Germany’s AfD placed under state surveillance as extremist party

Inquiry intensifies suspicion Bundestag’s biggest party cultivating racist links

Vice-leader of the parliamentary group of AfD  Tino Chrupalla and co-leader Alexander Gauland: The party began life eight years ago as an opponent of EU bailouts but pivoted to an increasingly anti-immigrant platform. Photograph:  Tobias Schwarz

Vice-leader of the parliamentary group of AfD Tino Chrupalla and co-leader Alexander Gauland: The party began life eight years ago as an opponent of EU bailouts but pivoted to an increasingly anti-immigrant platform. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz

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Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland is now classified as a surveillance target, according to reports on Wednesday, allowing domestic intelligence tap its phones and run spies within party ranks.

After a two-year investigation, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) concluded that the AfD – the largest oppositon party* in Berlin’s Bundestag – is suspected of cultivating ties to right-wing extremist groups.

Given an ongoing court case over the surveillance plan, the BfV declined to comment on media leaks on Wednesday about its decision.

AfD officials hit back, calling the news, and its leaking to the media, a “scandalous” proof of a widespread conspiracy of the German state and media organisations.

With six state elections this year – two of them in 10 days – and federal elections in September, the extremist party’s tactics and policies are likely to dominate political debate.

“Although the agency cannot announce this, it slips it through to the media to influence – to the AfD’s detriment – the democratic competition between parties,” said Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the party.

Migrants and Islam

Bundestag floor co-leader of the AfD Alexander Gauland described it as an “attack on the last free party” in parliament.

Last year the BfV began preliminary surveillance of eastern wings of the party, known for anti-immigrant and Islamophobic politics.

But placing an entire political party under state surveillance is a first for post-war Germany. For this, the BfV must clear several high hurdles – a safeguard against a repeat of how the National Socialists, once in power from 1933, hijacked state organs to terrorise their political opponents.

Last year BfV president Thomas Haldenwang said his agency, sensitive to Germany’s history, viewed extremism and terrorism from the far-right as “the biggest danger for democracy in Germany”.

The Cologne-based BfV carried out a discreet investigation into the party and compiled a report containing more than 1,000 pages of evidence, including hundreds of statements and speeches by AfD leaders and officials.

Nazi era

Among its many headline-grabbing remarks are calls to shoot immigrants at the German border and a description of the Nazi era as a “fleck of bird shit” on Germany’s otherwise glorious past.

The agency shared its report with a Cologne court this week as the AfD asked for a last-minute injunction to halt the surveillance plan.

The party began life eight years ago as an opponent of EU bailouts but pivoted to an increasingly anti-immigrant platform as the euro crisis abated and the 2015 migration crisis spiked.

Disillusioned liberal and conservative leaders departed while eastern AfD leaders formalised the new anti-immigrant approach with an extremist wing inside their own party.

As the likelihood of surveillance increased, AfD leaders closed down these organisations, expelled its leaders and attempted to reposition the party.

In a position paper last January, the party insisted there were no first- and second-class citizens in Germany, and invited “all Germans – with and without a migration background – to build with us a peaceful, democratic, rule-of-law-based and self-confident Germany”.

*This story was changed at 4pm on March 4th, 2021 to correct an error