UK grown since its inception a few weeks ago?
"It grows every day. We get flooded with emails every day. A lot of people feel this is something they can be a part of – they want a peaceful quiet protest to keep Christian values and morals in Europe."
On 4 January, PEGIDA's first UK Facebook page was set up; 18 days later, it has over 10,000 "likes". Meanwhile, the main Pegida Facebook page has over 150,000 "likes" – and these numbers are increasing day by day.
Earlier this month, the UK strand was welcomed by the official PEGIDA Europe Facebook group.
David said PEGIDA aims to "get rid of radical terrorist in Europe" but stressed that the group is nonviolent.
"We'd never scream at anybody, we do not hate anybody, we are normal, hard-working citizens. We do not hate Muslims."
But doesn't the group say it's anti-Islam?
"Well, there are a billion Muslims in the world – some even live more 'American' than we do – but we are against the people who want to bring Islam and Sharia law into Europe, the radicals," David said. "We are against Western thinking and Christianity being pushed aside."
Although he said he was not a strong believer in Christianity himself, David did claim to have studied it. When asked why the group specifically targeted Muslims and not extremists in other religions, he was dismissive.
"Of course we are against religious extremism, but right now we feel the problem comes from Islam. I personally do not feel Christianity is a threat. Of course, if Christians turned to terrorism, then we would be against that as well. But I do not see it as a problem. We have to choose one battle at a time."
David believes PEGIDA UK is popular because it says what other British political parties do not about immigration.
Following the Paris attacks, UK prime minister David Cameron came under fire for writing a letter urging British Muslim leaders to explain and demonstrate "how faith in Islam can be part of British identity". Meanwhile, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was quick to use the moment to criticise Britain's "gross policy of multiculturalism".
David said this was not enough. "A lot of politicians are maybe saying the same thing as we do – but they talk and talk and nothing happens. This group is a way to show the government that we mean business."
Despite proclamations that the group does not tolerate racism, PEGIDA's leader, Lutz Bachmann, recently resigned after a series of racist posts were found on his Facebook page.
Bachmann was seen posing as Hitler in a photo uploaded to Facebook, and also posted a photograph on Facebook of a Klu Klux Klan member with the caption: "Three Ks a day keeps minorities away." Police are investigating after Bachmann subsequently claimed to have received death threats.
David said Bachmann's racist comments were "extremely disappointing." He said Bachmann stepped down because the group is "not about one person" and members didn't want their leader's personal views to affect the group.
PEGIDA has faced strong criticism from anti-racism groups. When asked about anti-Muslim attacks, David said: "Nobody should be attacked, regardless of their religion or what they think. A normal citizen should never be attacked just because they're from a different background. We are against that, but many of the far-right supporters are not."
PEGIDA UK protests are due to take place in the next two to three weeks in Manchester and Newcastle, but details have yet to be confirmed.
The group say they want to ensure violence does not take place at the protests and that they're not overrun by far-right supporters, and has requested that supporters only bring UK national flags.
David is hoping for around 1,000–2,000 attendees for both protests. "We started with only several hundred people in Germany," he said. "But within a few months there were several thousand."