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German anti-immigration group leader goes too far with Hitler selfie

Leader of an anti-immigration group posted a photo of himself as Adolf Hitler and was quickly forced to resign. In light of recent events at Charlie Hebdo, it is interesting to see what is acceptable in Western media and what is not.

Hitler selfies are not a good way to gain mass support
The New York Times reported that the leader of an anti-immigration group in Germany that has tens of thousands of supporters recently stepped down after it was discovered that his Facebook
account had a picture of him dressed as Adolf Hitler. The leader of the movement, Lutz Bachmann has denied Nazi sympathies, but politicians in Germany called for him to step down, especially since any type of Nazi propaganda or imagery is strictly banned in Germany – given the country's troubled past.

In his photo Bachmann had his hair combed to one side and a wore mustache that closely resembled Hitler's. The photo was found on his Facebook page and was featured in a mass-circulation newspaper. From there it went viral on social media sites.

The photo also drew lots of attention to Bachmann's group – Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or German acronym Pegida. Amidst the controversy with their leader, Pegida called on supporters to demonstrate on Wednesday at an anti-immigration rally in Leipzig. The group frequently organizes marches throughout Germany, noted the news source.

Bachmann tries to save face, but can he really?
According to The New York Times, Bachmann indicated that he was stepping down but did not provide comment regarding the Hitler image at first. He also declined to address his exchange on social media where he referred to immigrants as "scumbags," "stupid cows" and trash."

CNN reported that Bachmann eventually issued a statement apologizing and attempting to explain his actions.

"I apologize to everybody who has felt attacked by my online postings. They were comments made without serious reflection, which I would no longer express today. I am sorry that I thereby damaged the interests of our movement, and draw the appropriate conclusion," said Bachmann, according to the news source.

Bachmann also posted a photo of a Ku Klux Klansman, according to the news source. His spokeswoman indicated that his selfie was an act of satire and added that while every citizen has the right to engage in satire, insulting foreigners did not qualify as satire.

Sigmar Gabriel, Ms. Merkel's deputy chancellor said that the Hitler photo showed the true colors of Pegida, reported The New York Times. 

"Hitler photos, racist slogans, now we see what is really behind Pegida's middle-class facade," said Gabriel. "Anyone involved in politics who dresses up as Hitler is either pretty much an idiot, or a Nazi."

Despite condemnation from the German government, Pegida enjoys significant support. The group attracted over 10,000 people to its weekly marches in Dresden in December of last year, and recently 35,000 came to Leipzig streets to show their solidarity with the movement. The New York Times noted that Pegida's primary goals are limiting immigration, protecting Judeo-Christian heritage and discussing how foreigners are living off taxpayers' money. Supposedly, they do not support hateful rhetoric.

What constitutes free speech vs. a hateful message?
Joerg Forbrig, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told CNN that Pegida enjoyed more support in the Dresden area, where people were likely to accept their political message.

"These protests are not so much fueled by fear of Islam and fear of Islamist attacks, but by frustration at the cost of reunification – about the way they are being integrated and represented since the fall of the Berlin Wall," said Forbrig, according to the news source.

The events with Bachmann and Pegida are particularly interesting now because of the recent events in Paris with Charlie Hebdo. The satirical French magazine published controversial depictions of the Islamic prophet and suffered a deadly attack on its offices. That violence did not deter the magazine from republishing the images in the name of free speech, which resulted in angry protests worldwide. Some things in Western media are accepted, while other things are not. Understanding how the line is drawn between acceptable free speech and hate rhetoric may be simple for some, but it may also be confusing for others.

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