cologne njemačka policija police germany.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MAJA HITIJ

The New Year's Eve Cologne attacks have given rise to new vigilante groups whose stated aim is to protect women, while at the same time rejecting the kind of xenophobic and racist sentiment common in existing organizations of this kind in Germany.

More than 13,000 have linked up to a Facebook group under the rubric "One for all, and all for one ... Dusseldorf looks after its own," which plans to walk through the western German city in groups during public events and at weekends.

Xenophobia and violence have no place in the group, organizer Tofigh Hamid says.

The federal government is keeping a watchful eye. An Interior Ministry spokesman said a situation where ordinary citizens took the law into their own hands would not be tolerated.

"That parallel structures are created, even if only selectively, must decisively be prevented," he said, while noting that most of these groups enjoyed only a brief existence.

A survey of Facebook pages reveals many groups similar to that founded by Hamid. Buergerwehr Deutschland (Vigilante Group Germany) is another that says it has nothing to do with the political right wing.

Nevertheless, statements on the page like, "Enough is enough. Germany is overextended. Close the borders," speak for themselves.

The German domestic intelligence services have long kept a wary eye on vigilante groups with a clearly right-wing political agenda, and there is no shortage of those.

Several groups in the formerly communist eastern states have drawn attention to themselves with attacks on migrants and inflammatory xenophobic statements.

"We've seen a new quality in all of this since 2015. Vigilante groups have sprung up all over the place," says Matthias Quent, a sociologist specializing in the right wing at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena in the eastern state of Thuringia.

The phenomenon is not confined to the east of the country. In October last year, right-wingers styling themselves "neighbourhood guards" paraded in front of a refugee accommodation centre in Schwanenwede in the western state of Lower Saxony.

But in many cases these groups are more about posturing than effective action.

Right-wingers in Dortmund presented themselves on the internet in yellow T-shirts with the legend "Dortmund City Protection Unit," but police did not record a single appearance on the streets of the western city.

And in Dusseldorf, it was more a case of virtual vigilantism: Of the 13,000 on Facebook, around 50 turned up to do their version of the Night Watch, but only after signing a code of conduct that rejected right-wing ideology and acknowledged that the responsibility for maintaining law and order lay with the police.

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