GRIESHEIM, Germany — Hundreds of people from around Germany descended Saturday on this usually sleepy town south of Frankfurt to protest what many believe is a U.S. National Security Agency listening post. The event was the second in as many weeks organized by a 28-year-old man who has become an overnight celebrity and leader of a growing and somewhat humorous protest movement. While German television cameras surrounded Daniel Bangert at the start of Saturday’s march, 19-year-old Nikolas Nost posed behind them with a fake camera fashioned from a shoebox, a beer can and glue. On its side, red lettering read: “NSA TV.” Is it a prank or a serious protest? “I think it’s a bit of both,” Nost said.
On a wagon carrying their picnic lunch, protesters taped an image of U.S. President Barack Obama dressed in Oktoberfest garb and holding an Internet cable along with the phrase bellowed at the beginning of the annual beer bash: “Ozapft is!” meaning, “It’s tapped!” Allegations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about a wide-ranging spying program targeting communications worldwide have sparked concern in Germany. Media reports tagging a handful of U.S. facilities in the country as possible NSA listening stations, including the U.S. Army’s Dagger Complex on the edge of Griesheim, brought the issue to Bangert’s doorstep. Almost two weeks ago, he took to Facebook to propose a visit to the site, where he hoped to catch a glimpse of NSA spies in their natural habitat. Nost, a friend of Bangert, thought it was funny, but that reaction wasn’t universal. Bangert got an early morning wake-up call from German police. According to an account of the visit he posted on his Facebook page, the cops told him the Americans are “slightly nervous” about his plans. Asked about the possible U.S. involvement in the police visit, a spokesman for U.S. Army Europe said via email that the command doesn’t discuss details of intelligence operations, including monitoring of Facebook posts. Bangert declined an interview with Stars and Stripes after one of the protesters asserted the reporter was probably an American spy. Paranoia aside, American snooping of Bangert’s Facebook postings has become lodged in the narrative of the anti-Dagger protest movement. “I think it’s also a funny fact,” Nold said. Bangert “tried to make a joke, and then the military police locked on the story. It’s very funny. It’s very ironic.” About 70 people joined Bangert on his march to the Dagger Complex last week. After details of his police run-in and accounts of his previous spy-spying activities were reported in the German media, Saturday’s crowd swelled to about 450. Many wore “Team Edward” T-shirts printed with pictures of Snowden and carried pretend surveillance cameras to “spy” on the spies they believe work at the Dagger Complex, a fenced-in compound surrounded by farm fields and wilderness. Someone launched a remote-controlled surveillance drone to capture aerial footage of the facility, which has since been posted on the Facebook page of Bangert’s satirical “NSA Spy Protection Agency.” “For sure, it’s fun,” Oliver Sawatzki said of the protest. “But I think it has some serious background.” He drove down from Kassel, about two hours to the north, to march and picnic with like-minded people who “don’t want to be watched without their permission.” “They say they do it for preventing terror,” Sawatzki said. “But there is no terror [other] than the state terror. I am not afraid of terrorism or Muslims or whatever. I’m scared of dudes in uniform walking around watching me and saying, ‘This guy might be a criminal.’ ”