Thousands of Neo-Nazi marched in the East-German city of Chemnitz last weekend. The rise of Neo-Nazism is heavily debated in Germany. Since autumn 2017, German Neo-Nazi have a political party inside Germany’s federal parliament. The party was elected with 12.6% of the popular vote. It holds 92 seats. This new radical-right party is called AfD or Alternative for Germany. It is also known as Alternative For the Dumb and A Fucking Disgrace. The most recent debate focused 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 added to the question whether the AfD is Germany’s new Neo-Nazi party or whether it is 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. This leaves a distinctive historical legacy shared by no other country. This is the historical background on which Germany’s extreme radical right needs to be understood.
The AfD’s increasing radicalization towards the radical-right fringe of Germany’s politics must be seen on the basis of Germany’s unique history of having committed the Holocaust. Recently, a young AfD dissident and former member of the AfD’s Youth Organization has spilled the beans. She provides an exclusive inside into the inner workings of the AfD and its JA. She was an AfD/JA member for four years covering the formative years of the AfD that began with the party’s foundation in 2013 and ended with the federal election in 2017 when the AfD entered Germany’s federal parliament.
Franziska Schreiber’s account of life inside the AfD starts with the daunting acknowledgement that “democracy has next to no value for the majority of party members. This is hardly a surprise for a party increasingly in the hands of the radical-right. The relentless activities have shifted the AfD from being initially a neoliberal party to being a crypto-Neo-Nazi party. Today, the AfD includes:
- the semi-fascist identity movement,
- Dresden’s street fighters called Pegida whose boss, Mr Bachmann likes to dress up as Hitler,
- The Reichsbürger or sovereign citizens,
- Right-wing student fraternities, and
- Germany’s more outspoken Neo-Nazi party, the NPD.
Over the years, the AfD has moved more and more towards Neo-Nazism. Today, the AfD is a racist, nationalistic, xenophobic, and Anti-Semitic party. Its most ardent right-winger is Björn Höcke. Höcke, according to ex-Neo-Nazi Christian Ernst Weißgerber, is one of the most powerful men inside the AfD. Schreiber notes, his speeches remind one of Joseph Goebbles. For his speeches, he regularly receives ferocious adulations. The AfD has managed to make verbal right-wing radicalism acceptable.
More in the former East-Germany than in West-Germany, the AfD’s right-wing populism has been successful. After Germany’s unification (1990s), economic insecurity grew as many people lost jobs while alcoholism rose sharply. Child poverty was no longer something seen on TV. Instead, it became a daily reality after West-Germany’s version of neoliberal capitalism held sway in East-Germany. Tricked by the false promises of rich western capitalism, East-Germans’ rallying cry, “we are the people” meant 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 blooming industries, which never came. What came was a kind of Anschluss. East-Germany became a docking station for western capital. Nobody ever asked the East-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, people are merely a cog in the wheel, writes East-German-born Schreiber. People in East-Germany were rendered disposable when those from Eastern Europe demanded even lower wages. In those years of wild capitalism (1990s), politicians were unable to prevent mass poverty. Unlike the former totalitarian state that took care of people, West-Germany’s capitalism knew no such thing. 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 were asking, why is chancellor Merkel giving so much to foreign refugees and not to her own people? This helped creating feelings against refugees. 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, to many of us, the rise of the AfD appeared to be a God’s end. Suddenly, the AfD expressed our feelings. Its leader – Bernd Lucke – was on TV and he was, like us, against 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. Franziska 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 around SA tugs and no slick uniforms made by Hugo Boss. On the whole, German capital values neoliberalism and globalization – not nationalism and racism. Nonetheless, the AfD remains a party that lives on xenophobia, riding on the key messages of Sarrazin’s 2010 book, a book about the immanent demise of Germany because of migration. Aligned to that, the AfD claimed Germany’s population would be halved very soon.
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. The AfD failed to enter Germany’s federal parliament. Many inside the AfD thought there were massive irregularities and that the election was manipulated. With AfD leader Frauke Petry came Thomas Tillschneider, a misogynist. I joined the AfD’s Junge Alternative (JA), writes Schreiber. In 2014, our leader, Roman Topp, resigned and I became the JA’s new boss. Inside the AfD as well as the JA, nobody was politically correct and nobody was bothered that members of the semi-fascist Identity Movement (IB) were part of the JA.
AfD members began to see the political enemy everywhere. Much of this created a they are all against us mentality. The crypto-fascists of the IB and the real Neo-Nazis of the NPD encouraged such views inside the AfD. Schreiber writes, one of our leaders, Sören Oltersdorf, saw himself as social-nationalist. He participated in NPD and IB meetings. Increasingly, we saw politics as a David against Goliath war in which we needed to band together against the lying press. Political isolation increased as some inside the AfD started to issue Anti-Semitic statements. Others fancied themselves as Neo-Nazi Hipsters. Völkischer Nationalism grew inside 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.
Inside the AfD and perhaps even more so inside its youth organization JA, everyone wanting to hold political office is viewed with suspicion. They are accused of fattening their pockets. The media are also viewed with misgivings. The AfD’s communication strategy often meant avoiding mainstream media. Facebook became our battlefield, says Schreiber. There, hatred, the hounding of opponents, bullying, spreading of rumors, attacks and betrayals are ripe. While officially claiming to be against political correctness, the AfD has, in a relative short time, created its own codex of what can be said and what cannot. It is the AfD’s version of political correctness. This defines what to think, what to say and to write. Useful AfD-codewords 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 inside the AfD/JA are likely to sing Nazi songs or raise their arm in Hitler fashion. The drive to accommodate the AfD’s radical-right even reaches into the federal parliament. There, formerly moderate member and Goldman Sachs employee Alice Weidel plays the radical right-winger now. The AfD’s neoliberal wing used to be represented by Lucke and Weidel. Increasing, both have moved away from neoliberalism to the AfD’s völkische side. Recently, Swiss resident Weidel has tried to improve her nationalistic credentials by disturbing the federal parliament. She interrupts, shouts and screams. For Weidel’s game has changed. What was anti-Europe is now anti-refugee. Today, the fight against Europe and its currency The Euro is no longer dominant within the AfD.
AfD officials following the AfD’s party line of xenophobia are, for example, school teacher Ula Nürnberger who likes to post messages on a Neo-Nazi, i.e. NPD website called www.napola.de where the Elite of the Führer Adolf Hitler posts. Ex-Russian and now AfD official Markus Frohmaier’s wife looks Asian. Sören Oltersdorf (AfD) abuses Frohmaier by saying: what’s that, Rassenschande? According to Nazi Race Law, the Nazi term Rassenschande stands for sexual relations between people of Aryan race and inferior races, particularly Jews. This is not just the language spoken inside the AfD. It also, as Schreiber says, testifies to the AfD’s rampant nationalism. Neo-Nazi language is also useful because it helps recruiting plenty of new members. Perhaps the main supporters of ultra-nationalism inside the AfD is 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. Inside the AfD, this is known as Gauland’s chemistry. When aging Gauland falls asleep accidently, he is not to be woken up as he reacts violently in the belief he is attacked, writes Schreiber. Perhaps one pays a rather personal psychological price for constant fear mongering, warning against Islam while shouting deport them! Still, the AfD is convinced that this will lead towards political success in the form of gaining the absolute majority. So far, the stratospheric rise of the AfD supports that view. This is the final goal, which, according to Björn Höcke, will carry the AfD towards victory. This is the victory over multi-culturalism that will otherwise come to terminate the existence of the German Volk. As the crypto-philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s pupil Marc Jongen (AfD) believes, it will also be a victory over Islam’s population weapon – in their hallucination this will out-breed Germans.
It is the AfD’s hallucination of a racially pure German Volk in the form of the Volksgemeinschaft that is pushed inside the AfD despite the fact that there are not too many commonalities between catholic Bavarians (south-east) and people from the predominantly Protestant northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, says Schreiber. Nobody is more disliked in Berlin’s Prenslauer Berg than people from Swabia (south-west). Those inside the AfD seeking to protect German identity always think of blood and the Volksgemeinschaft. Dreaming of a Volksgemeinschaft is also AfD-man Uwe Wurlitzer. He believes that Germans were re-educated by the Allied Forces particularly the USA after World War II. Set against this, Wurlitzer fantasizes about blood, soil, honor, loyalty, Fatherland and death. For him a healthy common sense means a healthy sentiment towards the Volk – Volksgemeinschaft.
Not surprisingly, the AfD believes that the current politics of the government works hand in hand with Islamist terrorists. Merkels’ government is, according to one of the AfD’s prime conspiracy theories, accessory to murder. Much of those conspiracy hallucinations are simply invented as AfD supporters remain largely among themselves cocooned inside the bobble of fear. Their Facebook echo chambers mutually reinforce the feeling of being threatened by Islamist terrorism. Sensing this, former AfD boss Frauke Petry stays, we need the fearful! Even when facts contradict them, maintaining an atmosphere of fear remains the life blood of the AfD.
One of the key imagined threats and conspiracy hallucinations is the Umvolkung. This is the exchange of Germans with other minor races, the Untermensch or sub-human. Real Germans are called Bio-Germans inside the AfD indicating racial belonging, not citizenship or third generation migrants. 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 inside the AfD’s echo chambers cooking up a hallucination of being part of a silent majority. Claiming to speak on behalf of the invented silent majority has become a game of competition inside the AfD.
Inside AfD leadership a hot 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 saying the obvious. All too obvious Nazism carries hefty fines under Germany’s anti-Nazi legislation and anti-hate-speech laws. Here is an example on 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’s goal is to create the impression that current politics accepts terrorism. A similar case was 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 indicates one of the first steps towards Nazism. AfD manipulation has never been only targeted towards the press but always also towards AfD members. If mainstream media takes on AfD manipulations, the AfD baths in glory. If not, it is abused as lying press. Repeating AfD messages creates the impression that this is mainstream news. One of the most repeated AfD messages is Merkel has opened the borders! This is nonsense, writes Schreiber, as Germany’s borders upended under the Schengen agreement signed in 1985. At that time, Merkel was in the still existing socialist German Democratic Republic engaged in physics. The point for the AfD is that the constant bombardment of AfD messages creates a negative image of Merkel while conjuring up 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 written in the acute awareness among AfD leaders that our time has not yet arrived! In its party program, for example, the AfD advocates a care subsidy. Inside the AfD, this is known as kitchen-stove bonus. Its goal is to lock women to the kitchen stove. Officially, the AfD accepts gay people. Inside the AfD, they are abused. The AfD’s prime lesbian is Alice Weidel. She is useful and stomached because Weidel represents openness and tolerance. In reality meanwhile, any policy that protects minorities is defamed inside the AfD as lobbyism. The AfD does not support policy on homosexuality nor does it support the Homo-Lobby.
Women do not fare much better. Inside the AfD, there is a belief that women should be stuck to children, kitchen and church. The AfD’s Bavaria boss and congressman Petr Bystron believes 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 laying out what is to come under AfD rule. Instead, it wants to be seen as a moderate conservative party. It wants to avoid the watchful eye of the state that already had 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 says.
What you really want, says AfD official Sven Tritschler, is not something you write in your party program. It is something you do, wants you 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.
To achieve this, the AfD sees no problem if Neo-Nazi officials of the NPD will become AfD officials. Next to outright Neo-Nazis, Pegida is another organization from which the AfD likes to recruit party officials. The same goes for the semi-fascistic Identity Movement (IB). Another recruiting ground is the now forbidden and fascist Freedom Party from which Uwe Schuffenhauser found his way to the AfD. Perhaps the most prominent recruiting organization 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 fancy conspiracy hallucinations. One of many conspiracy hallucinations is the so-called Hooton plan of 1943 set to breed the war strain out of Germans. Many inside the AfD think that there is a secret plan to breed Germans out by allowing millions of Islamic refugees and migrants into Germany.
Protecting Germany is the foremost task of the Identity Movement (IB). This is where Martin Sellner (IB) and Björn Höcke (AfD) as well as Götz Kubitschek (right-wing demagogue) meet. Their meetings invent, publish, and broadcast ever more right-wing conspiracy hallucinations. At such meetings, Höcke meets his family. Kubitschek’s children are usually dressed in long grey linen aprons at meetings on Kubitschek’s estates of knights. Being admitted to Kubitschek’s medieval knights room with fireplace is the highest honor among aspiring Neo-Nazis. Kubitschek likes to wear the highly symbolic Blackshirt of the Italian fascist and brown uniform pants – the dress code of the Nazis. Together they seek to rehabilitate National-Socialism spiced up with an ethno-cultural identity. This is to be based on homeland, racial origin and community. Homeland means ultra-nationalism. Here, origin always connotes blood and Ayran race. Community indicates Volksgemeinschaft.
Jana Schneider, who became the AfD’s JA Führer (they love the word: Führer) in Thuringia, was formerly a Führer inside the IB. She likes to boast that she had close contact with Uwe Bönhardt and the NSU. The Neo-Nazi gang NSU killed ten people including a policewoman between 2000 and 2006. The NSU’s strategic-technical boss – Ralf Wohlleben – got off scot-free as attending Neo-Nazis cheered and clapped during final court proceedings on the NSU. The NSU is the killing 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 not so violent Identity Movement (IB) remains of utmost importance for the AfD.
AfD official Christina Baum calls the IB harmless. Perhaps because they fight the same enemy: multiculturalism. One of the main goals of the IB-AfD partnership is pretending to be the nice guy from next door. In reality, it is the 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 off-sider hand Thomas Tillschneider (AfD) attends IB meetings and the AfD’s Thorsten Weiss likes to feature in photographs with IB members. AfD congressman Petr Bystron (Bavaria) used to work as a guide on IB rallies. The IB-AfD list also includes Hoger Arppe (IB and AfD) who thinks the IB is intelligent and smart. Arppe has a well-stocked gun cabinet just in case when the left becomes unruly – in Germany as well as in Europe.
Since quite some time, the AfD has intensified 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 element that unites them. And this is where Björn Höcke’s statement that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin is a shameful monument comes in. Many inside the AfD and in Europe agree. Josef Schuster of the Jewish Council commented that Björn Höcke’s language is inhuman. It shows the Anti-Semitism. The mask has come off. Höcke and party long for the days prior to 1945. For the AfD, Höcke and friends, the 8th May 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 (the wing is Björn Höcke’s crypto-Nazi wing inside the AfD)? Because facts like invading Poland and the Holocaust are in the way of reaching their dream to establish a new form of National-Socialism.
They honestly believe that Nazism was good, just “the thing with the Jews” (sic!) should have been avoided. Those are some of the core convictions fabricated inside the blue-brown network. Blue is the official color assigned to the AfD while 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 ready to kill the left and whip out the Jews.
Common to the AfD’s racist wing is Anti-Semitism on which Schreiber notes, it is undeniable that there was and is Anti-Semitism inside the AfD. Some speak of a Jewish world conspiracy while others believe in the Anti-Semitic Protocols of Zion. There is no other party inside which Anti-Semitism is alive than the AfD. Regional AfD leader Volker Olenicak believes that chancellor Merkel is a Zionist US-agent. He received 33.4% in his local electorate of Bitterfeld (East-Germany). Meanwhile, the AfD’s Gunnar Baumgart thinks hat not one Jew died from Zyklon B or in gas chambers. Schreiber says these are not isolated incidents. Even in 2017, AfD boss Gauland questioned the existence of Israel saying 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 inside 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 inside the AfD. Speaking of a thousand years of history and a thousand years of a future conjures up images of Hitler’s “1000 year Reich” speeches. Almost every German knows what it means when saying “1000 years”. Höcke has never shied away from advocating Nazism’s crude biologism. He claims 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 successively returns to the good old days. What he means by this can be read in his Neo-Nazi publications. In them, Björn Höcke wrote under the name of Landof Ladig. Recently, one of Germany’s main TV stations showed pictures of Björn Höcke shouting Neo-Nazi slogans at a Neo-Nazi rally in Dresden: “Germany is…nationalistic”. Schreiber predicts that it is hard to imagine that Björn Höcke will not be the future Führer of the AfD. He unifies the nationalistic wing (racism) with the patriots (homeland) inside the AfD. On a recent election poster, he claimed Germany’s army and police need to free us form our mad politicians.
Björn Höcke works closely with like-minded AfD officials – Maier, Tillschneider and Poggenburg. All four fancy romantic National-Socialism. Under their ever-growing influence, the AfD has become a nationalistic, racist and xenophobic party, writes Schreiber. The party has set itself the task to move people ever more to the extreme radical-right. In the past it used economic crisis, the Euro currency, and capitalism, now it uses refugees and migrants. This policy swap has washed many right-wingers into the AfD and into the federal parliament. One of whom is Siegbert Droese from Leipzig. His car plate reads “L-AH 1818”. These are coded Neo-Nazi messages for Adolf Hitler (AH) while “18 18” are the numbers of letters in the alphabet for Adolf Hitler. The first character A stands for “A”dolf and 18 for H = “H”itler. It codes Nazism inside the AfD. Nazism is alive in the AfD. 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 action. The Norwegian Neo-Nazi Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in 2011 out of a mixture of hate towards the left – his victims were young social-democrats – and racism – they believed they will open Norway to foreigners. Perhaps deservedly, AfD man Maier is known inside the AfD as mini-Höcke.
Other AfD staffers are Felix Nothdurf who is part of Berlin’s hardcore Neo-Nazis and Tim Ballschuh who sympathized with Germany’s real Neo-Nazis, the NPD. Thirdly, there is Jean-Pascal Hohm who likes to wear neo-fascist IB t-shirts. Slowly but surely, the AfD’s parliamentarian apparatus in Germany’s federal parliament has become a breeding ground for right-wing extremism. Despite all this, Schreiber closes with a positive note. The AfD hallucination that the party will become the most powerful party inside Germany’s parliament is out of the question given its right-wing extremists. True, no Nazi party has ever captured the majority of German voters, not the AfD’s predecessors, the Republicaner, the NPD, the SRP and not even Germany’s real Nazi party the NSDAP. In the last free election of 1932 Hitler’s NSDAP failed to gain a majority. It lost 34 seats finishing with 37.3% while the communist KPD gained eleven seats finishing with 14.3%. There is hope.
Thomas Klikauer is a Senior lecturer at the Sydney Graduate School of Management. His recent books include Hegel's Moral Corporation and Seven HRM Moralities.
Franziska Schreiber’s German-language book “Inside the AfD” is published by Europa Press.
Slideshow image courtesy of Robin Krahl, depicting 6th party convention of the AfD Baden-Württemberg in Karlsruhe-Neureuth on January 17th and 18th, 2015.