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.* On March 8, 2022, the Administrative Court of Cologne ruled there was sufficient evidence to allow the BfV to place the AfD under surveillance as the AfD was advocating an anti-constitutional ethnic concept. It marked the first time a post-war German political party represented in the federal parliament had been subjected to such a high level of scrutiny.* In September 2021’s parliamentary elections, AfD lost 11 seats from its 2017 gains, weakening its position in Germany’s opposition.*

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, led the extremist wing. Flügel commanded strong support in eastern Germany and had an estimated 7,000 members, representing approximately 20 percent of AfD’s overall membership.* According to a BfV official, the increased scrutiny came as the faction was 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 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.*

Following AfD’s performance in Germany’s September 2021 parliamentary elections—in which the party lost 2 percent from its 2017 tally—Meuthen stepped down from the party’s leadership in January 2022. In June 2022, AfD elected remaining co-chair Tino Chrupalla to lead the party. In his January departure, Meuthen warned of increasing extremism within the party and that AfD faced “total isolation” and moving “ever further toward the political edge.”* Meuthen further warned of instability in AfD’s “democratic foundation.”* On December 7, 2022, German police arrested 25 suspected far-right extremists allegedly plotting to attack the Bundestag. Among those arrested was Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a judge and former AfD lawmaker. AfD leaders denied any knowledge of the plot and called for “a swift and comprehensive investigation.”*

Leadership

AfD was founded by Bernd Lucke, Alexander Gauland, and Konrad Adam.* AfD is co-chaired by Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, who is AfD’s parliamentary caucus leader.*

Bernd Lucke

Alexander Gauland

Konrad Adam

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

Following Germany’s September 2021 parliamentary elections, AfD recorded gains in eastern Germany but overall won just over 10 percent of the nationwide vote, signifying a loss of 2 percent and 11 seats from the 2017 election.* 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.* By December 7, 2022, its Facebook likes had increased to 518,473.* 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.* By December 7, 2022, its Twitter followers had increased to 183,900 followers.* 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.* By December 7, 2022, the channel had increased to 190,000 subscribers.* AfD’s Instagram account had 97,800 followers on April 13, 2021, up from more than 83,000 followers in June 2020.* As of December 7, 2022, the account had 128,000 followers.*

Violent Activities

AfD is not linked to specific acts of violence.

Rhetoric

  • AfD chair Tino Chrupalla statement on a stabbing attack by a Turkish immigrant, December 6, 2022: “The wrong immigration policy affects all citizens of our country, it costs lives.”*
  • AfD Facebook post, December 1, 2022: “It is becoming increasingly clear how followers of Islam in German large cities are not only fighting for cultural superiority - but also winning this fight: In cologne since October, the Muezzin is allowed to call for Friday prayer via loudspeakers. Especially now, in the Advent time, something like this not only seems deplorable, but also frightening to many.

    “We, at the AfD, are unrestricted to freedom of faith, conscience and confession. And yet we say: Islam does not belong to Germany. Especially when he gets more and more space in public by particularly outspoken religious brethren and particularly misguided politicians. Freedom of religion does not mean repeatedly beating others around the ears of this belief by shouting everyday. Anyone who wants to hear the Muezzin calling may move to an Islamic state - and not make our country, which has always been characterized by Christian-culturally.”*

  • AfD Facebook post, October 20, 2022: “The traffic light government continues to do everything possible to somehow attract migrants that they can squeeze into Germany. From now on, one thousand "particularly endangered people" will be brought here every month from Afghanistan. A year ago, we were talking about around 3000 ‘local people’, there are now 30,000 here - in addition to the 300,000 that have already come before.

    “Only 40 percent of Afghans in Germany are currently looking for a job. In addition, besides Syrians, they make up the largest share of foreign groups in crimes: in 2021, according to criminal statistics, over 33,000 Afghans were considered criminals. But will not be deported. Because they could be haunted at home.

    “Meanwhile, we also have an endangered group: people who still go to work and pay taxes. And those who look to the future with wrinkles under the traffic light government. Only with the AfD: Our country first!”*

  • AfD Facebook post, October 14, 2022: “+++ With the AfD there would be no Muezzin calls in Germany! +++

    “That’s how cultural land goes: While the city of cologne kicked the world-famous cathedral out of its city logo, since today the call to Muez is part of everyday life there. Thanks to a ‘model project’, Muslims are now regularly invited to prayer via loudspeakers - and Germans are immediately notified on this occasion who will set the tone here on the Rhine in the future. It’s an unprecedented nod to the spread of a religion where women are still treated as second class people and homosexuals are outnumbered. The acclaimed diversity society - in cologne so far very pronounced - says on its own branch!

    “With us from the AfD, such encroachment of public spaces by foreign cultures would not happen. Because neither the Muez call nor Islam belong to Germany. Freedom and self-determination belong to us! Let’s not let these achievements be eroded any further!”*

  • Senior leader Björn Höcke on Holocaust remembrance in a speech to an AfD youth group, January 2017: “These stupid politics of coming to grips with the past cripple us - we need nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance.”*
  • Chairwoman Frauke Petry in an interview with a regional newspaper, March 2016: German police should shoot at migrants “if necessary” to keep them out of the country.*
  • AfD manifesto, May 2016: “Islam does not belong to Germany. Its expansion and the ever-increasing number of Muslims in the country are viewed by the AfD as a danger to our state, our society, and our values.”*
  • AfD manifesto, May 2016: “Many Muslims live as law-abiding and well-integrated citizens amongst us, and are accepted and valued members of our society. They belong to Germany. Islam does not belong to Germany.”*
  • AfD manifesto, May 2016: “An Islam which neither respects nor refrains from being in conflict with our legal system, or that even lays claim to power as the only true religion, is incompatible with our legal system and our culture.”*

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

In Their Own Words:

So you go to India, and if you see a Hindu walking down the road you are allowed to kill him and take his money, is that clear? Jews should be killed ... as by Hitler. People with British passports, if you fly into Israel, it is easy. Fly into Israel and do whatever you can. If you die, you are up in paradise. How do you fight a Jew? You kill a Jew. In the case of Hindus, by bombing their businesses.

Abdullah Faisal, ISIS Propagandist Undated
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