Has the AfD's Nazi rhetoric doomed it to electoral oblivion?

When the far-right Alternative for Deutschland’s (AfD) Björn Höcke referred to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial as a “memorial of shame” during a speech in Dresden in 2017, the former history teacher and state legislator was almost kicked out of his party.

But despite the fact that two-thirds of the AfD supported Höcke being expelled a 2018 tribunal ruled that he could remain. In September 2021, Höcke was back in Dresden, this time scheduled to speak at a rally by far-right organisation Pegida.

Also due to speak was Jens Maier, a Dresden native and AfD candidate in Sunday’s (September 26) general election.

Höcke and Maier were shouted down by anti-fascist protesters, which accompanied the march as it weaved through the streets. Dresden police said that one man in the Pegida crowd was arrested for performing a Nazi salute, forbidden under German law.

Neither Höcke nor Maier responded to requests for comment by Euronews.

special mini-series
Picture taken May 1, 2019 shows Thuringia’s AfD faction leader Bjoern Hoecke attending a rally in ErfurtJens Meyer/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

It is not the first — nor, likely, the last time — that the AfD, and Höcke in particular, have been linked with that darkest of periods of German history, the Nazi era.

In one notable train wreck interview with Germany’s state broadcaster, Höcke was confronted with embarrassing video interviews of his AfD colleagues failing to distinguish between passages from his own book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Earlier this year, former AfD press officer Christian Lüth was sacked for suggesting that migrants should be gassed. Andre Poggenburg, a former AfD legislator in Saxony-Anhalt in 2017 echoed Nazi rhetoric when he said left-wing parliamentarians were a “rank growth on the German racial corpus.”

But more often than not, it is the failure to cut ties with the extreme wing of an already extreme political party that has attracted media attention when it comes to the AfD.

The party’s founder Alexander Gauland has regularly attracted criticism for his racist comments.

As recently as 2018, Gauland said that the Nazi era was “just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history.” He was accused of downplaying the importance of the Third Reich, although his supporters countered that his comments were taken out of context.

I honestly think that they might be taking themselves apart.

Marcel Dirsus
Institute for Security Policy

But while the extreme opinions of the party’s members during the 2017 Bundestag election regularly grabbed headlines, in 2021 the AfD has been something of a footnote as Europe waits to see who will win the race to replace the political giant of Angela Merkel on September 26.

The party is still polling at around 11% nationally and still has the capability to win big in local elections, particularly in eastern Germany, but it has failed to become a national political force.

Indeed, in the battle that has been raging between the so-called ‘moderates’ in the AfD and the zealots, like Höcke, it is undoubtedly — in 2021 — the zealots that have won. And the more extreme the AfD has become, the less successful it has been on the national political stage.

“There is a consensus in German history and German politics about the Nazi era,” said Marcel Dirsus, a non-resident fellow at the Institute for Security Policy in Hamburg.

“The only force that has ever really questioned that consensus is the AfD […]. I just don’t think it is working. It’s too radical […]. Aside from being indecent, electorally it just isn’t very smart.”

Founded in 2013, the AfD began as a classic Eurosceptic political party that capitalised on frustration in parts of western Europe about bailouts given to countries like Greece in the wake of the financial crisis, as well as about immigration from poorer states of Europe to Germany.

But it was the migrant crisis of 2015 and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy to refugees from Syria that gave the AfD the cause that it had so far lacked. As the tide of opinion turned from empathy to anger, voters flocked to the AfD in droves.

In 2013, the AfD had failed to reach the 5% threshold to enter the Bundestag – in 2017 it won 94 seats and became the third-largest party in the German parliament. In the years since, the AfD has attracted millions of votes in regions such as Bavaria and Saxony, although in the last four elections that the party has contested at the state level in 2020 and 2021 it has lost seats.

The popularity of the AfD has waned as the number of migrants arriving in Germany from overseas has dwindled, both because of international circumstances and the fact that immigration policies have been tightened by Merkel’s government since 2015. Meanwhile, the new influx of refugees from Afghanistan has failed to provoke the same anger as six years ago.

“The situation is vastly different now,” said Dirsus. “I mean, when the AfD was gaining strength you had a situation [where] people were essentially walking into Germany.”

Although AfD members have been critical of the arrivals from Afghanistan, most voters accept that those being brought to Germany in the wake of the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul are those who directly aided German troops. Many also consider that the mess in Afghanistan is one of Europe and US’ own making, and it is only right that they do what they can to clean it up.

Meanwhile, although the COVID-19 pandemic has energised some sectors of the radical right elsewhere in Europe – and certainly in the US – the AfD wavered on whether to exploit anger amongst large sections of the populace first towards lockdown restrictions and then vaccines.

“Populist, radical right parties are usually defined by authoritarianism, and respect for law and order and rules has traditionally been something they’ve emphasised,” said Matthias Dilling, a lecturer at Oxford University.


“[The AfD] has lean[ed towards] saying yes, let’s support the government [and] these restrictions because this is the law and we need to respect the rules that are laid out.”

As the pandemic has rumbled on, the AfD has belatedly tried to amplify the sceptical, libertarian critique of the ongoing coronavirus restrictions, particularly with regards to vaccine passports, but remained unable to translate what is a noisy but relatively fringe movement into wide political appeal.

That said, even if the AfD does not improve on its electoral success compared to 2017, it remains a prominent force within the Bundestag that attracts the ballots of one-in-ten voters. Meanwhile, the AfD’s support has undoubtedly forced the CDU-CSU government to the right, something that could increase without the moderate Angela Merkel at the helm.

And while the AfD’s increasing radicalisation has seen it lose support in recent years, radical voices can be as dangerous outside government as they are within it.

“I honestly think that they might be taking themselves apart. I think there is a scenario where they just become more and more radical and that is dangerous in other ways,” said Dirsus.

“Because then, who knows? Maybe some of the rhetoric inspires people to commit violence.”

In the meantime, it is unlikely that a party led by individuals like Höcke, Gauland and Alice Weidel are going to attract disenfranchised CDU voters, even if — as expected — Merkel’s heir apparent Armin Laschet, loses the chancellery to the SDP for the first time since 2002.

The problem for any moderates left in the AfD is that once the radicals get hold of the reins, it is very difficult to dislodge them, and it is difficult for any party to appeal to both the neo-Nazi thugs in the streets and rural CDU voters worried that Merkel has taken their party too far to the left.

Only one German politician in modern history achieved that kind of political symbiosis, and Germany remembers how that story ended.

This is article is part of our special mini-series to help you understand the German election.

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related


Air strikes hit capital of Ethiopia's Tigray, regional TV reports

ADDISABABA -Air strikes hit the capital of northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region on Monday and injured several civilians, television controlled by the area’s Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) reported. Tigrai TV ... Read more »

Austin says U.S. is closely watching Chinese advanced weapons development

TBILISI – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday that Washington was closely watching China’s development of advanced weapons systems but declined to comment on a report that it ... Read more »

UK's aviation regulator caps Heathrow plan to charge more

LONDON – Britain’s aviation regulator said that Heathrow, the country’s busiest airport, would not be permitted to increase charges as much as it had wanted, as both the hub and ... Read more »

EU plans to boost reach of Pfizer COVID-19 shot

By Yadarisa Shabong and Pushkala Aripaka -Europe’s drug regulator said on Monday it was evaluating use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as five, while also taking ... Read more »

U.S. concerned by possible Chinese, Russian uses of hypersonic weapons

By Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA – Washington is concerned about hypersonic missile technology and its potential military applications by China and Russia, a U.S. arms control official said on Monday, after ... Read more »

Man lived with phone in stomach for several months

A man lived with a phone lodged in his stomach for six months. The unnamed male travelled to Aswan University Hospital in Egypt where he was treated by doctors for ... Read more »

Asda's $1 billion deal to sell petrol forecourts to EG Group terminated

LONDON -Asda, the British supermarket chain, and EG Group have terminated a deal that would have seen EG buy Asda’s petrol forecourts for 750 million pounds ($1.03 billion), the two ... Read more »

Husband in court over killing of Kenyan athlete Tirop

NAIROBI -A Kenyan court on Monday allowed police to hold the husband of long distance runner Agnes Tirop for 20 days over her killing, the KTN News channel reported. Tirop’s ... Read more »

UK's Johnson to lead tributes to slain lawmaker Amess

By Michael Holden LONDON -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead tributes on Monday to David Amess, the veteran lawmaker stabbed to death while meeting constituency voters, as police questioned ... Read more »

Crimea reports new record daily COVID-19 cases

604 new coronavirus cases were registered on the peninsula Read more »

Russia records over 33,700 COVID-19 cases in last 24 hours

1,015 coronavirus deaths were registered in the past 24 hours, this is the highest daily number since the beginning of the pandemic Read more »

Activists urge Beijing Olympics boycott over human rights concerns

© Reuters/ELIAS MARCOU Activist groups hold a news conference voicing opposition to the Beijing Winter Olympics ATHENS (Reuters) – Human rights activists urged governments and athletes worldwide to boycott the ... Read more »

Cleo Smith disappearance: Parents speak out four days after pre-schooler vanished from remote Australian campsite

Cleo Smith’s family have spoken publicly about the four-year-old’s mysterious disappearance for the first time since she vanished from a remote campsite in Western Australia early on Saturday morning. Ellie ... Read more »

Pyongyang's new missile launch to ramp up tensions on Korean Peninsula — Russian senator

Konstantin Kosachev stressed that it was possible to resolve the Korean Peninsula's issues solely through the goodwill of all parties and mutual efforts to ease the military standoff Read more »

Vladimir Putin suggests 'pretty' journalist Hadley Gamble can't understand his comments on European gas crisis

Friends of a respected US reporter bizarrely accused of using her body to “distract” Vladimir Putin have taken a sweet swipe over the jibe. CNBC journalist Hadley Gamble interviewed the ... Read more »

Ukraine confirms all-time high of over 500 COVID-19 daily deaths — health ministry

The previous all-time high was reported on April 7, 2021 Read more »

Watch live: MEPs debate EU-Poland legal crisis

Poland’s prime minister is speaking at the European Parliament on Tuesday as MEPs debate the country’s EU law crisis. You can watch the debate in the video player, above from ... Read more »

North Korea test fires ballistic missile covering 430-450 km in distance — Yonhap

The military of the Republic of Korea believes that Pyongyang may have tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile Read more »

South Korean man dies after oxygen cylinder is sucked into MRI machine

© AFP A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. Photo: AFP Warning: Readers may find some of the detailed descriptions in the content of this article disturbing. A 60-year-old patient has ... Read more »

India: Couple in flood-hit Kerala sail to wedding in cooking pot

© Provided by Al Jazeera The Indian couple were pushed through floodwaters in a cooking pot to their marriage [AFP] An Indian couple have sailed across submerged streets in a ... Read more »

Japan's prime minister cuts working trip amid North Korean missile launches — Kyodo

A meeting of the Japanese National Security Council is expected to be held today Read more »

Hundreds of political prisoners freed in Myanmar after amnesty

Hundreds of political prisoners have been freed from Myanmar’s Insein prison, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s party spokesman and a famous comedian, according to local media. The prisoners walked free ... Read more »

China's market regulator eyes better support for private firms

© Reuters/Thomas Peter FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s market regulator will take steps to boost support for private firms in ... Read more »

US Congress pushes back as Donald Trump sues over Capitol riots probe

A House committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is moving swiftly Tuesday to hold at least one of Donald Trump’s allies in contempt as the former president ... Read more »

Tokyo voices protest to Pyongyang over launch of ballistic missiles

"Such launches violate the UN Security Council resolutions. This is deeply regrettable," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said Read more »

North Korea fires at least one ballistic missile into sea hours after US offers to resume nuke talks

North Korea has fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea in a continuation of its recent weapons tests hours after the US reaffirmed its offer to resume diplomacy ... Read more »

Seoul says North Korea tested possible submarine missile

© Provided by Associated Press People watch a TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea’s missile launch with file footage at a train station in Seoul, South ... Read more »

Man dies after oxygen cylinder sucked into MRI machine in South Korea

© AFP A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. Photo: AFP A 60-year-old patient has died in South Korea after being hit in the head by a 60kg oxygen cylinder that ... Read more »

North Korea: Tensions revived as Pyongyang fires new ballistic test missile into sea

North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea on Tuesday in a continuation of its recent weapons tests hours after the U.S. reaffirmed its offer to resume ... Read more »

Afghanistan: US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad steps down after chaotic troop withdrawal

The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan is stepping down following the chaotic American withdrawal from the country, the State Department said Monday. Zalmay Khalilzad will leave the post this week ... Read more »

Philadelphia train riders filmed on phones as woman was raped, police say

A man charged with raping a woman on a commuter train just outside of Philadelphia harassed her for more than 40 minutes while multiple people held up their phones to ... Read more »

South Korea confirms launch of ballistic missile by North Korea - Yonhap

According to its data, the missile was launched not far from the coastal city of Sinpo in South Hamgyong Province Read more »

N.Korea fires ballistic missile off its east coast, S.Korea military says

© Reuters/Denis Balibouse FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva By Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith SEOUL (Reuters) ... Read more »

US envoy to Afghanistan resigns in wake of chaotic withdrawal

© Provided by Al Jazeera Khalilzad’s departure follows his exclusion from the Biden administration’s first formal talks with the Taliban after the US pullout, held in Doha earlier in October ... Read more »

Ex-Nazi death camp secretary who fled trial to face court

© Markus Schreiber Furchner asked not to be obliged to attend the trial in person A 96-year-old former Nazi concentration camp secretary who absconded before her trial was set to ... Read more »

Inquiry into the destruction of 46,000 year-old caves at Juukan Gorge comes with a warning

A final report has been issued with a dire warning from experts after the destruction of ancient Australian sites dating back 46,000 years. A federal parliamentary committee recommended a number ... Read more »

Attacks on freedom of expression ‘devastating' for public health

© Provided by Al Jazeera Russia, now grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases, was one of the countries that introduced new laws restricting freedom of expression during the pandemic, ... Read more »

Thomas West to become new US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation

Zalmay Khalilzad is stepping down Read more »

Trudeau visits Indigenous community reeling from unmarked graves

© Provided by Al Jazeera Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau says he has ‘many regrets’ about travelling on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation rather than visiting the Indigenous community [Jennifer ... Read more »

Japan's daily new Covid-19 cases have plummeted

Some possible factors in Japan's success include a belated but remarkably rapid vaccination campaign, empty nightlife venues and a population used to the wearing of masks. Video / AP Read more »