When about 500 German "anti-Islamization" protesters in the German city of Schwerin were given free banners and stickers that read mvgida.de, many gratefully accepted the apparent gift.
Mvgida is the name of their xenophobic, anti-Islam organization, recently founded in support of the larger Pegida-movement -- and hence, mvgida.de had to be the name of their Web site, they assumed.
Hours later, however, the protesters -- some of them professed neo-Nazis -- would learn that they had effectively been demonstrating on behalf of immigrants instead of against them.
Anonymous pro-tolerance activists had lured the protesters into a trap. In advance, they created and registered a Web site that looked exactly like the ones that have encouraged Germans to join a series of nationwide anti-Islamization and anti-immigrant protests in recent months. While the protesters were marching and holding up multiple mvgida.de-posters, anonymous activists quickly transformed the fake supporter Web site into a platform against the movement.
Instead of anti-Islamization slogans, its homepage then featured the demand: "Loathed Pegida-supporters! Inform yourself and don't just parrot slogans."
Some regard the local branch in Schwerin as particularly dominated by right-wing extremists, compared with demonstrations in other cities that have attracted some more moderate supporters.
In an e-mail to The Washington Post, the anonymous activists said that they had aimed to embarrass professed neo-Nazis among the protesters. "But we also wanted to target those who join the protests because they have concerns that might partially be justified. However, we do not think that those people should voice their concerns alongside anti-Islam and anti-democracy extremists," the group told The Post.
Their Web site suggests several alternatives for protesters to register their concerns about the influx of refugees or their anger with Germany's political elites without having to participate in these weekly Islamophobic rallies.
Increasingly, the Pegida protests have attracted a wide range of supporters marching for a diverse set of causes. There are those demonstrating for Russia, or against a free-trade-agreement with the U.S., or simply for world peace -- yet they do so alongside people who continue to voice racist views.
Visitors to the controversial pro-tolerance Web site are invited to contact local politicians to discuss their anger -- or are redirected to the EXIT Germany initiative, which helps neo-Nazis leave behind their hateful politics.
Last November, a German town similarly succeeded in mocking neo-Nazi demonstrators. For every metre the neo-Nazis walked in the town of Wunsiedel, local businesses and residents donated $12.50 to EXIT Germany. The 200 neo-Nazis had only two choices when they learned of the plan: Either proceed, indirectly donating money to the initiative, or acknowledge their defeat and suspend the march. The neo-Nazis decided to pursue their plans - and participated in raising funds for an organization committed to their downfall.
Despite such projects, the German Pegida movement and its local branches, such as Mvgida, have recently found supporters all over the country. However, opposition to the anti-Islamization movement has also continuously grown, and pro-tolerance demonstrations are now outnumbering their anti-Islam counterparts nationally.
In an interview with German broadcaster ARD, social movement scholar Dieter Rucht said: "Maybe we have already witnessed the peak of the Pegida movement. Certainly, Pegida will now gradually lose support."
In the eastern city of Dresden, where the movement has its origins, the number of supporters dropped suddenly from 25,000 to 17,000 last week.
Recently, confusion had grown about the actual goals of Pegida and other, similar groups. Studies by Dresden's Technical University as well as the Berlin-based scientific center WZB had found indications that many protesters marched out of a deeper frustration with Germany's political elite more generally -- and not out of fear of Islam or an Islamization of German society, specifically.
The results of those studies, however, have been criticized for being not representative because many Pegida supporters refuse to talk to either the media or sociological researchers.
Pretending to be anti-Islam protesters in the city of Schwerin, Monday's pro-tolerance activists said some of the protesters they encountered were polite. "After we gave the protesters the mvgida.de posters, they even asked us where they should return them," the activists told The Washington Post.