A German art collective is trying to identify thousands of neo-Nazis who took part in violent protests this summer, using information they were able to trick people into providing about themselves.
The Washington Post reports that a left-wing art collective, called the Center for Political Beauty (or “ZPS” in German), has been able to identify a majority of the estimated 7,000 people who participated in far-right protests this summer in Chemnitz, Germany.
The organization says it was able to collect all this information using an online “honeypot” trap. The group created a website with a partial list of protest participants — about 1,500 names it found through a cursory online investigation — to lure other right-wing extremists.
The website attracted far right extremists, who searched the database for their own names, or names of people they knew. The website then collected their information, including networks and IP addresses that could be used to find where the person was searching from.
“We want to lift right-wing extremism out of anonymity in Germany,” the website read, asking people to denounce people they knew to be neo-Nazis.
Thousands of people descended on Chemnitz, Germany over the summer to participate in far-right protests. The demonstrations were first sparked by the killing of a German citizen allegedly done by two immigrants. But the protests attracted thousands of far-right extremists and neo-Nazis, who targeted immigrants with violent attacks and openly threw up Heil Hitler salutes (which are illegal in Germany).
In light of the violence, the art group wanted to “give a face to evil,” Philipp Ruch, ZPS’ founder, told the Post.
Yet ZPS’ “shock and awe” strategy wasn’t a traditional approach to doxxing, the tactic of finding and publishing a person’s private information. Doxxing has been used to expose people in white supremacist groups to their employers, but also to make certain people vulnerable to harassment by publicizing their phone numbers and home addresses.
ZPS’ use of data raises concerns that the group is in violation of GDPR, a strict policy in Europe aimed at protecting people’s privacy by regulating internet companies’ use of their data. The ZPS website does include a page outlining the group’s compliance with GDPR, which includes explaining how the data is being used.
The group has yet to share the information it’s collected, whether that’s providing it to authorities or journalists. But by setting a trap, ZPS essentially tricked nationalist protesters into doxxing themselves.
Ruch told the Post that he’s most interested in exposing public employees who “have a duty of loyalty to the constitution.”
“Nobody who’s into these anti-democratic forces should ever have a right to work in this society,” Ruch told the Post. “If you ask me, they should lose their jobs.”
The massive showing of far-right extremism in Germany drew worldwide condemnation, as well as comparisons to the white nationalist rally last year in Charlottesville, Virginia. But the rise of nationalistic sentiment hasn’t been isolated to Germany. Far-right political parties and leaders across Europe have seen increased support in recent elections.
ZPS on Wednesday removed from its website the list of the first 1,500 names it obtained without using the honeypot trap, the Post says. In its place is now an explanation of what ZPS was doing and a note that reads, “Thank you, dear Nazis.”