Pastor Christoph Wiesler told the Kurier newspaper that he received around 500 threatening mails and phone calls in the past few days, after he rang his church bells for two minutes to drive away around 50 members of the right-wing ‘Identitären Bewegung’ (Identitarian movement) who had gathered in Fehring’s main square outside an army barracks which is being used as a reception centre for refugees.
He said that he felt outraged when he saw the protesters bearing banners with “dehumanizing slogans”.
Initially hailed as a hero, Wiesler said that he now feels threatened and insulted. “I’ve been told that I support the slaughter of Christians by Isis, that I want to strengthen Islam in Austria and that I am working for a particular party. Suddenly I seem to be the scapegoat for people who are frustrated with the asylum system,” he said. Some of his congregation have told him that they plan to leave his church.
He said that he even expects to be sued by some of the demonstrators. “One told me that he plans to press charges because I disturbed a registered demonstration and another has threatened me with a class action suit claiming that he now has tinnitus.”
Patrick Lenart, a spokesman for the Identitarian movement in Styria, said this was “nonsense” and that he did not believe that an Identitarian member planned to press charges. He said they were keen to enter into a dialogue with Wiesler.
Lenart confirmed rumours that the activists had been asked to stage a demonstration by disgruntled citizens of Fehring. “We were contacted by some concerned people and asked to hold the rally. On Sunday alone we signed up 14 new members. Our slogans are not xenophobic, as the pastor says,” Lenart told the Kurier. He said the group would be organising further meetings in Fehring and organising more demonstrations if people were in favour of them.
Wiesler pledged to ring his bells again if more demonstrations take place. “My five bells are louder than 50 activists,” he said.