- 08 09 17

CHAPTERS: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


German Elections: An Introduction

Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter
Chapter 1: German Elections: An Introduction

For decades, activists of the German far right have dreamt of a powerful and influential political party. Several extremist parties – like Die Republikaner and the Deutsche Volksunion but, most recently, also the nazi National Democrats (NPD) – were able to campaign successfully and to secure election to regional parliaments since the late 1980s but none could jump above the 5% hurdle in national parliamentary elections.

The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD/Alternative for Germany) seems to be a different story. Founded in February 2013 by a group of 18 men of advanced age, its most important issue at that time was heavy criticism of the Euro bailout policy in the wake of the financial crisis from a nationalist perspective.

Only months later, in September 2013, the party took part in the national elections. While narrowly missing entry into the Bundestag with 4.7% % of the vote, the AfD nevertheless achieved the strongest result for a new party at federal level since 1953.

What followed was a right-wing success story that has brought the party into 13 out of 16 regional parliaments so far with the national elections approaching and the AfD standing at 8 to 9% in the polls.

In its early days, the AfD drew its activists from different backgrounds: the neoliberal right, national-conservatives, the fundamentalist Christian and the far right. Its history is a history of constant infighting and a relentless move to the right. As a result, thousands of conservative and neoliberal members have quit the party and, as of July 2017, only four of its founding members remain.

Others came in instead. For example, in September 2013, René Stadtkewitz, then leader of the small anti-Islam party Die Freiheit (Freedom), urged his followers to support the AfD.

The weekly Junge Freiheit, long a vocal expression of the far right in Germany, and the monthly magazine Zuerst! operated by Dietmar Munier, a long-standing right-wing extremist with a history in the NPD’s youth organisation, also promoted the party. In March 2014, the Thuringian AfD official Hans-Thomas Tillschneider was prominently involved in creating the Patriotic Platform as a particular interest group in the AfD that has become a powerful force in pushing the party further to the right.

Years of scandals and constant internal struggles have done little significant harm to the AfD. Indeed, every time it has taken part in elections since 2014 it has done so successfully.

In particular, it profited from the huge number of refugees arriving in Germany in 2015, during what was viewed by a majority of the population in Germany as a severe political and social crisis. The party is still aggressively campaigning and making use of the financial and organisational resources it has gained from its electoral successes.

So far, democratic forces have not found a proper answer to the AfD. As a result, for the first time since 1961 a right-wing populist party with a strong far right wing will enter the national parliament on 24 September 2017.

This can only mean more hate to come.


Political programme and profile

Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter
Chapter 2: Political programme and profile

The AfD adopted a programme for the 2014 European elections and a programme of principles in the spring of 2016. Probably more important for producing the AfD as a brand, however, are the statements of leading representatives of the party.

In line with the neoliberal agenda that was brought in by many leading AfD personnel from the very beginning, not least by several professors of economics and high-ranking business representatives like Hans-Olaf Henkel, the former president of the Federation of German Industries, the party favours tax reductions for companies, the liberalisation of the labour market and the “cutback of bureaucracy” that often is just a cipher for cutting state services essential to those with low incomes.

In contrast to the European elections programme, the more recent basic programme makes clear that the party is for a minimum wage, but this position is contested inside the party.

The latest statement is widely seen as an attempt to reach out to working class people. The party has three subgroups claiming to work in the interest of employed people. So far, though, they do not play any relevant role inside or outside the party.

On a social level, the AfD campaigns energetically against a plurality of family models and gender arrangements, favouring very traditional ideas of family patterns and fighting against gender mainstreaming programmes. Using the term “gender craziness”, it aggressively confronts feminist ideas.

Beatrix von Storch

The organisational basis for such campaigns is a network of NGOs called Civil Coalition run by Beatrix von Storch. Fundamental Christians have gathered in two subgroups – the Pforzheim Circle and Christians in the AfD – the latter blaming the Christian churches for being too liberal in welcoming and supporting refugees who seek shelter in Germany. Prolife positions are also especially strong in the AfD’s branches in the south and the south-east of Germany.

Man-made climate change is, almost inevitably, widely denied by the AfD. Thus, any law by which financial support for an increased production and use of renewable energy is provided would be abolished according to the party. Instead, the life span of nuclear power plants should be extended.

The AfD is a right-wing populist party that propagates clear-cut opposition to what it holds to be a corrupt and lying elite consisting mainly of politicians, journalists and the EU bureaucracy and supposedly extends its hand to “hard-working people”.

According to its statements, the latter group is also challenged by the lazy underclasses in which long-term unemployed, the homeless, refugees and Roma people are counted.

In addition, in the AfD’s worldview, immigration in general, but refugees in particular, are a deadly threat to German society when they come from non-European countries and are of Muslim faith. Visions of decadence and insecurity are directly linked to immigrants and asylum-seekers. This has led several high-ranking party representatives to argue that shooting at refugees, including women and children, who are about to cross the border is a legitimate and necessary act.

The most extreme position on issues of migration argues that an annual number of 200,000 should be forced to leave the country. In this repressive schema, Muslim believers are to be denied equal rights to practise their religion.

In line with many conservative and right-wing political forces throughout Europe, the AfD demands closure of borders combined with a highly selective decision-making process on who might be accepted for entry.

Refugees applying for asylum should do so outside Europe and the right to apply for asylum should be denied for people coming from states deemed to be secure by either the German government or the European Union.

Regarding international politics, the AfD demands a “re-nationalisation” of foreign policy and decision-making. This includes leaving the EU that is portrayed as a juggernaut, only serving the interests of a small international elite but not those of the wider population. It is also argued that Germany is a net payer into the EU.

The German army, argues the AfD, should be much better equipped and trained not only to give Germany more weight in NATO and international politics but also to make it a powerful tool to serve “German interests”.

The far right wing of the party, especially, demands a withdrawal from NATO and suggests a closer cooperation with Russia. A majority currently argues for staying in the alliance if German interests are considered more in cases of military intervention.

With its stance so hostile to Muslims, party representatives like Frauke Petry have claimed that the AfD is “a guarantee of Jewish life” in Germany, a view immediately challenged and rejected by Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Israelitischen Kultusgemeinde München and Oberbayern. She accused the AfD of abusing the legitimate concerns of Jewish people about antisemitism among Muslims in Germany for its own purposes.

In fact, antisemitic statements by AfD activists have hit the headlines several times. Most prominent was the case, in 2016, of Wolfgang Gedeon who is a member of parliament in Baden Württemberg and author of antisemitic books and articles in which he called Holocaust deniers “dissidents” and spread the idea of a Zionist conspiracy.

There was no clear majority to kick Gedeon out of the party and, while he later left the AfD group in Baden-Württemberg, he still served as an elected delegate to the national party convention in Cologne in April 2017.

While the party portrays itself as being anti-establishment many of its leadership, in fact, had their careers in politics like Alexander Gauland who played an important role in a government in Hesse, led by the Christian Democrats, in the 1980s, in the media, in the business sector or in the universities.

Election campaigns are supported massively by a supposedly independent lobby group that refuses to explain who is funding its campaign in favour of the AfD.

Every week, another racist, antisemitic or revisionist statement by AfD representatives, officials or members of parliament is reported in the media. In April 2017, Ralph Weber a professor of law and MP in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania presented ideas that political observers saw as being close to the Ariernachweis (certificate of Aryan descent) insisted upon by the Nazis.

In 2016, he invited a member of the revisionist Reichsbürgerbewegung to speak at a university seminar. The AfD branch in the Saarland, led by Josef Dörr, was judged as extreme right even by the AfD’s own federal executive board. No measures were taken but financial resources were provided for the election campaign there in early 2017.

Petr Bystron, head of the AfD in Bavaria, is currently under observation by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (the internal secret service) as are several members of the AfD in Saxony.

On a day-to-day basis, AfD members of parliament mainly focus on migration and domestic security by using instruments such as parliamentary questions to demonstrate activity but also to gather information that might help in their racist and nativist campaigns against refugees and migrants.

Professionalisation of parliamentary work so far is sluggish, partly because several AfD MPs are not really interested but try, instead, to use parliament as a stage with the aim of promoting political action outside parliament. Instead of controlling the government as is the task of the opposition in a parliamentary democracy, it is more about protest and provocation.

Of those who became a member of parliament until the end of 2016, 46% had been in the Christian Democratic Party before, another 12% in the Liberal Party and 10% are former members of the Social Democrats. 21% had been active in extreme right and right-wing populist parties before joining the AfD. 85 % are male.


Who votes AfD?

Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter
Chapter 3: Who votes AfD?

Surveys of the recent elections have shown that the AfD drew its voters from all others parties, mainly from the Christian Democrats but also from the Social Democrats and, to some extent from the Left Party.

This points to the fact that a significant segment of the followers of these parties also hold nationalist, nativist and authoritarian attitudes. Also, a relevant chunk of the AfD’s voters belongs to a group that has abstained from elections for some time.

The social composition of those voting for the AfD is not exactly clear at the moment. According to the German Institute for Economic Research, the party has successfully won a core electoral constituency between 2014 and 2016 and is characterised by an increasing number of workers and unemployed and by growing numbers of young people. Also, former voters of right-wing populist and extreme right-wing parties gained in size.

A more recent study by the German Trades Union Federation’s research institute came to the conclusion that voting AfD is not related to a precarious financial situation in the first instance.

Support for the AfD correlates strongly with work situations shaped by temporary job contracts or working in small businesses without collective bargaining coverage. Both result in a feeling of not controlling one’s own life and being at the mercy of others.

Many who support the AfD belong to the lower middle classes worried about how their future now looks. Worries revolve around losing employment, criminality in the neighbourhood and decreasing trust in the national government.

Recent research, by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, on voting behaviour in the state election in North Rhine Westphalia indicates that 43 % of those voting AfD are white-collar staff while 32% are manual workers.

Support for the AfD was especially high in areas with a high rate of unemployment but, at the same time, it was elected, in particular, by voters with intermediate school-leaving certificates.

The party portrays itself as a “people’s party” drawing from all segments of the society. In fact, it tries to reach out to working class people in some areas like the Ruhr. Due to a conflict about the accommodation of refugees in the northern parts of Essen, several members of the Social Democrats turned to the AfD.

Most prominent amongst them is Guido Reil, a former miner. Well known in the city, he campaigned for the AfD as the “voice of the workers” arguing that the Social Democrats care less about average people living in the place for decades than they do about the refugees. He failed to get elected.

The party is also systematically approaching German-Russians of which some two million live in Germany today. A sizeable section of this group has traditionally voted for the Christian Democrats but is increasingly irritated by political decisions such as the recent decision by the German national parliament in favour of same-sex marriage. The AfD distributes Russian-language leaflets and tries to exploit the traditional family values and scepticism against non-European immigration held by many German-Russians.

In July 2017, the AfD also built a special branch for this group, headed by Waldemar Birkle who was born in Kazakhstan and now runs for the AfD in Pforzheim. The AfD faction in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt also organised a pro-Russian conference in summer 2017 demanding closer relations with Putin’s Russia.


A history of in-fights

Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter
Chapter 4: A history of in-fights

All through the party’s history severe infights have shaken the party but not severely damaged it. Party founder Bernd Lucke, who was the unchallenged leader in the beginning, was toppled by a coalition of radical right activists and careerists at a party convention in Essen in July 2015.

He left the party shortly afterwards to create another party that plays no political role now. Frauke Petry who was heavily involved in the coup later faced a coalition of right-wingers led by Björn Höcke and Alexander Gauland from Thuringia and Brandenburg respectively who joined forces with Jörg Meuthen from Baden-Wurttemberg to isolate her in the party.

Like Lucke a professor of economics, Meuthen in the beginning was seen as more of a neoliberal than a right-wing hardliner. But, in the meantime, his statements and his unwillingness to kick-out open antisemites and racists from the parliamentary faction he heads in the Baden-Wurttemberg give doubt to this assessment.

The most recent national party convention in Cologne in April 2017 further marginalised Frauke Petry but gave rise to a duo of Jörg Meuthen and Alice Weidel as the party’s top candidates. Weidel, whom Meuthen had denied promising a place on the list of candidates in Baden-Wurttemberg shortly before, has become the alternative to Petry meanwhile. She is also from the business sector, comparatively young in a party dominated by old men, and with a clear neoliberal agenda.

The conflicts in the party are not just about careers but also about how quickly the party should be ready to enter a coalition with the conservative Christian Democrats.

While some in the party fear that doing so will undermine the party’s options to further play the role of the anti-establishment party, others hope that it would give the party more influence in decision-making procedures.

Björn Höcke

Furthermore, a wing of the party led by Höcke and Andrè Poggenburg – with a growing number of supporters throughout its regional branches – argues for the party to stay in a position of fundamental opposition. This includes mobilising for public rallies and reaching out to extreme right-wing groups like the Identitarian movement and the Institut für Staatspolitik that acts as an extreme right think-tank.

Höcke from Thuringia is one of the central points of conflict. He is highly provocative and the leading right-wing extremist in the party. In mid-January 2017, he spoke at an event in Dresden organised by the youth organisation of the AfD.

His statement that the German people is the only one that has built a monument of shame in the very heart of its capital and his claim that remembrance of the Holocaust should change fundamentally caused public uproar. Led by Frauke Petry, his opponents in the party demanded sanctions against him and his expulsion from the party.

In mid-February, the AfD’s federal executive board decided to initiate disciplinary steps but nothing has happened so far not least as this is a quite favourable situation for the party. On the one hand, it can argue that such a procedure has been started and that the party wants to get rid of such extreme right elements. On the other hand, the outcome of the procedure is anything but clear and will not come to an end before the national election, which also means that more radical voters can vote for the AfD.

Accordingly, Alexander Gauland, the party’s grey eminence, supported Höcke. As a result of Höcke’s Dresden speech, the deputy director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation declared he would be barred from taking part in the annual International Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony. When Höcke tried to join the event nevertheless, he was excluded from the commemoration.

The right-wing of the party has two important and well-run platforms used to push particular candidates whenever there are elections within the party. Only very recently, there has been the foundation of the Alternative Centre – an attempt to bring together those presenting themselves as the more moderate members of the party.

Among them are Martin Schiller who had acted as the MC of a meeting of the European Parliament’s right-wing “Europe of Nations and Freedom” (ENF) faction in Koblenz early this year and, also, Günter Koch who had invited Björn Höcke to speak at a rally. Höcke himself has stayed aside in the last few weeks, waiting for the outcome of the national elections.


The most important people

Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter
Chapter 5: The most important people

While the party had some 27,000 members as of late summer 2017, its party’s development and its political profile and agenda are largely shaped by a small number of individuals.

They occupy important positions in the party, have a power base in the form of their particular parliamentary faction, but also networks and more followers in other branches of the party.

When former party leader Bernd Lucke was toppled at the national party convention in summer 2015, some 3,000 members left the party in the weeks following.

Alice Weidel

Since that date, Jörg Meuthen and Frauke Petry have acted as speakers for the AfD at national level. Other important figures are Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel, nominated as the top candidates for the upcoming national elections, Björn Höcke and André Poggenburg, representing the far right wing of the party, and Markus Pretzell and Beatrix von Storch as the two remaining AfD members of the European Parliament.

Frauke Petry (*1975) is one of three party spokespeople since the foundation of the AfD. She has been the public face of the party for a long time, being invited to talk shows and covered not only by the news media but also by the gutter press.

She is a chemist (PhD) but her company went bankrupt in late 2013. She belongs to the national-conservative wing of the AfD and demanded, in an interview with the daily Mannheimer Morgen, that border police should shoot at refugees trying to cross the border “illegally”.

Petry also argued that the racist term völkisch should be used in a positive sense again. On abortion, she is in favour of a referendum to reduce pro-choice options. She gave birth to her fifth child in May 2017 and showed up with the baby on electoral posters. In August 2017, the Immunity Committee of the Saxon Landtag unanimously recommended the abolition of Petry’s immunity. Petry is currently accused of perjury, suspected of making false statements under oath before a parliamentary committee in November 2015.

Jörg Meuthen (*1961) is a professor of economics and was long seen as a neoliberal proponent in the party. He leads the AfD fraction in the parliament of Baden-Württemberg in which he was not able to organise the majority needed to expel the hard-boiled antisemite Wolfgang Gedeon.

On the occasion of the national party convention of the AfD in Stuttgart in April 2016, Meuthen declared: “We want to get away from a left-red-green contaminated Germany of the 68ers-movement, of which we are fed up.” To weaken the position of Frauke Petry in the party, he has allied himself with Alexander Gauland and Björn Höcke.

Alexander Gauland (*1941) looks back on a long political career, having been a member of the Christian Democrats from 1973 to 2013. He was head of the state chancellery in Hesse from 1987 to 1991, then acted as the editor of the daily Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung from 1991 to 2005. Both positions were anything but anti-establishment and give him very good “inside” knowledge of how politics and the media work.

His statement from the summer of 2016 that “people like Jérôme Boateng as a soccer player but do not want someone like him as neighbour” were openly racist.

He is the influential elder statesman of the AfD who has joined forces with Björn Höcke. He has also met Russian right-wing extremist Alexander Dugin and the Orthodox oligarch Konstantin Malofejev who has been organising European right-wing networks in support of Vladimir Putin.

Alice Weidel (*1979) only recently started to play an important role at the party’s national level when she was elected as top candidate of the AfD in April 2017, supported by the far right in the party, to offer a female alternative to Frauke Petry.

Weidel, who lived in China for six years, demands the return to the German Mark as the national currency. She sees no evidence for man-made climate change and strongly follows a neoliberal agenda as a member of the Friedrich von Hajek-Society to which also businessmen like Erich Sixt (car rentals) and Theo Müller (dairy products) belong.

Recently, she used the term cult of guilt which for decades has been utilised by the extreme right to argue that critically remembering Germany’s Nazi past impedes Germany from becoming a world power again.

Björn Höcke (*1972) is one of the most controversial figures in the AfD due to his Nazi-style rhetoric and extreme right-wing statements.

As the head of the AfD fraction in the Thuringian parliament, he also organized a series of demonstrations in Erfurt which attracted some 5,000 followers. In a speech, made in Magdeburg, he exclaimed that “Magdeburg and Germany not only have a history of thousand years” but that he “wants them to have a future of a thousand years”. This was widely understood as a reference to the term Tausendjähriges Reich used by the Nazis.

Other speeches to far right followers created further public outcries when he said that the sexual behaviour of people living in Africa and Europe are generically different (Nov. 2015) and that the German people is the only one that has built a monument to shame in the very heart of its capital (Jan 2017). He then drew the conclusion that remembrance of the Holocaust should change fundamentally.

Höcke has close connections to the right-wing extremist Götz Kubitschek who heads the far right Institut für Staatspolitik. Only recently Peter Tauber, the general secretary of the Christian Democrats, called Höcke a right-wing extremist also.

André Poggenburg (*1975) heads the AfD fraction in the parliament of Saxony-Anhalt and is member of the AfD’s federal executive board. In 2015, he co-authored the so-called Erfurt Resolution with Björn Höcke which became the basic policy document of the far right wing of the party.

After left-wing students protested against the AfD, he declared in early 2017 that “extreme left rags should and must be relegated from German universities and should better be brought to do manual labour instead of being a student.”

Referring to anti-fascist students, he further demanded that there should be measures “to finally get rid of this proliferation on the German people’s body (Volkskörper)”.

Taking part in an internal WhatsApp-Group to which more than the half of the AfD fraction belonged, he spread the slogan “Germany for the Germans” that is regularly used by the nazi NPD. Another contributor to the WhatsApp-Group, a police officer from Magdeburg, praised Ernst Roehm, the leader of the Nazis’ brown-shirted stormtroopers.

Marcus Pretzell (*1973) was elected to the European Parliament in 2014 where he is a member of the extreme right ENF faction. He voted against sanctions on Russia after the occupation of the Crimea and also against the ratification of the agreement of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris 2015.

Being the leader of the strongest AfD regional section – and also heading the AfD fraction in the parliament of North Rhine Westphalia – since summer 2017 gives him some influence in the party. In late 2016, he married Frauke Petry. They are widely seen as a duo that closely coordinates its action in the AfD.

Beatrix von Storch (*1971) is an aristocrat and member of the European Parliament where she belongs to the right-wing populist EFFD faction. Being a member of the neoliberal Friedrich von Hajek-Society, she did not want to be engaged in the ENF faction as she deemed the French Front National to be a “socialist party”.

In close cooperation with her husband, she is aggressively campaigning against equal rights for LGBTQI people and runs a broad coalition of NGOs that favours traditional family structures and pro-life politics. In late January 2016, she posted on Facebook that border police should use firearms against so-called illegal refugees including women. In 2009, she suggested on Facebook that “the oceans should be covered with concrete” as they are causing 95 % of CO2 emissions.


The AfD and the media

Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter
Chapter 6: The AfD and the media

Like other right-wing populist and extreme right parties, the AfD regularly complains about the media – either as being ignored or as being treated unfairly. In fact, the AfD receives a huge amount of media attention and its leading representatives are invited quite often onto political talk shows.

Also, media coverage has been extensive, contributing heavily to the AfD’s high visibility. Since late 2015, more and more public broadcasters decided to not label the party as right-wing populist when putting it on a political scale. This decision was greeted by the AfD as a step in recognising it as a democratic party.

Nevertheless, leading AfD representatives still contribute to the idea that the majority of media are systematically misleading the population, e.g. by not covering “the real threat” coming from Islam or from “sexually aggressive migrants”.

Alexander Gauland

While not repeating the term “lying press” – so popular amongst right-wingers in Germany in the mid-2010s – Frauke Petry has tried assiduously to popularise the term “Pinocchio media”. Yet, as research by young reporters has shown, in 2016 nearly 30 % of the “factual” statements she made as a talk show guest were completely or largely wrong.
The main attack of the AfD is against public broadcasting with a campaign against the obligatory radio licence fee which, demands the AfD, should be abolished.

The demand is presented by the neoliberal wing of the party that wants to weaken public broadcasting generally in favour of privately-owned TV companies but, at the same time, it is supported by the right-wing that makes public broadcasting responsible for not following a nativist, pro-life, and conservative programme.

While the party makes extensive use of the slogan “Courage for the truth”, it has denied journalists entry to party meetings several times. More radical statements can also be found in the party. Writing to an internal WhatsApp-Group of the AfD in Saxony-Anhalt, a police officer demanded that all media hostile to the German people should be banned after the “takeover of power”.

Media are not new to the AfD. Several well-known journalists have joined the party, among them Alexander Gauland who was the editor of the Maerkische Allgemeine Zeitung with a circulation of some 175,000 in Brandenburg from 1991 to 2005.

He now leads the AfD parliamentary group in Brandenburg. Leif-Erik Holm was a famous radio reporter in Mecklenburg–West Pomerania before running for the AfD. In Lower Saxony, at the top of the party branch sits Armin Paul Hampel, a former journalist with the public broadcasting agency. Nicolaus Fest was formerly deputy editor-in-chief of the Sunday edition of the tabloid daily BILD which has readership of ten million people.

They know how the media works and how to exploit media logic. In a strategic plan, leaked in 2017, the AfD outlined its ideas to make headlines. A major point was to create carefully calculated scandals that would prompt the media to cover the AfD.

Already now, the AfD can rely on several outlets that strongly support its case. The weekly Junge Freiheit has supported the party from the very start. Although in the beginning clearly taking sides with Bernd Lucke, it was still with the radicalised party when it proved that its development further to the right did not lead to a loss of voters. The monthly journal Zuerst! supports the more radical elements in the AfD with at least two interviews in every edition.

Finally, it is Compact magazine – edited by one-time left-winger and anti-fascist Jürgen Elsässer – that offers the most aggressive and disgusting attacks on the Merkel government, the political left and human rights NGOs. Once in support of Frauke Petry, whom the editor deemed to be “the better Chancellor,” the magazine has turned to supporting Gauland. Several blogs also support the party.

In summer 2017, a new far right tabloid weekly was started under the name Deutschland-Kurier. It offers a worldview close to that of the AfD. Contributors include Erika Steinbach who recently left the Christian Democratic Party and former editor-in-chief of the tabloid BILD Peter Bartels.


The AfD as part of a broader far right

Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter
Chapter 7: The AfD as part of a broader far right

Nominally, the AfD’s majority argues that extremism has no place in the party. This is a necessary behaviour due to the fact that in post- war Germany parties that have got the stigma of extremism did not do well in elections.

Yet, in fact the AfD is part of a broader nativist and racist mass movement that has emerged since 2013. It has started with campaigns against the accommodation of refugees in Saxony and Berlin run by the NPD.

It later grew close to the fast-rising (for a time) number of Pegida demonstrators and brought to light new extreme right splinter groups like the Identitarian movement. All these elements share the idea that immigration and Muslims are a deadly threat to what they see as European identity.

While the AfD officially decided not to collaborate with groups like the Identitarian movement, several of its activists do so, especially those from the party’s youth wing.

There are also close connections to far right middle-class student fraternities upholding racist values and to the extreme right Institut für Staatspolitik think tank and its various initiatives. For example, in late April 2017, Max Kolb, board member of the Young Alternative in Hesse, attacked a photojournalist in Marburg together with Philip Stein head of the 1-%-initiative, a right-wing grassroots group arguing that it needs just 1% of the population to effectively change the course of politics.

Frauke Petry

While Frauke Petry in Saxony denied any closer collaboration with the nakedly racist Pegida movement, others declared Pegida and the AfD to be “natural allies”. In fact, up to 85 % of the participants in the Dresden Pegida rallies stated they vote AfD.

Almost every week, AfD candidates running for the national parliament or members of the AfD rank and file find their latest hate outbursts featuring in the media.

In August alone, it was Laleh Hadjimohamadvali, running for the AfD in the Saarland, who declared that Islam is even worse than the Plague while another AfD-er suggested that one option to handle the issue of refugees coming across the Mediterranean would be to sink the boats containing them.

It has also become known that Hardi Schumny, currently handling financial issues of the group Christians in the AfD, donated to the nazi NPD some years ago. Jens Maier, a judge who is challenging Frauke Petry’s leading position in Saxony, even found noble words for the NPD and termed Anders Breivik’s terrorism merely an “act of desperation”.

These are the kind of people that make up the AfD.



Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter
Chapter 8: Summary

The AfD has become a radical right party deeply linked to the broad spectrum of reactionary, racist and nationalist groups in Germany.

Despite all its internal clashes, it has established itself in 13 out of 16 state parliaments and it will, in all likelihood, enter the German parliament, the Bundestag, in September.

While the AfD had been polling 13 to 15% in 2016, it is currently down to 8 to 9% in 2017. Yet, surveys in Saxony currently show it standing at 20% which is more than double what the party got there in 2014 at the beginning of the AfD success story.

8 to 9% in the national elections on 24 September would give the AfD some sixty Members of Parliament, at least half of them far rightists.

They will also be in control of the huge amount of public resources offered to a recognised faction like that in the national parliament.

Election results 



Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter

Michael Klein reports from Berlin

In today’s German national election, the two main parties – Christian Democrats and Social Democrats – lost some 14 percent of their previous votes polling their worst results ever in post-war elections.

For the first time since the early days of the Federal Republic of Germany, a far right party – the Alternative for Germany (AfD) – will send candidates into the national parliament having become third largest party with more than 13 percent of the votes leaving the Green Party, the Liberals and the Left trailing.

Compared with the two million voters the AfD mobilised in 2013, this time around six million voted for the racist party. Most of these voters want a very restrictive immigration and asylum policy.

The AfD’s success will give it around 85 seats in the Bundestag plus hundreds of paid jobs for far right and racist activists. Representatives of the AfD will also secure seats in bodies controlling public broadcasting, civic education and the secret service.

Its work in the parliament will be dominated by an approach of polarising opinion and resorting to hate speech. A relevant number of future MPs have already made headlines with racist and revisionist statements. For example, top AfD candidate Alice Weidel – initially presented as moderate – wrote, in an e-mail, about the government that “these pigs are nothing else but marionettes of the victorious powers of the Second World War”. Such a choice of words is more typical of the verbiage used by the likes of the nazi National Democratic Party.

While announcements by the AfD that it will win a majority of votes in the 2021 elections are utter drivel, the election result today will further boost the self-confidence of the broad far right movement that has developed over the last three years and of which the AfD has become the centre.

The staff and the financial resources the AfD will get thanks to its entry into the national parliament will give this movement as a whole more options for action and organisational stability.

For all that, the future of the AfD is far from certain. Although the AfD will not become part of a national government, it will put heavy pressure on the other parties on issues like immigration, crime and gender.

Infighting, however, will continue and the possibility that the party will split with the next party convention in December is not off the table.

With a parliamentary fraction of more than 80 MPs a split would not destroy the party in the short term though. In the long term, the more radical wing might successfully be stigmatised while the more moderate strand would be open for a coalition with the Christian Democrats.

Some of the latter’s leading representatives have already greeted the election result with the announcement that the Christian Democrats need to turn more to the right.

For the Social-Democrats (SPD) and the ex-Communist Left Party, the results are mixed. The SPD’s vote plunged catastrophically but the Left Party was able to avert such a fate and, though it lost votes, appears not to have sustained as much damage.



Minute Read
Close Chapter
Expand Chapter Close Chapter
Chapter 10: Postscript


Michael Klein reports from Berlin

For the first time since the early days of the Federal Republic of Germany, a far right party – the Alternative for Germany (AfD) – will send candidates into the national parliament, the Bundestag.

The AfD has become third largest party with 12.6% of the votes leaving the Green Party, the Liberals and the Left behind.

The results showed heavy losses for the two main parties – Christian Democrats and Social Democrats which, together, lost some 14% of their previous votes, reaching their worst results ever in post-war German elections.

Compared to the roughly two million voters the AfD mobilised in 2013, this time nearly 5.9 million voted for the racist party.

In Saxony, where the now-resigned – and charged with perjury – party speaker Frauke Petry led the regional branch, the party increased its vote by 400% compared with the most recent regional elections in 2014.

Alarmingly, the Social Democrats gained only 10% of the vote. In all the other East German states, the AfD emerged as the second strongest party.

Further strongholds of the party were in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg but pockets of as much as 40% support for the AfD can be identified in many other regions.

The AfD was able bring some 1.1 million people who had abstained from the 2013 election to the polls. An additional million votes came from supporters of the Christian Democrats as well as 0.5 million from the Social Democrats and another 0.4 million from the Left party.

The AfD was, above averagely, supported by male voters, by voters with secondary education and ages ranging from 30 to 44 years.

For those who voted AfD frustration or rejection of Merkel’s decisions to not close the borders in 2015 was the most important reason, closely followed by the notion that the Christian Democratic party (CDU) under Merkel’s stewardship has renounced its conservative profile.

Even more than a third of those who did not vote for the AfD agreed that the party’s position of reducing the assumed influence of Islam and restricting immigration are necessary.
In parts of East Germany, where racists mobilised by AfD and Pegida tried to crush Merkel’s campaign appearances, there is a strong feeling of marginalisation and neglect resulting from the fact that, after more than 25 years since unifying the two German states and despite many promises by the political elite, equal treatment is not in place.

While, in many constituencies, the Left Party was the protagonist many trusted to address these issues, the party is seen by many as part of the political establishment, meanwhile. This explains, in part, losses the Left Party suffered.

A major factor in voters’ anger and frustration is the continuous depopulation of the more rural areas that lead to the closure of schools and doctors’ surgeries and affect the quality of life significantly.

While most parties did not show up during the campaign, AfD systematically toured very small towns and places.
Finally, it was easy for the AfD to reach out to people with racist attitudes with a campaign linking the growing number of refugees coming to Germany with issues such as crime, insecurity, and unfair treatment.

On the evening of the election, leading AfD candidate Alexander Gauland threatened to “hunt” the future government again and again.

This statement got huge applause from the AfD crowd and should be understood as an indication of a huge level of self-confidence. This is no surprise as the election strategy of the AfD – to create public awareness and address the electorate with explicitly racist and revisionist statements – has paid off very well.

After its success, representatives of the AfD will also gain seats in bodies controlling public broadcasting, civic education, the secret service plus parliamentary assemblies of international organisations like the Council of Europe and the NATO in which the Front National and the Party for Freedom are already present.

In Germany’s parliament the strongest minority party traditionally gets the position of the influential presidency of the budgets committee. It might also get the same position in the culture committee in which many projects confronting racism and antisemitism are discussed and agreed.

In regional parliaments, the AfD has several times attacked civil society and charity groups that are supporting refugees and demanded to cancel the funding.

In all, the AfD will continue to put pressure on the democratic parties, especially on issues are relevant to its followers like migration, crime, abortion and family, blaming the left and liberalism for what they call the decay of Germany.

Its breakthrough has provided the AfD with 94 seats in the Bundestag plus hundreds of jobs for far right and racist activists. Its work there will be dominated by a stance of polarising and hate speech.

One of the more recent examples came from the top candidate and future head of the AfD fraction in the national parliament, Alexander Gauland. At the AfD’s first press conference after the elections, he stated – in a typical way of allusion – that he is in doubt that Israel’s right to exist should be part of Germany’s reason of state.

Support for Israel has been for long a fundamental pillar of German foreign politics even if parties like the nazi National Democrats (NPD) have questioned this many times.

The same day, party spokesman Jörg Meuthen denied that the party had become more radical over the last years and even defended Björn Höcke’s ridiculous racist claim, made in November 2016 in a speech given at the extreme right Institut für Staatspolitik, that there is a particular African strategy of reproduction compared to the European one.

With Gauland claiming in an interview with the tabloid BILD that Björn Höcke belongs to the very heart of the AfD it is highly unlikely that an earlier attempt by intraparty opponents to kick him out of the party will be successful. Moreover, Gauland favours that Höcke should be elected into the Federal Executive of the AfD.

The most dramatic incident, however, happened in the morning after the election. The AfD was the first to comment on the results at a Federal Press Conference. With Frauke Petry, being the last of the party’s speakers, repeated her criticism of pushing the party further to the right and then – taking everyone by surprise – declared, before flouncing out of the room, that she would not become a member of the AfD’s Bundestag fraction.

It was foreseeable that the infighting in the AfD would continue. Jörg Meuthen had already announced that he would oppose Petry if she ran for the position of the party leader in December.

While Petry probably had hoped that her withdrawal would prompt others to follow her, there were only very few who decided to resign from their party positions and/or to leave the party.

Alongside Petry, it was only her partner Marcus Pretzell, who was head of the AfD fraction in the parliament of North Rhine Westphalia as well as a couple of likeminded in the Saxon branch of the AfD – that Petry led for several years – who quit.

Even several AfD leaders who shared Petry’s critique of the radicalisation of the AfD criticised her for her isolated individual decision.

Even in case that, over time and due to scandals to come, more will leave the current AfD fraction in the national parliament, this will not significantly hinder the work of the AfD.

It also seems unlikely that 36 MPs – this is how many Petry needs to establish a parliamentary fraction – will leave the party and join a new party project whose future is more than uncertain.

When former party leader Bernd Lucke founded a party after being dismissed from the AfD, he failed miserably.

Petry was directly elected to the Bundestag in her constituency in Saxony. Many who voted for her are deeply disappointed by her decision. This will also weigh on every attempt at a new beginning.

As a result of her walkout there is no person around whom the minority in the AfD critical to pushing the party further to the right can gather and organise.

The party now is under the control of radical and extreme right forces. Accordingly, Bernd Baumann from Hamburg, who is close to Gauland, was elected to the influential position of the parliamentary manager.

A number of future MPs has also made headlines with racist and revisionist statements.

For example, leading AfD candidate Alice Weidel – initially presented as moderate – wrote in an e-mail about the government that “these pigs are nothing else but marionettes of the victorious powers of the Second World War”.

Such choice of words is more typical of what the nazi NPD regularly uses.

Albrecht Glaser, selected by the party for the position of the vice-president of the national parliament, earlier argued against the One-World ideology of communists and capitalists echoing classic Nazi terminology.

Wilhelm von Gottberg, a long-term functionary of the associations of Germans expelled from East European countries, sees the Holocaust as an “effective vehicle to criminalise the Germans and their history”. And Beatrix von Storch accused Social Democrat MP Eva Högl of being an “ADHD-maniac”.

While announcements of the AfD that it will win the majority of votes in the 2021 elections are utter drivel, the election result will further boost the self-confidence of the broad far right movement that has developed over the last three years and of which the AfD has become the centre.

The staff and the financial resources the AfD will get with the entry into the national parliament will give this movement as a whole more options for action and organisational stability.

The recent action when AfD candidate Andreas Lichert was involved in the purchase of a property that now serves the Identitarian Movement as a base could be exemplary for similar developments in the future.

In the coming years, the current party leadership will focus on performing a radical nativist and racist opposition on the national level.

On the regional level, the AfD will try to push at least the Christian Democrats further to the right using issues like migration, crime and by playing the anti-communist card.

Those inside the Christian Democratic Party who had been favouring collaboration with the AfD already– like many in Saxony-Anhalt – will be lured to intensify collaboration.

The next regional elections in Saxony in 2019 might bring up the AfD as the strongest party again which would then give them the option to run a government.

However, with the Christian Democrats and the Left becoming either second or third but not ready to enter into a coalition, the AfD will only help create a situation of political chaos.


Stay informed

Sign up for emails from HOPE not hate to make sure you stay up to date with the latest news, and to receive simple actions you can take to help spread HOPE.


We couldn't do it without our supporters

Fund research, counter hate and support and grow inclusive communities by donating to HOPE not hate today

I am looking for...


Useful links

Close Search X
Donate to HOPE not hate