The Dark Side of Collective Action


The rapid rise of the German nationalist, radical right-wing movement PEGIDA (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”) is unprecedented in recent German history and poses the threat of popularising discrimination and shattering democratic advancements. Politics and media struggle to respond to this threat, as current responses of ignoring and discarding the movement’s concerns appear to only fuel its progression. This essay analyses the rise of this collective action based on four motivations; group-identification, anger, moral convictions and group efficacy. Based on ingroup-favouritism, common-fate theory, outgroup-devaluation and realistic-group-conflict theory, an increasing radicalisation of PEGIDA is predicted if current political responses are retained. A longitudinal-study framework is proposed to test predictions, and dialogues and inclusion are proposed as more viable solutions to this issue. This essay highlights the importance of a deeper understanding of participants in radical movements and a re-integration of participants in society to prevent right-wing extremism.

Keywords: collective action, radicalisation, radical right-wing, discrimination, PEGIDA

The Dark Side of Collective Action: When Social Movements Increase Discrimination


ince 2014, Germany witnesses the rise of a new nationalist, radical right-wing movement: PEGIDA (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”) started in Dresden in 2014 with only 500 participants and within a year grew to over 25.000 participants (Geithner & Laske, 2015), found various offshoots across the country (Knight, 2014), and facilitated the rise of the populist, nationalistic party AFD (Connolly, 2016). The growing radical right-wing ideology has the potential to popularise and legitimise discrimination (Whitley & Kite, 2009), divide people (Glick, 2002), and shatter decades of efforts towards a more interconnected, free and democratic society. Politics struggle with tackling this issue, as current strategies appear to only fuel a growing opposition to mainstream politics (Vorländer, 2015). Consequently, PEGIDA grows not only from the radical right-wing, but also from discontent and disappointed regular citizens. Their participation poses a tremendous threat, as it could fuel the radical movement, and increase social acceptance of extremist ideologies (Alimi, 2006). This essay aims to understand and predict PEGIDA’s progression and thus will (1) explore the rise of PEGIDA, (2) predict its future development, (3) propose a study-framework to test predictions, and (4) discuss theoretical and practical implications, including possible solutions.

Theoretical analysis

tudies disprove the common assumption that PEGIDA-participants are predominantly low in income and education and committed to radical right-wing ideas (Vorländer, 2015, Reuband, 2015). Instead, the majority of participants appear to be above average on these domains, politically uninvolved or centred (Reuband, 2015) and not primarily concerned with Islam, but rather dissatisfied with politics and media (Vorländer, 2015). Yet, key members and leaders of PEGIDA do exhibit right-wing ideologies. Chairman and founder Lutz Bachmann was convicted of incitement to hatred against refugees (Visser & Schmidt, 2016), German intelligence reports find several radical right-wing parties to actively participate and in part control PEGIDA-protests (Deutscher Bundestag, 2015), and PEGIDA was related to at least 255 right-wing motivated criminal offenses between 2014 and 2015 (Biallas, 2015). The non-radical motivation in most PEGIDA-participants is thus not a reason for relief, but constitutes great danger. Most followers of extremist groups only turn radical after joining respective groups (Bjørgo, 1998, Ezekiel, 1995), and as PEGIDA increasingly and successfully groups disappointed and frustrated individuals within their movement, their communicated ideologies will inevitably impact such individuals (Whitley & Kite, 2009).

Research considers collective action as the endeavour of individuals or groups to improve upon the current condition of their group (van Zomeren, 2013). Four core motivations impact collective action and are discussed below: identification with the group, anger, perceived violation of moral convictions, and group’s efficacy (van Zomeren, 2013).

Identification. PEGIDA clearly distinguishes between two groups: Europeans and Islam, thus grouping all Europeans into one superordinate group, independent from their political or religious beliefs. This grouping does not require a rationale, as grouping itself already suffices to create ingroup-favouritism (Hornsey 2008). Research also finds sharing a “common fate” (Lewin, 1948), and threat to the ingroup (Leach, Mosquera, Vliek, Hirt, 2010) to strengthen identification: Both issues correspond with PEGIDA-concerns; a dissatisfaction with politics, which unites followers who perceive politics to ignore, or even damage their needs (Vorländer, 2015), and the perceived threat of the Islamic State (IS) and unregulated refugee-influx (Reuband, 2015, Vorländer, 2015).The former is perceived as threatening lives, the latter as threatening resources, in line with realistic-group-conflict theory (Bobo, 1988, Tajfel & Turner, 2004), which proposes a competition for resources, such as the perception that politicians do not care for their concerns, but support refugees, financially, or with policy making (Ezekiel, 1995). The resulting threat-perception increases group-identification, also with radical groups (Hogg, Meehan, Farquharson, 2010).

Anger. Anger within PEGIDA increases, as participants feel deserted and betrayed by politicians and media, which are depicted as ignorant, biased and selfish (Vorländer, 2015): PEGIDA coined the term “Lügenpresse” (similar to “Fake news”), and alleges corruption between politics and media. The frustration results in a generalised anger against both politics and media, which previously may have resulted in a withdrawal from politics (Vorländer, 2015), but now is given a voice by the movement, which enables and encourages the expression of anger, and thus further incentivises collective action via PEGIDA (van Zomeren, 2013).

Moral convictions. Though the leadership considers Islam a threat to European values, and thus to their moral convictions, the majority of PEGIDA-followers protest against politics and media (Vorländer, 2015). This constitutes a different perceived moral violation, focused not on Islam, but on representatives of the people who are perceived to ignore those they represent or act against their best interest. The general contempt for the system (Vorländer, 2015) shows that politics and media are no longer seen as part of the ingroup, but rather violating the political, moral convictions as perceived by PEGIDA (van Zomeren, 2013).

Efficacy. Lastly, PEGIDA followers may simply perceive PEGIDA as effective means to communicate resentments (van Zomeren, Spears, Leach, 2008). Few German protest-movements have grown as fast, large and persistent as PEGIDA. Though most followers do not identify with the right-wing radicalism (Vorländer, 2015), their participation may parallel protest-votes for right-wing parties in recent European elections intended to punish established parties (Oesch, 2008). Supporting PEGIDA may be perceived as effective means to challenge the status quo, and the steep increase in followers (Geithner & Laske, 2015) underlines the efficacy of the movement.

Many factors motivate participation in PEGIDA. Yet, the rise of PEGIDA poses a theoretical challenge. Until now, research has studied collective actions by minorities against discrimination (Wright & Lubensky, 2009). PEGIDA raises the question, what happens if the perception of disadvantage results in forming collective action that discriminates others?

Predicting future development

hus far, politics and media respond to PEGIDA by ignoring and discarding their concerns and ideology. They argue that there is no basis for conversation due to the populism and discrimination inherent to the movement (Weiland, 2015). An official dialogue, it is feared, would legitimise PEGIDA-concerns and fuel their public acceptance. Research supports this notion, indicating that prejudice is widespread, but whether it is followed and enacted depends on their societal acceptance and external motivations to control them (Whitley & Kite, 2009). PEGIDA may act as a legitimising power in this regard, enabling and increasing prejudice. However, PEGIDA’s rise proves that discounting does not solve, but even fuels such movements, as it confirms perceptions of ignorant politicians and biased media, and will result in increasingly extreme responses (Hewitt, 2000). I thus predict, that if the current response of ignoring and discarding is retained, PEGIDA will increasingly radicalise its participants.

Increasing identification: Most PEGIDA-participants are not radically right-winged (Vorländer, 2015). However, discarding their concerns will increasingly alienate them from society (O’duffy, 2008), and increase identification with PEGIDA. Studies find personal and collective crisis to result in abandoning dysfunctional social networks for new, alternative bonds (O’duffy, 2008). PEGIDA utilises dysfunctional relationship to politics and media by establishing itself as new, alternative protest movement that unites alienated, frustrated voices, which will increasingly assimilate to their new ingroup’s norms and values (Alimi, 2006). New members will initially downplay hateful ideologies within the group for the higher goal of group association (Blee, 2002). Association with PEGIDA, however, results in judgement by other peer-groups (Bjørgo, 1998), which in turn increases ingroup-identification (Leach et al. 2010). Consequently, identification with PEGIDA continuously increases, while PEGIDA-critical voices are increasingly considered as outgroup, as part of the biased, corrupt system (Vorländer, 2015), creating a mutually-reinforcing vicious cycle. This increases dependency on PEGIDA, and receptiveness to the new ingroup’s extremist ideologies (Bjørgo, 1998).

Demonizing the outgroup: Social movements are based on perceived injustice in authority policy, collective agreement on said perception, anger, and efficacy (O’duffy, 2008, van Zomeren, 2013). PEGIDA continuously reiterates claims of unjust politics and medial conspiracies. This omnipresence of mainstream-opposition will result in growing numbers of participants who are not right-winged, but agree on the perceived injustice (O’duffy, 2008), or consider their concerns most efficaciously represented within PEGIDA (van Zomeren, 2013). It will also indoctrinate a firm “us-versus-them”-worldview with every reiteration. As contact to PEGIDA increases, followers perceive the group as more similar to themselves, and others as more dissimilar (Hornsey, 2008). This dissimilarity is, based on the value-difference-hypothesis, one factor that facilitates prejudice (Whitley & Kite, 2009). Simultaneously, the anger, evoked by the allegedly unjust outgroup, not only fuels collective action, but also increases outgroup-devaluation (Matsumoto, Frank, Hwang, 2015), diminishes systematic processing, and elevates risk-taking (Rydell et al., 2008). The more the outgroup is demonized, and anger increases, the more do barriers to control inherent prejudice (Whitley & Kite, 2009) corrode, resulting in increasing expression of uncontrolled emotions towards the outgroup, which PEGIDA steers not only towards politics, but also against Islam (Vorländer, 2015).

Radicalising the ingroup: The PEGIDA-leadership unquestionably are politically radical, and continuously communicate their radical propaganda (Biallas, 2015, Visser & Schmidt, 2016). As leaders are perceived as prototypical for their group (Hornsey, 2008), their xenophobic ideology will inevitably influence their non-radical followers with increasing participation. Negative stereotypes and prejudice are increasingly facilitated and encouraged by PEGIDA, and followers may feel liberated from perceived political correctness (Vorländer, 2015), free to express their opinion, without the constraints from politics and “Lügenpresse”, and thus increasingly express previously controlled prejudice (Whitley & Kite, 2009). Increasing expression of prejudice again reinforces the vicious cycle of further alienation from other peers (Ezekiel, 1995), thus further reducing ties to alternative opinions (Bjørgo, 1998). As the anger towards the outgroups of media and politics increases, they become scapegoats, blamed for the ingroup’s misfortunes (Whitley & Kite, 2009): The media is perceived to slander the movement’s image, politicians are accused of corruption and ignoring their concerns (Vorländer, 2015). As PEGIDA-participants feel alienated in their own country, and simultaneously politics endeavours to integrate Islam (Hildebrandt, 2015), PEGIDA-followers will increasingly perceive this outgroup as stealing attention and resources (Ezekiel, 1995; Tajfel & Turner, 2004), fuelling anger, shifting the target of scapegoating increasingly towards Muslims and other minorities that are included where PEGIDA is not. The result is, in line with the frustration-aggression-displacement theory (Whitley & Kite, 2009), a displacement of aggression, from the initial target of impenetrable political policies, on innocent outgroups such as Islam. Based on these predictions, I hypothesise that the current political and medial response of discounting and ignoring the movement will result in an increasing radicalisation of PEGIDA-participants. In line with Bjørgo (1998), I propose that this radicalisation can be reduced by establishing a dialogue, providing alternative opinions, and enabling political participation.


hus far, no research has investigated the progression of PEGIDA over time. It is therefore important to start with basic research on PEGIDA’s development, before diving into more elaborate studies. I propose a longitudinal study with 3 conditions: PEGIDA-participants in uninterrupted progression, PEGIDA-participants in dialogue with mainstream representatives as a means to reduce radicalisation, and a control-group of regular citizens.


130 participants per condition are selected by approaching random pedestrians in the same public places. Participants are approached during PEGIDA-protests (PEGIDA- and Dialogue-condition), or on regular days (Control), fill out the Manitoba-Prejudice-Scale and the Right-Wing-Authoritarianism-Scale (Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1992), and indicate their frequency of PEGIDA-participation and of political discourse with PEGIDA-opposing peers. Participants leave contact information and, with permission, each month receive emails showcasing cultural events in Dresden (Control- and PEGIDA-conditions), or invitations and opportunities to participate in public policy making and articulate concerns, such as town hall-meetings, community projects, open city-government round-tables, media surveys, etc. (Dialogue-condition). After 6 and 12 months, participants again fill out the surveys.


Following the 12-month-period, progression in radicalisation is measured by calculating the difference between the first and last questionnaire for each condition on both questionnaires. The differences are compared between the PEGIDA-condition and the control-condition, and the PEGIDA- and the Dialogue-condition.

Expected result

In line with Whitley and Kite (2009), I expect the PEGIDA-condition to exhibit significantly higher progression in radicalisation (Hypothesis 1) compared to the control-condition, as PEGIDA indoctrinates extremism and reduces prejudice-control (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Predicted radicalisation-progression for PEGIDA- and Control-conditions.


Based on findings by Bjørgo (1998) and Blee (2002), I propose that opportunities for reintegration (Dialogue-condition) counteract radicalisation, and thus the Dialogue-condition will score significantly lower on both questionnaires than the PEGIDA-condition (Hypothesis 2, Figure 2).

Figure 2. Predicted radicalisation-progression for PEGIDA- and Dialogue-conditions.

Theoretical and practical implications

he given analysis and prediction are important in two regards. First, they refute the common misconception of PEGIDA-participants as low-income, low-education right-wing extremists. This realisation is crucial, as it indicates that re-integration is possible, and signifies that vilifying PEGIDA may be easy, but unjust towards a majority of participants who do not seek discrimination but a voice. The given prediction underlines that the current response of ignoring and discounting does not work, and will have dire consequences. Ignorance will only amplify the vicious cycle towards radicalisation. A dialogue must be established to prevent the increasing influence of populist, right-wing extremists on disenchanted citizen. This applies to politics, media, but also the general population. Parties must take concerns of PEGIDA-followers serious, while inhibiting radical ideologies that attempt to infiltrate these concerns. Media must differentiate between extremist leaders and frustrated followers, and strengthen endeavours to publicise the danger that is inherent to radical groups. Research finds that the best way to fight radicalisation is to retain ties to non-radical peers, to provide different perspectives and encourage individuals to question ideologies and return to society (Whitley & Kite, 2009). Consequently, we all are part of the solution that is de-radicalisation and re-integration.


his essay provides important insight into the new rise of radical right-wing ideology in Germany, and counters common misconceptions of all PEGIDA-followers being extremists beyond remedy. By laying out the likely radicalisation of the movement, I have underlined the necessity for a new response that returns lost souls to society and impairs the grasp of extremist propaganda. Though recent attendance numbers show a decline in PEGIDA-participants (Locke, 2016), the ideology already transcends the movement. Research (Finkbeiner, et al., 2016) finds that over 80% of PEGIDA-participants intend to cast their vote in the upcoming federal election for the newly-found right-winged populist party AFD, which is expected to become the third-strongest political party in the 2017 German national elections. Group-names may change, but radicalisation continues. Starting a dialogue is not an option, but imperative to prevent a further rise of extremism in Germany.


Alimi, E. Y. (2006). Contextualizing political terrorism: a collective action perspective for

understanding the Tanzim. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29(3), 263-283.

Altemeyer, B., & Hunsberger, B. (1992). Authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, quest, and

prejudice. The international journal for the psychology of religion, 2(2), 113-133.

Biallas, J. (2015, December 1). “Straftaten im Zusammenhang mit “Gida””. Retrieved from

Bjørgo, T. (1998). Entry, bridge-burning, and exit options: What happens to young people who

join racist groups—and want to leave? In J. Kaplan & T. Bjørgo (Eds.), Nation and race:

            The developing Euro-American racist subculture (pp. 231–258). Boston: Northeastern

University Press.

Blee, K. M. (2002). Inside organized racism: Women in the hate movement. Berkeley:

University of California Press.

Bobo, L. (1988). Group conflict, prejudice, and the paradox of contemporary racial attitudes. In

  1. A. Katz & D. A. Taylor (Eds.), Eliminating racism: Profiles in controversy (pp. 85–

116). New York: Erlbaum.

Connolly, K. (2016, June 19). “Frauke Petry: the acceptable face of Germany’s new right?”.

Retrieved from


Deutscher Bundestag. (2015, September 28). “Verfassungsschutzbericht 2014”. Retrieved from

Ezekiel, R. S. (1995). The racist mind: Portraits of American neo-Nazis and Klansmen.

New York: Penguin.

Finkbeiner, F.,Schenke, J., Trittel, K., Schmitz, C., Marg, S. (2016, January 31). “PEGIDA:

Aktuelle Forschungsergebnisse.” Retrieved from http://www.demokratie-

Glick, P. (2002). Sacrificial Lambs Dressed in Wolves’ Clothing. Understanding genocide: The

            social psychology of the Holocaust, 113.

Hildebrandt, T. (2015, March 12). “Der Islam gehört zu Deutschland”. Retrieved from

Hogg, M. A., Meehan, C., & Farquharson, J. (2010). The solace of radicalism: Self-uncertainty

and group identification in the face of threat. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology,

46(6), 1061-1066.

Hornsey, M. J. (2008). Social identity theory and self‐categorization theory: A historical review.

Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(1), 204-222.

Knight, B. (2014, December 12). “PEGIDA determining political debate in Germany”. Retrieved



Leach, C. W., Mosquera, P. M. R., Vliek, M. L., & Hirt, E. (2010). Group devaluation and group

identification. Journal of Social Issues, 66(3), 535-552.

Lewin, K. (1948). Resolving social conflicts: Selected papers on group dynamics. New York:


Locke (2016, October 16). “Pegida ist inhaltlich am Ende”. Retrieved from


Matsumoto, D., Frank, M. G., & Hwang, H. C. (2015). The role of intergroup emotions in

political violence. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 24(5), 369-373.

O’duffy, B. (2008). Radical atmosphere: Explaining jihadist radicalization in the UK. PS:

            Political Science & Politics, 41(01), 37-42.

Oesch, D. (2008). Explaining Workers’ Support for Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western

Europe: Evidence from Austria, Belgium, France, Norway, and Switzerland.

            International Political Science Review, 29(3), 349-373.

Reuband, K. H. (2015). Wer demonstriert in Dresden für Pegida? Ergebnisse empirischer

Studien, methodische Grundlagen und offene Fragen. Mitteilungen des Instituts für

            Parteienrecht und Parteienforschung, 1, 133-143.

Rydell, R. J., Mackie, D. M., Maitner, A. T., Claypool, H. M., Ryan, M. J., & Smith, E. R.

(2008). Arousal, processing, and risk taking: Consequences of intergroup anger.

Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(8), 1141-1152.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (2004). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In J. T. Jost,

  1. Sidanius, J. T. Jost, J. Sidanius (Eds.) , Political psychology: Key readings (pp. 276-

293). New York, NY, US: Psychology Press.

van Zomeren, M. (2013). Four core social‐psychological motivations to undertake collective

action. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(6), 378-388.

van Zomeren, M., Spears, R., & Leach, C. W. (2008). Exploring psychological mechanisms of

collective action: Does relevance of group identity influence how people cope with

collective disadvantage?. British Journal of Social Psychology, 47(2), 353-372.

Visser, S., Schmidt, N. (2016, June 16). “German anti-immigrant advocate guilty of hate

speech”. Retrieved from:


Vorländer, H., Herold, M., & Schäller, S. (2015). Wer geht zu PEGIDA und warum. Eine

            empirische Untersuchung von PEGIDA Demonstranten in Dresden. Zentrum für

Verfassungs- und Demokratieforschung.

Weiland, S. (2015, January 20). “Politiker-Streit über Dialog mit PegidaJa, nein, vielleicht”.

Retrieved from


Whitley, B., & Kite, M. (2009). The psychology of prejudice and discrimination.

Cengage Learning.

Wright, S. C., & Lubensky, M. E. (2009). The struggle for social equality: Collective action

versus prejudice reduction. Intergroup misunderstandings: Impact of divergent social

realities, 291-310.