German mainstream politicians have mostly watched helplessly. But right-wing movements have faced a different obstacle more recently: the country's justice apparatus.
On Tuesday, Lutz Bachmann, the co-founder of Pegida (which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), went on trial for allegedly "inciting the people" — a criminal offense that dates back to fears that populists and neo-Nazis could regain power following World War II. German prosecutors are also currently considering the prohibition of the far-right National Democratic Party, which has been accused of neo-Nazi ties.
A series of other prominent members of the German far-right movement have also recently faced the scrutiny of German prosecutors: This week, special police forces arrested a far-right gang in eastern Germany on charges of setting refugee homes on fire. The five members are accused of terrorism — an unusually harsh decision, because arsonists are usually treated as political criminals, rather than as terrorists.
When the trial against Pegida leader Bachmann started on Tuesday, German authorities also wanted to avoid any allegations of going soft on the suspect. Security measures were increased ahead of the long-awaited court proceeding.
Bachmann has established himself as one of the leaders of Germany's right-wing political scene, which consists of multiple groups and parties that are not officially connected to each other. Charging him will likely fuel hatred among his supporters against the German state, particularly because Pegida's supporters have frequently criticized German authorities and the mainstream media for what they say is censorship and harassment.
Journalists have been verbally and physically assaulted while covering Pegida marches in recent months. Following a series of such incidents, many German broadcasters now require their staff to be accompanied by security personnel while covering the demonstrations.
The trial against the movement's leader was interrupted several times on Tuesday: Pegida sympathizers had gained access to the courtroom as observers. In front of the court building, dozens of protesters demanded the charges to be dropped. According to Germany's DPA news agency, one of the posters that were held up in front of the court building read: "Merkel must face trial."
Such slogans reflect the tense atmosphere that has accompanied anti-immigration and anti-Merkel marches. Both Merkel and German President Joachim Gauck have been called "traitors of the people" during visits in the country's east — it is an insult that was primarily used by the Nazis to brand opponents ahead of and during World War II.
Bachmann himself has embraced such rhetoric: He allegedly called refugees "junk," "animals" and "filth" on Facebook, which is the reason he is currently standing trial. His lawyer denied those accusations, saying that his account had been hacked.
If found guilty, the Pegida leader faces five years in jail because he is not a first-time offender. Bachmann has spent time in prison for theft, physical assault, drug dealing and burglary. He initially resigned as Pegida leader when photographs of him emerged in which he had a Hitler mustache. After a short hiatus, the controversial right-wing leader resumed his old position within the Pegida movement.
Despite his own criminal past, Bachmann has repeatedly demanded a "zero tolerance" crime policy for foreigners or refugees living in Germany.
During his own trial, which will likely last until next month, Bachmann has so far remained silent.