The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The leader of Germany’s anti-immigrant movement has become a migrant himself

Lutz Bachmann, left, co-founder of Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, is checked by security staff at a district court in Dresden, Germany, on April 19. (Jens Schlueter/European Pressphoto Agency)
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Lutz Bachmann has frequently been criticized for not sticking to his own principles.

He's a convicted criminal. But one of his main messages as leader of Germany's anti-immigration movement Pegida — the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West — is to deport criminal foreigners as part of a "zero-tolerance policy." Bachmann's criminal record includes theft, physical assault, drug dealing and burglary — something he rarely discussed publicly.

Now, the face of Germany's anti-immigration movement has become a migrant himself. Saying that he has faced "persecution" in Germany, Bachmann now spends most of his time in Tenerife in the Canary Islands off the West African coast.

Bachmann had previously described refugees as "junk," "animals" and "filth" on Facebook, and once photographed himself with an Adolf Hitler mustache, publicly ridiculing refugees fleeing repression and war. Such rhetoric turned Bachmann into one of the leaders of Germany's right-wing political scene.

Although he avoided describing himself as a "migrant," Bachmann explained in a Facebook video that he had lived and worked on the Spanish island for several months. He cited several alleged break-in attempts at his house in the eastern German city of Dresden as one of the reasons he and his wife left.

Bachmann is hardly the only anti-immigration advocate who has recently embraced the idea of migration. Germany's ZDF television recently reported that a growing number of Germans opposed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's pro-refugee policies had moved to Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán built a border fence last year.

Hungary-based real estate agent Ottmar Heyde said 80 percent of his customers now said they wanted to move to the country to escape Merkel's migrant-friendly government. "They say that they are fed up and that it gets worse and worse in Germany," Heyde told ZDF.

In Dresden, the anti-immigration movement Pegida continues to attract hundreds of people to its weekly protest marches. The right-wing Alternative für Deutschland party — which operates independently from Pegida — is now considered one of the three most popular parties in the country, and has made gains in recent regional state elections.

German authorities, however, have recently cracked down on radical parts of the right-wing movement. Earlier this year, Bachmann was found guilty for "inciting the people" — a criminal offense that dates back to fears that populists and neo-Nazis could regain power following World War II.

Shortly afterward, he moved to Tenerife.

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