Tuesday, October 20, 2015

German anti-migrant protest: 'We don't want to be strangers in our own country'

Dresden, Germany (CNN) — Every Monday evening in Dresden, thousands gather in front of the city's Opera House. They carry German flags and sing nationalist songs with one goal: to stop refugees and migrants from coming to Germany.

Thomas is one of them and this Monday he held a placard with a photoshopped picture of Chancellor Angela Merkel dressed in a Muslim headscarf.

He didn't want to give his last name but he told CNN he fears Germany's traditions are being eroded by Muslim migrants.

"Every Monday night we come to gather peacefully. We are not Nazis. We don't want to be labeled as Nazis and we don't want to painted into the right-wing corner. We just don't want to become strangers in our own country."

The Dresden protests started almost exactly one year ago when Lutz Bachmann, a former professional footballer with a criminal record for burglary and assault, posted a Facebook rant against Turkish immigrants in Germany. That became the basis of PEGIDA or "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West." What started as a small protest of a few hundred has grown into a weekly protest that now consistently draws thousands every Monday.

The first few PEGIDA demonstrations last year drew massive counter-rallies that far out-numbered the anti-immigration crowds. At the time, PEGIDA's founder -- Bachmann -- was dismissed as a far-right extremist. He was briefly forced to resign as the head of Pegida after a photo of himself posing as Hitler surfaced along with details of an online chat in which he referred to refugees as "animals." He resumed his post a month later.