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Fascism Masked? A Different Kind Of Far Right Movement In Germany

The IB group says they just want to preserve their country's identity. But officials warn they are using "camouflage tactics" to hide their real proto-fascist intentions.

IB protesters in Geretsried, Bavaria, on March 12
IB protesters in Geretsried, Bavaria, on March 12
Christian Böhm

SIMBACH — This small German town looked like a war zone. Streets were torn open, houses abandoned, containers stuffed. Torrential rain had completely destroyed this corner of western Germany. Images of the destruction went around the world. But since German officials hadn't yet provided proper support, members of the so-called "Identitarian Movement," which goes by the German acronym IB, quickly put together a team of 30 young people who helped clean up.

Soon there were pictures of it on the Internet. The video was clicked on more than 13,000 times on Facebook. A father reported how the wave hit them, how he had tried to save his belongings and get his children out of harm's way. IB members shovel mud and clear away rubbish. The message is clear: They're not afraid to get their hands dirty.

"The community grows together, and you do something useful," says the Bavarian head of IB, Sebastien Zeilinger. "After all, we're doing this for our home country, our people."

So far, so good? There's nothing wrong in doing good deeds and talking about it. But Identitarians, as the movement's members call themselves, don't just carry dirt away, they put it somewhere else. Like in front of the Munich headquarters of the Green Party.

The group's most striking operation took place in Vienna, Austria. When refugees got on stage during a play written by Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinke, the group stormed the theater and spilt fake blood. It may sound like a prank, but it drew the attention of politicians and authorities.

"The Identitarian Movement has right-wing extremists," said Miriam Heigl, a member of an anti-racism and pro-democracy organization at Munich's City Hall.

Heigl is watching the group's growing popularity with concern. The idea behind the group is clear: Germany for the Germans. Italy for the Italians. Syria for the Syrians.

Members of IB say they love their culture and want to preserve their country's identity. They deny leaning toward extremism and fascism. But officials say that's not the case, and that the group instead uses "camouflage tactics" to hide their real intentions.

"The Identitarian Movement clearly opposes the free and democratic order," said Markus Schäfert from the Bavarian state office for the protection of the constitution. "Bottom line, we're dealing with a whole new form of racism."

They consider it their duty to protect European culture.

Identitarians often cite pioneers of the conservative movement like Oswald Spengler or Ernst Jünger as inspiration. "Their image is less antiquated than those who proudly hang up swastikas and Hitler portraits in their living rooms," says Schäfert. Instead, their members are young, educated and connected.

The group is active in countries neighboring Germany, particularly Austria. "They instill fear against foreigners, refugees, and especially Muslims," said Katharina Schulze, a representative of Parliament in Munich.

Schulze, a Green Party politician, believes it's a good idea that the Bavarian state office for the protection of the constitution is investigating IB. But she's critical that the government didn't react sooner. Schulze believes the German political agenda experienced a right-wing drift.

IB is now grouping together with other right-wing extremist groups like Pegida and AfD. Schulze said that AfD, Pegida and IB are all like construction sites that together are building one huge house.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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