On September 24, 2017, a nationalist, anti-immigration party called Alternative for Germany won 12.6 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections, coming third behind the center-left Social Democrats and Angela Merkel’s center-right Union bloc.
The result sent shock waves through German politics and drew intense scrutiny abroad because of the country’s Nazi past. Yet attention soon moved on to the difficulties Merkel was having in forming a new government. The activities of AfD, as it’s known, took a back seat.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been any news. The party now has seats in more than a dozen regional assemblies and the national parliament. Its lawmakers have been speaking in debates, in the media and on social networking sites, voicing opinions that were previously considered beyond the pale in German politics and prompting some of its more moderate members to leave the party.
Some AfD politicians’ history has also been catching up with them in unflattering ways.
So for those who haven’t been able to follow the fate of AfD for the past few months, here’s a roundup of some of the things the party’s been up to lately.
- Jan-Ulrich Weiss, a 42-year-old AfD lawmaker in Potsdam, was convicted Feb. 16 of smuggling 2.9 million cigarettes into Britain. The court concluded that he had “considerable criminal energy” and gave him a suspended prison sentence of 22 months. Along with a co-defendant he was also ordered to pay over half a million euros in taxes. He is appealing the verdict.
- AfD politician Jeanette Ihme was convicted of incitement to hatred for calling refugees “primates.” Her party colleagues Kay Nerstheimer, a legislator in Berlin, was also convicted of incitement to hatred for describing gay people was a “degenerate species.”
- Johannes Biesel, an AfD politician in Saarland (where the party’s local chapter has long had ties to far-right circles), posted on social media that he’d prefer 14-year-old girls over 18-year-olds. He later claimed it was a joke.
- AfD’s leadership decided not to expel Bjoern Hoecke, the party’s leader in the eastern state of Thuringia known for his firebrand rhetoric, revisionist ideas and use of Nazi language, after he suggested that Germany should stop spending so much time acknowledging its Nazi past.
- Its deputies made basic mathematical errors in their proposals for tax reform.
- AfD proposed a bill for something the government has already done.
- Its caucus leader Bernd Baumann voted in favor of a government motion by mistake.
- AfD politician Sebastian Muenzmeier complained bitterly about not being allowed to join the Bundestag football team. Rival lawmakers pointed out that he’s been convicted of hooliganism.
- When Parliament voted on whether to appoint Angela Merkel as chancellor (for a fourth term), AfD lawmakers unsurprisingly said ‘no.’ But like in any election, posting a picture of your ballot papers is forbidden. That didn’t stop one AfD lawmaker from doing so – and probably getting a €1,000 fine from the speaker.
- The party gave up all pretense of not supporting PEGIDA, the anti-Muslim group from Dresden co-founded by petty criminal Lutz Bachmann. Bjoern Hoecke (see above) recently spoke at a PEGIDA rally. Bachmann returned the favor by taking part in a Hoecke event.
- A Bavarian lawmaker was found to employ two people associated with the Identitarian Movement, a white nationalist group that’s under surveillance by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency; turns out, he wasn’t the only one. German media have exposed dozens of regional and national lawmakers and AfD staff with Identitarian links.
- German weekly Die Zeit counted at least 27 AfD staff in the Bundestag who are members or supporters of far-right groups. There are far-right activists in Lower-Saxony’s parliament too.
- Even Alexander Gauland, the party’s co-leader, seems to have employed a former leader of the banned neo-Nazi group HDJ since 2015.
- In Mecklenburg Western-Pommerania, long a stronghold of the far right, AfD’s members and supporters seem to overlap with those of extremist groups such as Blood & Honour and the nearly banned National Democratic Party (NPD).
Racism and anti-Semitism
- Tino Chrupalla, an AfD lawmaker from eastern Germany, recently spoke at a town hall event in Oppach, where his party received 45.7 percent of the vote in last year’s election. During the event one person in the audience reportedly voiced his fear that in the new future there will only be “light brown Germans” and later referred to “our boys who were hung at Nuremberg.” Yes, he referred to Nazis as “our boys.” Chrupalla, according to the report, didn’t object, but instead jumped on the bandwagon by talking about the “Umvolkung” (race replacement) AfD fears is taking place in Germany.
- Jens Meyer, an AfD lawmaker from Saxony, called tennis legend Boris Becker’s son a “half-N.” – then promptly blamed an unidentified member of staff for having sent the tweet. Becker is suing.
- Wolfgang Gedeon, a regional lawmaker in Baden-Wuerttemberg known for anti-Semitic comments, criticized the Stolpersteine (‘stumbling blocs’) art project that seeks to remember Jews deported by the Nazis.
- During a Holocaust memorial event in the Bundestag, AfD lawmaker Hansjoerg Mueller refused to stand up for a Holocaust survivor.
Despite (or perhaps because of) all of the above, AfD seems to be heading for another double-digit result in this fall’s Bavaria state election. That will swell the party coffers even further. Thanks to its election successes so far, the party is receiving a lot of public money. First, there’s money they get for each vote in their favor – worth millions a year. Then there’s the money they get for parliamentary work – millions more to pay for staff, offices etc. And finally, AfD can expect public funds for its foundation, a charitable outfit every German party has intended to further its ideological goals – in this case that’ll be ethnocentric nationalism.