Conspiracy myths: false news for popular anger


Status: 04.11.2021 4:57 p.m.

The right-wing radical magazine “Compact” specifically docks with conspiracy myths. For editor-in-chief Elsässer they are a tried and tested means of bringing about a “fall of the regime” – even if he does not believe them himself.

By Silvio Duwe, Susett Kleine, Daniel Laufer, Markus Pohl, rbb

Petra Stark only has good things in mind when she walks through her neighborhood in Bautzen and distributes handwritten notes with messages against the vaccination. She truly believes she is helping people when she shouted into a megaphone at a demonstration in October. It’s about corona vaccinations, which she regards as a biological weapon, allegedly used purposefully by a Jewish banking family to decimate the world population – an anti-Semitic conspiracy narrative.

Petra Stark is committed to corona vaccinations, which she regards as a biological weapon.

Image: contrasts / rbb

The price that the early retiree pays for it is high. Her sons broke off contact and she is no longer allowed to see her grandchildren, but that has not led to any rethinking. “I have to accept that, my heart tells me that,” she says. “I have to do this and educate people.”

Petra Stark, for example, warns people in a panic about things she has read about: crude myths that spread on the Internet, often scattered by publications that are apparently covered in a journalistic guise. A network of so-called alternative media is using the corona pandemic to systematically stir up fear in people like Stark. This fear drives tens of thousands of people onto the streets.

“Overthrow of the regime”

The ARD politics magazine Contrasts Now one of the most influential actors in this scene is surprisingly open about the specific purpose that conspiracy myths serve for him. Jürgen Elsässer is editor-in-chief of the magazine “Compact”, which has once again gained in reach during the corona pandemic and which the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has now classified as a suspected right-wing extremist case.

Even before the pandemic, Elsässer spoke bluntly that his goal was the “overthrow of the regime” – that is, the democratically legitimized federal government. In the interview, however, he emphasizes that this overthrow should of course take place “democratically”. Elsässer’s “Compact” magazine warns of an alleged “Corona dictatorship” and sows doubts about vaccination.

Jürgen Elsässer

Bild: picture alliance/dpa

“Stories, fairy tales and allegories”

Month after month the magazine plays with ideological conspiracy motifs. A year ago Elsässer presented a big “Q” on the cover. In the interview, the editor-in-chief admits that he deliberately left it open whether it stands for “lateral thinking” or for QAnon, a story originating in the USA, according to which a satanic elite secretly assaults children. Although there is no evidence for them, right-wing radicals around the world used the QAnon myth as a justification for sometimes serious crimes, and the Hanau attacker also invoked similar motives.

Elsässer says that for him such conspiracy myths are not the truth, but rather “stories, fairy tales and allegories”, which are useful for achieving political and social changes. Conspiracy stories like QAnon are “the yeast from which a political resistance in the rational sense must first arise”. Although QAnon is “not the truth”, these are allegories that point to the truth. The editor-in-chief prefers to describe these as “mythical exaggerations”, which are necessary for the “further development of society” in his sense.


In its latest report, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution comes to the conclusion that the magazine presented itself as the “mouthpiece of the ‘resistance'” against the state measures in the wake of the pandemic. “Compact” combined this with fundamental attacks on democratic institutions and constitutional organs. In fact, the magazine’s cover motifs kept appearing on pandemic denial demonstrations. Leading figures in the scene such as the “lateral thinking” founder Michael Ballweg were interviewed by Elsässer.

In their rejection of the existing political system, actors like Elsässer and Ballweg are similar: The “lateral thinking” boss even planned a constituent assembly at a large rally in Berlin to replace the existing state structures.

Right-wing messages

The fact that “Compact” is apparently specifically seeking proximity to this milieu seems to be part of Elsässer’s strategy in order to gain attention for his right-wing radical messages. Basically, the hard core of the conspiracy believers is only a small minority, says the political scientist and psychologist Thomas Kliche in an interview with Contrasts. The pandemic is therefore an opportunity for them. “If people fall out of society due to the crisis, experience swooning, seek simple explanations, then conspiracy theories will gain massive popularity with every crisis.”

The thesis of Petra Stark from Bautzen, according to which the corona vaccination is a biological weapon to reduce the population, considers Elsässer to be unproven. “You should only spread such fear scenarios if you have very good evidence,” says the “Compact” editor-in-chief. However, a look at the cover story of the July issue of his magazine casts doubt on this apparent sense of responsibility. At that time, “Compact” speculated, not vaccination, but the coronavirus itself could be a “bioweapon for the Great Reset”. The magazine did not provide any evidence.

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