Fifteen thousand people marched through the cold Dresden streets Monday night, in a highly charged rally against the Islamization of the West.
Protesters carried signs with the logo for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, or PEGIDA, the anti-Islamization group founded in the German city, as well as signs against Sharia Law in Europe.
Lutz Bachmann, the head of PEGIDA, led the rally, accompanied by the chant "Wir sind das volk" (we are the people) and an abundant show of German flags.
PEGIDA has gained popularity in Dresden and nationwide, despite being founded just two months ago. Support for anti-Islam rallies has become so high, in fact, that the group has become a subject of scorn for German officials, who claim the organization only stirs tensions between the influx of Muslim immigrants and dozens of right-wing and neo-Nazi groups.
"There is freedom to demonstrate in Germany, but there is no place for propaganda and slander against people who come here from another country,"German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday night.
She urged those taking part to "take care that they were not exploited" by neo-Nazis or extremist groups.
Federal police, meanwhile, stated that they believed the instigators were "unmistakably rightwing extremists" and that two known troublemaking organizations participated in the march: “Faust des Ostens” (Fist of the East) and Hooligans Elbflorenz (Florence of the Elbe Hooligans). They were joined by formal members of PEGIDA, members of the National Democratic Party (NPD), and thousands of ordinary Germans.
But several protestors told the Guardian, BBC and other news outlets that they had no political affiliation and were merely frustrated at the influx of immigration into Western Europe, which they say is plunging the region into economic uncertainty, rarifying jobs, and imposing Islam on a mostly-Christian bloc.
"We're not against refugees," a protestor, named only as "Phillip," told BBC Monday. "People in Syria have a war in their country and they're welcome here."
"But people from other EU countries where there is peace are not welcome," he added. "We're not against Islam. And we're not against immigration. But there has to be integration and there have to be rules."
The large turnout reflects rising frustration with the EU's immigration policy, specifically in Germany. According to a poll in Spiegel magazine, nearly two-thirds of Germans believe that Merkel's government is too lax regarding asylum-seekers and immigration, and 34% fear that Germany is undergoing Islamization.
More than 150,000 people sought refuge in Germany during the first 11 months of the year, an increase of 40,000 compared with 2013, according to BBC.