- The leader of Germany’s largest anti-lockdown movement, “Querdenken-711”, has called on his supporters to stop demonstrating until spring.
- Michael Ballweg’s announcement comes after German media reported that he was sharing the profits from the Querdenken merchandise and had directed donations to his personal bank account.
- Ballweg has never registered the group as an association, company or foundation and is exempt from issuing invoices for donations.
- Querdenken 711 has gained international media attention after it organized some of Europe’s biggest anti-lockout protests, which some experts say have been infiltrated by far-right extremists.
- Ballweg’s slogan for the group is, “Where we go one, we all go”, taken directly from the QAnon conspiracy theory.
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The leader of the German anti-lockdown movement called on his supporters to suspend his protests until spring. The decision coincides with press reports that question the group’s finances.
Michael Ballweg, the founder of the so-called Querdenken-711 or “later” group, said in a Telegram video message over the Christmas period that he would “stop the large-scale protests in Querdenken indefinitely,” adding that ‘he recommends the group’s branches do the same, according to Der Spiegel.
The 46-year-old Stuttgart-based software entrepreneur didn’t give a specific reason the group was taking a hiatus.
The announcement came days after German media separately reported that Ballweg was making a profit from the Querdenken merchandise, charging people for appearances with him and asking supporters to donate what was said to be the bank account. movement, even if it was his own.
‘Where we go one, we all go’
In recent months, Querdenken-711 has sparked a series of large-scale protests against COVID-19 restrictions in Germany. At one point, protesters attempted to storm the Reichstag – the country’s parliament in Berlin.
The group was put on the watch list of national intelligence agencies earlier this month after experts feared it was being infiltrated by far-right extremists and radicals, including neo-Nazis.
One of Ballweg’s slogan for the group is, “Where we go one, we all go,” a phrase taken directly from QAnon’s conspiracy theory.
In interviews, Ballweg has refused to condemn racism and fascism, instead describing Querdenken as a leadershipless “democratic movement” “open to everyone,” according to German broadcaster RBB.
‘The money goes to Stuttgart’
Despite his previous comments, a recent investigation by Netzpolitik and ZDF Magazin Royale revealed that Ballweg was at the center of the movement.
According to the report, Ballweg receives 6 to 12% of every sale of merchandise on the movement’s official website. The most expensive item on the site is a “Querdenken” jacket that sells for € 69.90 (around $ 80).
When a local branch of the movement was asked if they received a share of the website’s proceeds, one woman said, “We don’t get anything out of it. The money goes to Stuttgart. We’re supposed to do it that way. ”, According to Netzpolitik and ZDF. Other local groups have reported similar things.
Ballweg also asked supporters to donate to the movement, but the bank account attached to the site is personal.
Under German tax laws, people can accept private financial gifts that do not exceed € 19,999 ($ 24,448) over 10 years. Ballweg never registered the group as an association, company or foundation, and was therefore exempt from issuing invoices.Ballweg also commissioned people to appear with him on stage. This was the case with German television producer Thomas Hornauer, who allegedly paid the founder of Querdenken up to € 20,000 ($ 24,449) to make multiple appearances with him at rallies, according to the investigation.
“In Germany you have to spend a lot of money to bring thousands of people together,” Hornauer told Netzpolitik and ZDF.
The two men also signed a contract which gives Hornauer the right to use images and sound recordings from Ballweg and “Querdenken-711”.
Insider reached out to Ballweg for comment but did not receive a response in time for the post.
What is “Querdenken-711”?
Ballweg founded the “Querdenken 711” group in mid-2020 in response to Germany’s first lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Its name loosely translates to ‘think outside the box’, while the number 711 stands for the telephone code for Stuttgart, the town of Ballweg.
The movement even received American backing, after Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent anti-vaxxer and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, spoke alongside Ballweg during the one of their biggest gatherings in Berlin in August.
Earlier this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the country would extend its national lockdown by one month, which has been in place since early December.
Like other European countries, Germany has seen an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths during the current winter period.
According to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University, the country has reported more than 1.9 million cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and just over 40,000 deaths.