German police on Wednesday raided the climate activist group Letzte Generation, or Last Generation, seized accounts, and shut down its website.
Last Generation is an Extinction Rebellion-style group that uses direct-action tactics such as blocking traffic, shutting off oil pipelines, or dousing a Monet in mashed potatoes to call for more ambitious climate policies. The raids were part of an investigation into seven members of the group for "forming or supporting a criminal organization," the Prosecutor General's Office in Munich said in a statement reported by CNN.
"When will they raid the lobby structures and seize the government's fossil fuel money?" Last Generation responded on Twitter, according to a translation provided by The Guardian. The group added the hashtags "Nationwide raid" and "VölligBekloppt," or "completely idiotic," in reference to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who used similar language to criticize Last Generation Monday.
"People who campaign for more climate protection must not be criminalized while politicians ignore climate targets."
A total of 170 police officers carried out the raids that began at 7 am local time. Police searched 15 properties in seven different states: four in Berlin, three in Bavaria, three in Hesse, and one each in Hamburg, Magdeburg, Dresden, and Schleswig-Holstein, CNN reported.
The Bavarian state criminal police office (LKA) ordered the searches targeting the seven defendants aged 22 to 38, the Munich prosecutor's office said, according to The Guardian.
"Suddenly a police officer in a bulletproof vest stands by your bed and points a gun at you," 26-year-old activist Carla Hinrichs said in an online video of her experience of the raid.
The investigation was prompted by "numerous criminal complaints from the population" beginning in mid 2022, the Munich prosecutor's office said, as CNN reported.
Authorities accused the activists of "organizing a donations campaign to finance further criminal acts," according to AFP. To date, the group has raised at least 1.4 million euros via its website. LKA said they have shuttered the website because donating to the group is illegal, Reuters reported.
Police also seized two accounts and ordered an asset freeze, according to AFP.
Beyond seeking donations, two members of the group are suspected of trying to sabotage an oil pipeline between Trieste, Italy and Ingolstadt, Germany in April 2022, the LKA said, according to CNN.
Police did not arrest anyone in Wednesday's raids, and Munich prosecutor's office spokesperson Klaus Ruhland said they now would review the evidence they seized, Reuters reported.
"At the current stage of the proceedings, we have affirmed the facts of criminal association," Ruhland said.
Last Generation emerged in the runup to Germany's last federal election in 2021 by conducting a hunger strike outside the Bundestag, according to The Guardian. Since then, they have engaged in protests from blocking traffic and gluing themselves to roads and vehicles to throwing mashed potatoes on Monet's "Grainstacks" at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany, in October 2022, as The New York Times reported at the time.
Last Generation wants the German government to up its climate ambitions by forming a plan in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, enacting an autobahn speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour, and giving residents a €9-a-month ticket for public transportation, according to DW and The Guardian.
Authorities have criticized them for their tactics. Just Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was "completely crazy to somehow stick yourself to a painting or on the street," according to DW.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser defended the raids.
"Legitimate protest always ends where crimes are committed and the rights of others are infringed," Faeser said.
Yet Last Generation and other climate advocates point out that the risks posed by higher temperatures and extreme weather events far outscale any disruption caused by a highway or museum protest. In summer of 2021, for example, flooding followed by record rainfall killed at least 120 people in Germany and Belgium and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, surprising climate scientists with the level of devastation triggered.
"Do we have to experience a drought in Germany first, suffer from food shortages…, before we understand that Last Generation is... not criminal?" spokesperson Aimee Van Baalen told reporters Wednesday, according to Reuters.
German climate activist and researcher Tadzio Müller told DW that targeting Last Generation and other activist groups was "a case of shooting the messenger."
"[Society] doesn't want to know about the climate or the climate emergency. And therefore, the Last Generation is choosing tactics that disrupt the kind of normality that people are clinging on to," he said.
In response to the raids, Last Generation has come out swinging, relaunching its website under a new address and calling for nationwide protests.
"The government's approach is intended to intimidate and create fear. But we cannot and will not allow ourselves to remain in this fear," the group said on its new site. "The federal government is leading us into climate hell and is stepping on the accelerator. We are therefore expanding the protest to the whole country and call on everyone to take part in a protest march near them on Wednesday."
The group tweeted that solidarity actions had sprung up across Germany Wednesday in response to the raids, including in Berlin, Dresden, Hannover, and Leipzig.
Other environmental groups offered statements of support. Greenpeace Germany "sharply criticized" the raids in a statement on Twitter.
"Peaceful protest can be uncomfortable. In fact, it often has to in order to be effective," the group said. "People who campaign for more climate protection must not be criminalized while politicians ignore climate targets."