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Bavarian research cluster ForGeRex: How far-right extremism is using conspiracy myths to mobilise antidemocratic sentiments

Bavarian research cluster ForGeRex: How far-right extremism is using conspiracy myths to mobilise antidemocratic sentiments

As part of the Bavarian research cluster ForGeRex – a research alliance examining contemporary right-wing extremism – a team of researchers from the University of Passau study the role of antisemitic conspiracy myths within right-wing extremist mobilizations and cultures, and their relationship to crises.

The refugee crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the war in Ukraine: Can the far right mobilise its supporters by means of crises and crisis narratives? What role do antisemitic conspiracy myths play in this context, and how are they communicated? Researchers from the University of Passau seek answers to these and other questions within the framework of ForGeRex, a Bavarian research cluster analysing present-day right-wing extremism in Bavaria and democratic counter-strategies. The Bavarian State Ministry of Science has awarded the research initiative a 4-year grant of EUR 4.5 million.

As part of the Bavarian research cluster ForGeRex, eighteen researchers from eleven universities, universities of applied sciences, and non-university research institutions have been brought together. The research alliance is coordinated by OTH Regensburg. The initiative seeks to illuminate different aspects of far-right activism, its various agents, organizations, structures, and ideologies in Bavaria within a trans-regional, national, and international horizon.

In nine different subprojects, researchers aim to study various aspects of right-wing extremism from multiple angles, for instance by gauging the magnitude of right-wing extremism in social media, studying antisemitic conspiracy myths, and scrutinising the Reichsbürger scene. In fact, the co-spokespersons of the alliance – Professor Martina Ortner and Professor Clarissa Rudolph from the Faculty of Social and Health Care Sciences at OTH Regensburg – hope to make critical right-wing extremism research a fixture in academia. Prospective findings should also help developing more effective counter-strategies.

Subproject at the University of Passau: Conspiracy myths

The University of Passau is in charge of two subprojects. An interdisciplinary team headed by Professor Karin Stögner (Sociology) and Professor Lars Rensmann (Political Science with a Focus on Comparative Government) conduct a double project studying the role of antisemitic conspiracy myths in far-right extremist communication and mobilisation. The researchers have joined forces to explore the communication and mobilisation strategies right-wing extremists employ in the context of four societal crises: the refugee crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, the climate crisis, the crisis following Russia's attack on Ukraine and, most recently, the international crisis following the Hamas terror attacks in Israel on October 7. "In times of crisis, it becomes clear how fragile the social and democratic consensus is – antisemitism hereby often has a hinge function and serves as an ideological bridge among different societal and political milieus. We are also interested in obtaining an intersectional understanding of how antisemitism is connected with sexism and other inequality ideologies in order to gain a comprehensive picture of right-wing extremist conspiracy myths in Bavaria," says Professor Stögner with regard to the project's relevance. Professor Rensmann adds: "We are the first to systematically conduct a qualitative study of crisis-related antisemitic conspiracy myths in far-right extremist communication and its resonance to what we understand as mainstream society".

The focus of the project is on Bavaria. However, the analysis also covers connections across national borders over to Austria and Northern Italy, for instance. The research cluster is unique in its endeavour. "We're not talking about a problem that's specific to Bavaria. Rather, the issue we are exploring in Bavaria has a much larger scope and needs to be seen in a broader context," explains Professor Rensmann. According to him, Bavaria is an interesting laboratory for right-wing extremism research because it provides an opportunity to study how various milieus were recently mobilised by the far right in the course of the COVID-19 protests, for example.

Along with the University of Passau, the alliance coordinated by OTH Regensburg includes the University of Augsburg, the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, HM Hochschule München University of Applied Sciences, the Munich School of Politics and Public Policy, the Institute of Contemporary History, as well as Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Nuremberg Institute of Technology, and the University of Regensburg. JFF – Institute for Media Research and Media Education in Munich is an associate member. 

More information:

  • In another subproject at the University of Passau, Professor Thomas Knieper (digital and strategic communication) and Professor Simon Hegelich from the Munich School of Public Policy (political data science) examine internet memes as a right-wing extremist communication strategy. Learn more at (link to research data on memes)
  • Press release on subprojects in Passau (German)

Principal Investigator(s) at the University Prof. Dr. Karin Stögner (Lehrstuhl für Soziologie), Prof. Dr. Lars Rensmann (Lehrstuhl für Politikwissenschaft mit Schwerpunkt Vergleichende Regierungslehre)
Project period 01.01.2024 - 31.12.2027
Source of funding
BayStMWK - Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst
BayStMWK - Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst

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