Germany’s neo-Nazis have been marching in the eastern German city of Chemnitz. Neo-Nazism is on the rise in Germany, while the country is in the grip of a heated debate on Nazism. A new right-wing party garnered 12.6% of the popular vote—behind the center-right conservative CDU (26.8%) and center-left social-democratic SPD (20.5%). After these two, Germany’s third strongest party holds 92 federal seats. This new radical-right party is called AfD or Alternative for Germany. Some call it “Alternative for the Dumb” or “A f*cking Disgrace.” The AfD is strong in many eastern German states, though so far it has always been in opposition.
Most recently this debate has centered on the similarity between the logo of Hitler’s SA, the infamous Sturmabteilung, and the current logo of the youth organization of Germany’s new crypto-neo-Nazi party, the AfD. The AfD’s youth organization is called Young Alternative or Junge Alternative (JA). The debate also concerns the question whether the AfD is Germany’s new neo-Nazi party or just another right-wing populist party. Many have argued that Germany is the only country ever to construct factories to murder millions of people, such as Auschwitz, leaving a distinctive historical legacy shared by no other country. This is the historical background on which Germany’s radical right needs to be understood.
The AfD’s increasing move to the radical-right fringe of Germany’s politics must be seen in the context of Germany’s unique history of having committed the Holocaust. Recently a young AfD dissident and former member of its youth organization has spoken out, giving an exclusive look at the inner workings of the AfD and the JA. She was an AfD/JA member for four years, comprising the formative period of the AfD that began with the party’s foundation in 2013 and ended with the 2017 federal election when it entered Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag.
Franziska Schreiber’s account of life inside the AfD starts with the daunting acknowledgment that “democracy has next to no value for the majority of party members.”1 This is hardly a surprise for a party increasingly in the “hands of the radical right.” Relentless activity has shifted the AfD from being initially a neoliberal party to being a crypto-neo-Nazi one. Today the AfD includes:
- the semifascist Identity Movement;
- Dresden’s street fighters or Pegida whose leader, Pegida-Gründer Bachmann, likes to dress up as Hitler;
- the Reichsbürger or Sovereign Citizens organization;
- right-wing student fraternities;
- and Germany’s more outspoken neo-Nazi party, the NPD.
Over the years the AfD has moved more and more toward neo-Nazism. Today it is a “racist, nationalistic, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic” party. Its most ardent right-winger is Björn Höcke. According to ex-neo-Nazi Christian Ernst Weissgerber, Höcke is one of the most powerful figures in the AfD. Schreiber notes that “his speeches remind one of Joseph Goebbels,” and he regularly receives “ferocious adulation” for them. The AfD has managed to make verbal right-wing radicalism acceptable.
More in the former East Germany than in western Germany, the AfD’s right-wing populism has been successful. After Germany’s unification in the 1990s, economic insecurity grew as “many people lost jobs while alcoholism rose sharply. Child poverty was no longer something seen on TV.” Schreiber notes that “instead,” after West Germany’s version of neoliberal capitalism held sway in eastern Germany, child poverty “became a daily reality.” Having been deceived by the false promises of affluent Western capitalism, eastern Germans’ rallying cry “We are the people” meant, Schreiber remarks, that “if the Deutschmark does not come to us, we will come to you.” To prevent this, the then chancellor Helmut Kohl quickly introduced the Deutschmark and promised flourishing industries, which never developed. What happened instead was a kind of Anschluss. Eastern Germany became a kind of “docking station” for Western capital; “nobody ever asked the eastern Germans: What do you want?”
Instead they got rampant free-market capitalism, “making the rich richer while the poor are exposed to misery.” For capitalism, notes East-German-born Schreiber, people are merely a cog in the wheel. Eastern Germans were rendered “disposable” when those from “Eastern Europe were ready to accept even lower wages.” Amid the rampant capitalism of the 1990s, “politicians were unable to prevent mass poverty.” Unlike the “former totalitarian state that took care of people,” West Germany’s capitalism had no such inclination. Under socialism, Schreiber writes, “I could attend my local medical center and now I have to drive from doctor to doctor to get help. [Now] we have drugs and violence in our schools—we never had this before.”
On top of that, West Germans “defamed us” as living in “Dark Germany,” in the Dark Ages, in the “Valley of the Clueless.” Being abused and left to their own devices over decades with declining living standards and the withdrawal of the now neoliberal state, experiencing reduced services and welfare provisions, many East Germans asked: “Why is Chancellor Merkel giving so much to foreign refugees and not to her own people?” This helped create “antirefugee sentiments.” Today “West Germans can crack jokes about us. But telling a joke about people with dark skin is forbidden because of political correctness.”
Schreiber writes that for many eastern Germans, the rise of the AfD appeared to be a godsend. This party suddenly expressed their feelings. “Its leader, Bernd Lucke, was on TV,” and like them he opposed the euro. “Before we were able to get used to the Deutschmark, it was taken away from us. We got the euro,” a currency many call “teuro” (i.e., expensive) as the prices of nearly everything rose. Schreiber joined the AfD, a party supported by local donations. Apart from dodgy money transfers from August von Finck’s corporate empire—maker of Mövenpick ice cream—Germany’s capital stays away from the AfD. Unlike in 1933, this time there is no big corporate money from Allianz Insurance, no free Mercedes-Benz to drive SA thugs around, and no slick uniforms made by the Hugo Boss fashion house. On the whole, German capital values neoliberalism and globalization, not nationalism and racism. Nevertheless, the AfD remains a party that lives on xenophobia, riding on the key messages of Thilo Sarrazin’s 2010 book about the imminent demise of Germany because of immigration. The AfD claimed that “Germany’s population would very soon be halved.”
Faced with hyped-up threats, real declining living standards, poverty, and violence, “many wanted to return to the Deutschmark or even further back into the past.” Decisive for the AfD was the 2013 federal election, in which the party failed to enter Germany’s federal parliament. Many in the party thought there were “massive irregularities and that the election was manipulated.” AfD leader Frauke Petry “was joined by Thomas Tillschneider, a misogynist. I joined the AfD’s Junge Alternative,” writes Schreiber. “In 2014 our leader, Roman Topp, resigned and I became the JA’s new boss.” Within the AfD as well as the JA, “nobody was politically correct and nobody was concerned that members of the semifascist Identity Movement [IB]” were part of the JA.
AfD members began to see the political enemy everywhere; Schreiber says this fostered a “They are all against us” mentality. The crypto-fascists of the IB and the real neo-Nazis of the NPD encouraged such attitudes in the AfD. Schreiber writes that one of the AfD leaders, Sören Oltersdorf, saw himself as “social-nationalist”; he participated in NPD and IB meetings. Increasingly the party saw politics as a “David-against-Goliath war in which we needed to band together against the lying press.” Political isolation increased as some within the AfD started to issue anti-Semitic statements. Others fancied themselves as “neo-Nazi hipsters,” and “Völkischer nationalism” grew within the AfD. Many spoke of “honor, Fatherland, Volk, and our heroes of the past”—meaning Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Much of this led to “successive radicalization.”
Within the AfD and perhaps even more so within its youth organization, “everyone wanting to hold political office is viewed with suspicion.” They are accused of lining their pockets. The media are also viewed with misgivings. The AfD’s communication strategy often entailed avoiding mainstream media. “Facebook became our battlefield,” says Schreiber. There, “hatred, the hounding of opponents, bullying, spreading of rumors, attacks, and betrayals are rife.” While officially claiming to be against political correctness, “the AfD has, in a relatively short time, created its own codex of what can be said and what cannot.” It is the AfD’s version of political correctness, which defines “what to think, what to say and to write.” Useful AfD code words are: “comrade, Fatherland, honor, loyalty, and blood, and words found in IB publications.”
“Loyalty,” for example, “is shown by those making statements that make it impossible for them to return to mainstream society.” Those who seek “acceptance” within the AfD/JA “are likely to sing Nazi songs or raise their arm in Hitler fashion.” The push to accommodate the AfD’s radical right even reaches into the federal parliament. There, formerly moderate member and Goldman Sachs employee “Alice Weidel [now] plays the radical right-winger.” The AfD’s neoliberal wing used to be represented by Lucke and Weidel. Increasingly, both have moved away from neoliberalism to the AfD’s völkische side. Recently Weidel, who resides in Switzerland, has tried to improve her nationalistic credentials by disrupting the federal parliament; she interrupts, shouts, and screams. For Weidel’s game has changed. What was “anti-Europe is now antirefugee.” Today the fight against “Europe and its currency, the euro, is no longer dominant” within the AfD.
AfD officials who follow the party line of xenophobia include, for example, “schoolteacher Ula Nürnberger” who likes to post messages on a neo-Nazi, that is, “NPD website called www.napola.de” where the Elite of the Führer, Adolf Hitler, post messages. “Ex-Russian” and now AfD official “Markus Frohmaier’s wife looks Asian.” Thus “Sören Oltersdorf” of the AfD abuses Frohmaier by saying: “What’s that, Rassenschande?” In Nazi racial laws, the term Rassenschande referred to sexual relations between people of the Aryan race and inferior races, particularly Jews. This is not just a matter of terminology within the AfD. It also, as Schreiber says, testifies to the party’s rampant “nationalism.” Neo-Nazi language is also useful because it helps in “recruiting plenty of new members.” Perhaps the main supporters of ultranationalism within the AfD are its leader “Alexander Gauland” and his two trailblazers “Björn Höcke and Andre Poggenburg.”
Because of depression, AfD boss “Gauland always carries a briefcase with his medication with him.” Within the AfD this is known as “Gauland’s chemistry.” When aging Gauland accidentally falls asleep, he is not to be “woken up as he reacts violently in the belief he is being attacked,” writes Schreiber. Perhaps one pays a personal psychological price for constant fear-mongering, warning “against Islam” while shouting “Deport them!” Still, the AfD is convinced that this will lead to political success in the form of “gaining the absolute majority.” So far the stratospheric rise of the AfD supports that view. This is the ultimate goal, and according to Höcke it will spell victory for the AfD. This will be a victory over “multiculturalism that will otherwise come to terminate the existence of the German Volk.” As the crypto-philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s pupil Marc Jongen (an AfD member) believes, it will also be a victory over “Islam’s population weapon”—which, according to the AfD’s hallucination, will outbreed Germans.
As Schreiber remarks, the AfD promotes its hallucination of a racially pure German Volk in the form of the Volksgemeinschaft (people’s community) even though there are not too many commonalities between Catholic Bavarians (from the southeast) and people from the predominantly Protestant northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. “Nobody is more disliked in Berlin’s Prenslauer Berg than people from Swabia [the southwest].” Those within the AfD who seek to “protect German identity always think of blood and the Volksgemeinschaft.” Also dreaming of a Volksgemeinschaft is AfD member “Uwe Wurlitzer.” He believes that “Germans were reeducated by the Allied Forces, particularly the United States” after World War II. In contrast, Wurlitzer “fantasizes about blood, soil, honor, loyalty, Fatherland, and death.” For him a “healthy common sense means a healthy sentiment toward the Volk”—that is, the Volksgemeinschaft.
Not surprisingly, the AfD believes that the “current politics of the government works hand in hand with [Islamist] terrorists.” According to one of the AfD’s prime conspiracy theories, Merkel’s government is an “accessory to murder.” Many of these conspiracy hallucinations are simply invented; “AfD supporters remain largely among themselves cocooned inside the bubble of fear.” Their Facebook echo chambers mutually reinforce the feeling of being threatened by Islamist terrorism. Aware of this, former AfD boss Frauke Petry says, as Schreiber notes, that “we need the fearful! Even when facts contradict them, maintaining an atmosphere of fear remains the lifeblood of the AfD.”
One of the key imagined threats and conspiracy hallucinations is the Umvolkung. This refers to Germans being gradually replaced by minor, Untermensch, or subhuman races. Within the AfD real Germans are called “Bio-Germans,” a term that refers to racial belonging, not to citizenship or third-generation immigrants. To be a true German always means blood and race. When the AfD talks of “Umvolkung, it uses a word only used by Nazis,” says Schreiber. Such racist views are reinforced within the AfD’s “echo chambers,” generating a hallucination of “being part of a silent majority.” Claiming to speak on behalf of the invented silent majority has become a competitive game within the AfD.
Within the AfD leadership a “contest rages on: Who can deliver the most polarizing speeches? Who gets the AfD into the mainstream press?” The trick, according to Schreiber, is to attract Germany’s “extreme right while simultaneously not losing moderate voters.” This means conjuring up Nazi images while never stating the obvious. Nazism that is too blatant incurs hefty fines under Germany’s anti-Nazi and anti-hate-speech legislation. As an example of how this works: “When the minister for interior affairs announces, ‘We will never be able to eliminate all terrorism,’ the AfD reframes this into ‘Minister can’t exclude acts of terrorism.’” The AfD tries to create the impression that current policy accepts terrorism.
In the case of a news item on a “company that has developed a high-tech solution to mosquitoes with the ability to count mosquitos,” the AfD converted this into: “a company that might also develop a ‘refugee-counting machine.’” The Nazis used rats; the AfD uses mosquitos. This sort of language represents one of the first steps toward Nazism. AfD manipulation has never been solely “targeted toward the press but always also toward AfD members.” If the mainstream media adopts AfD manipulations, the AfD bathes in glory. If not, the mainstream media is abused as “lying press.” But “repeating AfD messages creates the impression that this is mainstream news.” One of the most “repeated AfD messages is that Merkel has opened the borders! This is nonsense,” writes Schreiber, as Germany’s borders were opened under the Schengen Agreement of 1985. At that time Merkel was engaged in physics in the still-existing German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The point for the AfD is that the “constant bombardment” of AfD messages creates a negative image of Merkel while fomenting “xenophobia.”
This leads to the problem of the AfD’s party program. It is designed “to hide the true goals of the AfD.” The program was formulated with the AfD leaders acutely aware that “our time has not yet arrived!” In the program, for example, the AfD advocates a “care subsidy.” Within the AfD this is known as a “kitchen-stove bonus”; its goal is to confine women to the kitchen stove. Officially the AfD accepts gay people; within the party they are abused. “The AfD’s prime lesbian is Alice Weidel. She is useful and tolerated because Weidel represents openness and tolerance.” In reality, meanwhile, any policy that “protects minorities is defamed within the AfD as lobbyism.” The AfD supports neither official policy on homosexuality nor the “homo lobby.”
Women do not fare much better. Within the AfD it is believed that women should be “confined to children, kitchen, and church.” The AfD’s Bavaria boss and member of its congress Petr Bystron believes that “women should dance on a pole instead” of getting into politics. In short, the “AfD’s party program is merely a façade,” says Schreiber; it is designed to camouflage the truth. The AfD simply does not have a Nazi-like 25-point program setting forth what is to come under AfD rule. Instead it wants to be seen as a moderate conservative party, and to avoid the watchful eye of the state that already has declared a neo-Nazi party illegal, ending its existence. As a consequence, the AfD’s “party program is a patchwork of ideas that is neither social nor liberal. It is a nice cover for an unsavory content.”
Schreiber quotes AfD official Sven Tritschler as saying, “What you really want is not something you write in your party program. It is something you do, wanting to have power.” What the AfD wants is “Volk, Fatherland, patriotism, and comradeship” as well as “a dictatorship with the AfD as a leading force.”
On the way to achieving this, the AfD sees no problem if “neo-Nazi officials of the NPD become AfD officials.” Apart from outright neo-Nazis, Pegida is another organization from which the AfD likes to recruit party officials. The same is true of the abovementioned semifascist Identity Movement (IB). Another recruiting ground is the now prohibited, and fascist, “Freedom Party from which Uwe Schuffenhauser found his way to the AfD.” But perhaps the most prominent organization for recruiting remains “Pegida, which is, according to AfD boss Gauland, the natural ally of the AfD.” People also come from the crypto-neo-Nazi organization Reichsbürger (Sovereign Citizens). Schreiber calls them “hands-on neo-Nazis.” Indeed they are one of the best-armed right-wing groups in Germany. Many of these AfD recruits endorse conspiracy hallucinations. One of the many such hallucinations is the so-called “Hooton plan of 1943 [intended to] breed the war strain [i.e., the alleged biological tendency to war] out of Germans.” Many within the AfD also believe there is a secret plan to breed out Germans by allowing millions of Islamic refugees and migrants into Germany.
The IB sees protecting Germany as its foremost task. This is where “Martin Sellner” (IB), “Björn Höcke” (AfD), and “Götz Kubitschek” (a right-wing demagogue) come together. Their meetings concoct, publish, and broadcast ever more right-wing conspiracy hallucinations. At such meetings, held at Kubitschek’s “Estates of Knights,” Höcke encounters Kubitschek’s family; the latter’s children are usually dressed in long grey linen aprons. Being admitted to Kubitschek’s medieval “knights room” with its “fireplace” is the highest honor for aspiring neo-Nazis. “Kubitschek likes to wear” the highly symbolic “blackshirt” of the Italian fascists and “brown uniform pants”—the standard attire of the Nazis. Together these activists seek to “rehabilitate National Socialism spiced up with an ethnocultural identity.” This is to be based on “homeland, [racial] origin, and community.” The term “homeland” connotes ultranationalism, “origin” always connotes blood and the Aryan race, and “community” connotes Volksgemeinschaft.
Jana Schneider, who became the AfD’s JA “Führer” (a word this party loves) in Thuringia, was formerly a “Führer within the IB.” She likes to “boast that she had close contact with Uwe Bönhardt and the NSU.” The neo-Nazi gang NSU (of which Bönhardt was a member) killed 10 people including a policewoman between 2000 and 2006. Its strategic-technical leader, Ralf Wohlleben, got off scot-free as attending neo-Nazis cheered and clapped during final court proceedings on the NSU. The NSU is the lethal reality of Germany’s neo-Nazism—apart from attacks on refugees that occur frequently if not daily in Germany. The AfD is by no means as radical as the small and extremely violent NSU. In any case, the much larger but less violent IB remains of utmost importance to the AfD.
AfD official “Christina Baum calls the IB harmless.” Perhaps it is because they fight the same enemy: “multiculturalism.” One of the main strategies of the IB-AfD partnership is pretending to be “the nice guy from next door.” In reality it is a “strategy of being a wolf in sheep’s skin.” Meanwhile the AfD’s “Jan Wenzel” more or less openly “gives speeches at IB rallies” while his AfD associate Thomas Tillschneider attends IB meetings and the AfD’s “Thorsten Weiss likes to feature in photographs with IB members.” The abovementioned AfD official “Petr Bystron [of Bavaria] used to work as a guide for IB rallies.” The IB-AfD list also includes “Hoger Arppe [a member of both organizations] who thinks the IB is intelligent and smart. Arppe has a well-stocked gun cabinet just in case the left becomes unruly”—in Germany as well as in Europe.
For quite some time the AfD has been intensifying its European links. This includes the usual suspects of the radical right: “Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Harald Vilimsky, and Matteal Salvini.” Anti-Semitism is just one unifying element. And this is where Björn Höcke’s statement that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin is a “shameful monument” comes in; many within the AfD and in Europe agree. As Schreiber notes, Josef Schuster of the Central Council of Jews in Germany commented that “‘Björn Höcke’s language is inhuman. It shows the anti-Semitism. The mask has come off.’” Höcke and his party long for the days prior to 1945. For the AfD, Höcke, and friends, “May 8, 1945, was not a day of liberation.” They staunchly believe in the hallucination that Germans are a “defeated Volk.” For AfD dissident Schreiber, the key question is this: “Why are Nazi crimes such an unbearable fact for the wing [i.e., Höcke’s crypto-Nazi wing within the AfD]? Because facts like invading Poland and the Holocaust are in the way of achieving their dream to establish a new form of National Socialism.”
These activists genuinely believe that “Nazism was good, just ‘the thing with the Jews’ [sic!] should have been avoided.” Those are some of the core convictions fabricated within the “blue-brown network.” Blue is the official color assigned to the AfD; brown is the color of the Nazis. Out of the brown network came Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Out of the AfD’s blue-brown network comes the idea that “German people have always engaged in a Kampf—Herman the Cherusker, Prinz Eugen, Lützow, and Albert Leo Schlageter.” Schlageter was a leading figure in the fascist Freicorps militia. He became the most revered Nazi mercenary of the early 1920s, ready to kill the left and wipe out the Jews.
Common to the AfD’s racist wing is anti-Semitism; Schreiber remarks that “it is undeniable that there was and is anti-Semitism within the AfD.” Some speak of a “Jewish world conspiracy” while others believe in the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “There is no party within which anti-Semitism is alive other than the AfD.” Regional AfD leader Volker Olenicak believes that “Merkel is a Zionist-U.S. agent.” He received the votes of “33.4 percent of his local electorate of Bitterfeld” in eastern Germany. Meanwhile the AfD’s “Gunnar Baumgart thinks that not one Jew died from Zyklon B or in gas chambers.” Schreiber says these “are not isolated incidents.” Even in 2017, AfD leader “Gauland questioned the existence of Israel.” He also asserted that nobody needs to “talk about the twelve years [of Nazism] anymore; they no longer shape our identity.”
Most outspoken is Björn Höcke, who is rapidly becoming “a cult figure within the AfD because many think he is authentic, not interested in a career and not opportunistic.” Nonetheless, Höcke’s highly “choreographed [taboo-breaking] is well calculated. Still, he remains the most trusted politician within the AfD.” Speaking of “a thousand years of history and a thousand years of a future” conjures up images of Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich” speeches. Almost every German knows what “a thousand years” means. Höcke has never shied away from advocating Nazism’s “crude biologism.” He claims that “Africans breed like rats and aphids [a sap-sucking insect].” This is the dehumanizing language of the AfD.
Höcke also wants a nationalistic and “patriotic Germany” that returns to “the good old days.” What he means by this can be read in his neo-Nazi publications, in which he wrote under the name of “Landof Ladig.” Recently one of Germany’s main “TV channels showed images of Björn Höcke shouting neo-Nazi slogans at a neo-Nazi rally in Dresden”: “Germany is…nationalistic!” Schreiber says it is hard to imagine that “Björn Höcke will not be the future Führer of the AfD.” He unifies the party’s nationalistic (racist) and patriotic (homeland) wings. On a recent election poster he claimed that Germany’s “army and police need to free us from our mad politicians.”
Björn Höcke works closely with like-minded AfD officials including “[Jens] Maier, Tillschneider, and Poggenburg.” All four advocate “romantic National Socialism.” Under their ever-growing influence the “AfD has become a nationalistic, racist, and xenophobic party,” Schreiber asserts. The party has set itself the task of drawing people to the radical right. “In the past it used economic crisis,” the euro currency, and capitalism; “now it uses refugees” and migrants. This policy change has brought many right-wingers into the AfD and also into the federal parliament. One of these is Siegbert Droese from Leipzig; his license plate reads “L-AH 1818.” These are coded neo-Nazi messages—AH for Adolf Hitler, while 18 refers to the positions of his initials in the alphabet: A = 1, H = 18. This is how Nazism is coded within AfD. Nazism is indeed alive in the party; it is not uncommon to find beliefs like “the Holocaust is a Jewish truth.” Meanwhile the AfD’s “Jens Maier” expresses more violent views; he “sympathizes with Breivik’s act.” In 2011 the Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people out of a mix of hatred of the left—his victims were young Social Democrats—and racism, as he believed the left would open Norway to foreigners. Perhaps deservedly, Maier is known within the AfD as “mini-Höcke.”
Other AfD staffers include “Felix Nothdurf, who is one of Berlin’s hard-core neo-Nazis,” and “Tim Ballschuh, who sympathized with” Germany’s blatant neo-Nazis, “the NPD.” Another AfD member is “Jean-Pascal Hohm, who likes to wear neofascist IB T-shirts.” Slowly but surely, the “AfD’s parliamentary apparatus in Germany’s federal parliament has become a breeding ground for right-wing extremism.”
Despite all this Schreiber closes on a positive note, asserting that the AfD’s hallucination that it will become “the most powerful party in Germany’s parliament is out of the question given its right-wing extremists.” True, no Nazi party has ever captured the majority of German votes—not the AfD’s predecessors including the Republicaner, the NPD, and the SRP, and not even Hitler’s party the NSDAP, which failed to gain a majority in the last free election in 1932. It indeed lost 34 seats, finishing with 37.3 percent of the vote, while the communist KPD gained 11 seats, finishing with 14.3 percent. There is hope.
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- The quotations from Franziska Schreiber’s book are the author’s translations. Her book, Inside the AfD, is published by Europa Press.