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The far-right AfD′s disruptive tactics in German parliament | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW


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In the heated evening hours of election night in 2017, Alexander Gauland issued an ominous promise — indeed a threat. 

“We will hunt them,” the senior Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician said of his political opponents. 

The night was September 24, 2017, when the AfD was catapulted onto the national stage, becoming Germany’s third-largest party and eventually the leading opposition party in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. Gauland would go on to co-chair the AfD’s parliamentary group.

Three years later, it’s clear that his pledge wasn’t meant as a metaphor.

  • Christian Lüth (Soeren Stache/dpa/picture-alliance)

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Christian Lüth

    Ex-press officer Christian Lüth had already faced demotion for past contentious comments before being caught on camera talking to a right-wing YouTube video blogger. “The worse things get for Germany, the better they are for the AfD,” Lüth allegedly said, before turning his focus to migrants. “We can always shoot them later, that’s not an issue. Or gas them, as you wish. It doesn’t matter to me.”

  • Alexander Gauland (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Murat)

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Alexander Gauland

    Co-chairman Alexander Gauland said the German national soccer team’s defender Jerome Boateng might be appreciated for his performance on the pitch — but people would not want “someone like Boateng as a neighbor.” He also argued Germany should close its borders and said of an image showing a drowned refugee child: “We can’t be blackmailed by children’s eyes.”

  • Weidel and Gauland (Reuters/F.Bensch)

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Alice Weidel

    Alice Weidel generally plays the role of “voice of reason” for the far-right populists, but she, too, is hardly immune to verbal miscues. Welt newspaper, for instance, published a 2013 memo allegedly from Weidel in which she called German politicians “pigs” and “puppets of the victorious powers in World War II.” Weidel initially claimed the mail was fake, but now admits its authenticity.

  • Frauke Petry (Getty Images/T. Lohnes)

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Frauke Petry

    German border police should shoot at refugees entering the country illegally, the former co-chair of the AfD told a regional newspaper in 2016. Officers must “use firearms if necessary” to “prevent illegal border crossings.” Communist East German leader Erich Honecker was the last German politician who condoned shooting at the border.

  • Björn Höcke (picture-alliance/Arifoto Ug/Candy Welz)

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Björn Höcke

    The head of the AfD in the state of Thuringia made headlines for referring to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame” and calling on the country to stop atoning for its Nazi past. The comments came just as Germany enters an important election year — leading AfD members moved to expel Höcke for his remarks.

  •  Beatrix von Storch (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Murat)

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Beatrix von Storch

    Initially, the AfD campaigned against the euro and bailouts — but that quickly turned into anti-immigrant rhetoric. “People who won’t accept STOP at our borders are attackers,” the European lawmaker said in 2016. “And we have to defend ourselves against attackers,” she said — even if this meant shooting at women and children.

  •  Marcus Pretzell (picture alliance/dpa/M. Murat)

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Marcus Pretzell

    Pretzell, former chairman of the AfD in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and husband to Frauke Petry, wrote, “These are Merkel’s dead,” shortly after news broke of the deadly attack on the Berlin Christmas market in December 2016.

  • Andre Wendt (picture alliance/ZB/H. Schmidt)

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Andre Wendt

    The member of parliament in Germany’s eastern state of Saxony made waves in early 2016 with an inquiry into how far the state covers the cost of sterilizing unaccompanied refugee minors. Thousands of unaccompanied minors have sought asylum in Germany, according to the Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (BumF) — the vast majority of them young men.

  • Andre Poggenburg(picture alliance/dpa/J. Wolf)

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Andre Poggenburg

    Poggenburg, former head of the AfD in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, has also raised eyebrows with extreme remarks. In February 2017, he urged other lawmakers in the state parliament to join measures against the extreme left-wing in order to “get rid of, once and for all, this rank growth on the German racial corpus” — the latter term clearly derived from Nazi terminology.

  • Alexander Gauland AfD

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    Alexander Gauland, again …

    During a campaign speech in Eichsfeld in August 2017, AfD election co-candidate Alexander Gauland said that Social Democrat parliamentarian Aydan Özoguz should be “disposed of” back to Anatolia. The German term, “entsorgen,” raised obvious parallels to the imprisonment and killings of Jews and prisoners of war under the Nazis.

  • Alexander Gauland

    AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

    … and again

    Gauland was roundly criticized for a speech he made to the AfD’s youth wing in June 2018. Acknowledging Germany’s responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi era, he went on to say Germany had a “glorious history and one that lasted a lot longer than those damned 12 years. Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history.”

    Author: Dagmar Breitenbach, Mark Hallam

Fast forward to November 2020, as right-wing activists filmed themselves in the Bundestag as they blocked and insulted lawmakers from various parties. They were part of major protests against planned national coronavirus restrictions being debated in the chamber. The men and women were properly registered — as guests of individual members of the AfD. They appeared to have been allowed in on purpose, to confront other politicians and then later to upload their videos to social media platforms. 

The footage wasn’t pleasant. The stunt, with AfD fingerprints all over it, prompted outrage in Germany. After all, parliament is considered a protected space dedicated to the debate of political issues.

Britta Haßelmann speaking in the Bundestag

Green Party MP Britta Hasselmann deplores the crude tone of right-wing rhetoric in parliament and beyond

“The method and strategy is evident. On one hand they’re working to defame parliament but beyond that videos of such actions are made to be uploaded to YouTube and then shared with others,” Green Party politician Britta Hasselmann told DW after the incident.

Read more: What impact does hate speech have on climate activism?

Delegitimizing opponents

The anti-racism Amadeu-Antonio Foundation, a Berlin-based non-governmental organization (NGO), is among the AfD’s sterner critics. It sees the action as part of an AfD media strategy to sow mistrust and undermine opponents. In a recent study, the organization wrote: “Right-wing activists have the goal of delegitimizing democracy, political opponents and democratic institutions.” 

The study looked at the behavior of so-called “alternative right” groups including the AfD. These groups can reach audiences in the millions via YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, with the AfD’s YouTube channels among the most influential in the scene. 

“Alternative-right actors seek to spread their ideology, which is not (yet) a majority opinion and which often exists outside the bounds of democratic norms,” the foundation wrote. “Therefore, they try to move the accepted boundaries of public discourse by way of repeated breaches of taboos. This is happening strategically, step-by-step, and continually.” 

Read more: Violence breaks out at Germany’s far-right AfD party conference

Green Party parliamentarian Hasselmann agrees, saying “any and every parliamentarian can sense” that the tone of the rhetoric in parliament and beyond has deteriorated.

“Of course, I will not allow myself to be intimidated. But I do not want to acclimatize myself to hate and agitation. I don’t want to get used to the anti-feminism of the AfD either — to the laughter from their benches when women take to the speaker’s podium. I, along with many others, will never come to terms with that. The democratic parties will stand against it together,” Hasslemann vows.

Modeled on Donald Trump? 

The AfD’s media strategy bears a few of the hallmarks seen in outgoing US President Donald Trump’s approach to politics. In both, the truth is of no consequence, the main objective is to provoke and to grab attention. Activists close to the AfD also maintain contacts with the same alt-right groups Trump has courted and bolstered in the US. 

Disinformation is a core pillar of their strategy, according to the Amadeu-Antonio Foundation, “The more exposure a user has to disinformation, the more likely they are to believe it, the more likely it is to take root.” 

Experts also note that this strategy is often marked by a progressive radicalization. To stay in the headlines by stoking outrage, the level of outrage must be constantly turned up. Again, Trump’s presidency provides a pretty good case study.

Ex-AfD member Franziska Schreiber: ‘I was met with hate’

Light on content, high on risk?

Still, this radicalization carries risks for the AfD. First of all, it’s largely devoid of content — focussing instead on simple messaging aimed at targeted audiences — hardly enabling a culture of rigorous debate. 

For Britta Hasselmann, that is the gaping hole in the AfD’s flank. Yet it remains a weakness that other parties can’t seem to exploit: “We must learn to make it clear that the AfD has no content whatsoever and no answers to the big questions facing us down the road: Neither to the coronavirus pandemic, nor climate change, nor social issues. We must learn to expose this lack of vision.”

The other potential danger for the AfD could prove to be law enforcement. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency already classes parts of the party as extreme right-wing and is monitoring their activity. Should the entire party fall under formal observation by domestic security services, that could bring huge practical drawbacks, as well as perhaps scaring away party members and voters. That’s one more reason stunts like last week’s Bundestag disruption are controversial — even inside the AfD. 

This article was translated from German.