Alternative für Deutschland

Introduction

The far-right Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany or AfD) political party has increased in popularity across Germany on anti-immigrant and anti-Islam platforms. The party blames immigrants in general and Muslim immigrants in particular for weakening the German culture and way of life.* The party's manifesto declares forthrightly that “Islam does not belong to Germany.”* In Germany's September 2017 parliamentary elections, AfD became the third largest political party in the German parliament.* In March 2021, Germany’s domestic intelligence service placed the AfD under surveillance for suspicions of promoting extremism. A German court soon after suspended the surveillance program while AfD mounts a legal challenge.* If surveillance is approved, it would mark the first time a post-war German political party represented in the federal parliament is subjected to such a high level of scrutiny.*

A group of economists established AfD in 2013 out of concern that the European Union's economic policies were weakening Germany's economy. In 2014, AfD won 10 percent of the vote in local elections in the German state of Saxony. Co-founder Bernd Lucke quit in July 2015, declaring that the party had become xenophobic. Later that month, Frauke Petry took over as the party's leader and shifted its focus from economics to immigration.* In 2016, Petry stated her belief that German police should, “if necessary,” shoot at illegal immigrants trying to enter Germany, and AfD deputy leader Alexander Gauland stated that most Germans “wouldn't want to live next door” to German soccer player Jérôme Boateng because his father is Ghanaian.* That June, German Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel labeled the AfD as xenophobic and compared its positions to those of the Nazi party. At the time, the AfD was represented in eight out of 16 of Germany's state assemblies.*

AfD has specifically targeted Islam. The party's 2016 Manifesto for Germany denigrated Islam as foreign to Germany society and called for its restriction. It sought to distinguish between “law-abiding and well-integrated” Muslims in Germany who are “accepted and valued members” of German society and Islam as a whole, which “does not belong to Germany.”* The manifesto further condemned the “ever-increasing number of Muslims in the country…as a danger to our state, our society, and our values.”*

Although Petry shifted AfD's focus from economics to immigration, the party has maintained its belief that the European Union has been economically detrimental to Germany. According to AfD's 2016 Manifesto for Germany, the core treaties of the European Union have undermined Germany's sovereignty. AfD accuses a “small and powerful elite within the political parties” of controlling Germany's government and ceding power to the European Union.* Much like its anti-immigration stance, AfD's aversion to the European Union suggests an overarching fear of the deterioration of the German identity.

While AfD's rhetoric has largely focused on Islam, the group has also targeted Germany's Jewish community. AfD has rejected ritual circumcision—practiced by both religious communities—as a “serious violation of fundamental rights.”* In a January 2017 address to an AfD youth group, senior AfD leader Björn Höcke condemned Germany's ongoing commemorations of the Holocaust and called for “a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance.”*

Petry resigned from the party shortly after the September 2017 elections because of concerns over “how the AfD is likely to develop.”* Following AfD's third-place victory in Germany's September 2017 elections, AfD remained outside the governing coalition, making it Germany's main opposition party.* In June 2018, a poll in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper recorded a 16 percent approval for AfD, its highest rating ever in the newspaper's poll. The poll came as the governing coalition faced a crisis over immigration policies.*

In March 2020, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency labeled the AfD faction known as Flügel (“wing”) as a threat to the country’s democratic order. The agency, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), also announced that it would place Flügel under systematic surveillance, allowing the BfV to recruit informants, keep personal data on file, and monitor phone calls.* The head of AfD in the German state of Thuringia, Björn Höcke, leads the extremist wing. Flügel commands strong support in eastern Germany and has an estimated 7,000 members, representing approximately 20 percent of AfD’s overall membership.* According to a BfV official, the increased scrutiny comes as the faction is believed to be uniting far-right extremist groups, including neo-Nazis, and coordinating online.* On March 20, 2020, AfD’s executive committee voted to dissolve Flügel by April 30, 2020, fearing the faction could bring increased scrutiny to the entire party.* In May, AfD co-chair Jörg Meuthen pressured AfD’s central committee to annul the membership of Flügel leader Andreas Kalbitz. Meuthen has since faced rebuke from AfD members for calling for a division between the western and eastern factions in order to separate out the far right. In June 2020, Meuthen called for a “firewall” against far-right extremism in AfD.*

In April 2020, AfD suspended parliamentary spokesman Christian Lueth after he described himself as a fascist. The party fired Lueth that September after he suggested earlier in the year that migrants to Germany could be shot or gassed.* In January 2021, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) intelligence agency began debating whether to place AfD under surveillance for posing a threat to democracy.* On January 12, the BfV in Saxony-Anhalt approved a decision to place the regional branch of AfD under surveillance.* The BfV conducted a two-year investigation on the AfD’s activities in order to determine whether the party should be labeled a “suspected case” for its links to right-wing extremism.* In February, an administrative court in Cologne ruled the BfV could investivate the AfD for extremism. On March 3, 2021, German media reported the BfV had placed the AfD under surveillance, allowing the organization to tap AfD members’ phones and other communications and monitor their movements. The BfV would neither confirm nor deny the reports, purportedly because of an AfD legal challenge. AfD members condemned the decision as purely political.* On March 5, a German court halted the surveillance program and said German authorities must first allow the AfD to conclude a legal challenge.* AfD continues to deny charges of extremism. Germany is scheduled to hold new parliamentary elections in September 2021.*

Leadership

AfD was founded by Bernd Lucke, Alexander Gauland, and Konrad Adam.* AfD is co-chaired by Jörg Meuthen and Tino Chrupalla.* Björn Höcke leads AfD’s Flügel faction.*

Bernd Lucke

Alexander Gauland

Konrad Adam

Jörg Meuthen

Base of Operations

Germany

Website

https://www.afd.de/

Membership Size and Relevance

As of March 2020, AfD reportedly had 35,000 members across Germany.* In Germany's September 2017 parliamentary elections, AfD won 92 out of 631 seats to become Germany's third-largest political party in parliament.* In February 2018, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel signed a coalition agreement between her conservative Christian Democrats party and the center-left Social Democrats, making AfD Germany's main opposition party.* AfD’s popularity has decreased in national polling during the COVID-19 pandemic and as some members have publicly embraced extreme far-right positions beyond tough stances on immigration.* In six eastern German states, AfD’s popularity fell from first to third place in October 2020.*

Recruitment and Propaganda

AfD's propaganda focuses on the restoration of German culture and sovereignty, both of which the party believes have been weakened by an influx of immigrants and the open-border and economic policies of the European Union. Its plans to restore German sovereignty and restrict Islam in Germany are outlined in its 2016 Manifesto for Germany.*

The AfD maintains a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. As of April 13, 2021, AfD had 512,259 likes on Facebook, an increase from 501,726 likes on June 29, 2020.* AfD had 168,700 Twitter followers as of April 13, 2021, increasing from 160,000 on June 29, 2020. The AfD’s Twitter page posts in German while its Facebook page posts in German and English.* AfD’s YouTube channel had 101,000 subscribers on April 13, 2021, up from 82,200 subscribers on June 29, 2020, and 33,812 as of March 19, 2019. The channel hosted more than 542 videos that had drawn more than 21 million views.* AfD’s Instagram account had 97,800 followers on April 13, 2021, up from more than 83,000 followers in June 2020.*

Violent Activities

AfD is not linked to specific acts of violence.

Rhetoric

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

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