Renewed putsch looms in Germany’s far-right AfD party

Over 100 members warn that party in danger of being hijacked by regional chief Björn Höcke

More than 100 members of Germany’s populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) have warned that the party is in danger of being hijacked by its far-right flank.

In an open letter, leading AfD officials warned that regional leader Björn Höcke, party head in the eastern state of Thuringia, is aiming to take over the party, shift even further right and squeeze out remaining conservatives and liberals.

“The AfD is not and will not be a Björn Höcke party,” the letter said, saying they reject the “cult of personality” around the regional leader some members have compared to Nazi propaganda leader Joseph Goebbels.

Their letter was a response to Höcke’s star turn at a regional gathering of AfD nationalists and “patriots” last weekend. As about 800 supporters cheered and waved German flags, Höcke called into question the contribution of immigrants to Germany’s post-war economy.


“The policy of open borders practised for decades . . . this irrational migration policy . . . has bled us financially as if we had lost another war,” said Höcke, who has risen to prominence by happily courting controversy.

Last year he narrowly avoided being ejected from the party after suggesting that Germany’s “stupid” efforts to remember and learn from its Nazi past had “crippled” the country.

Now he is at the centre of party attention again thanks to his nationalist “Flügel” flank, which has taken control of regional parties in at least five federal states.

Last weekend Höcke defended his “Flügel” as a casual organisation with “no membership cards or numbers, just patriots who don’t want to give up on this country”.

It was not his “Flügel”that is trying to divide the AfD, Höcke insisted, but others in the party – including the national party leadership.

Listening to his speech was one of those leaders: Alexander Gauland, Bundestag co-leader in Berlin. He is no no stranger to provocation, describing the 12-year Third Reich as “a pile of bird shit” on an otherwise glorious panorama of German history.

But at last weekend’s gathering Gauland, for years a dominant figure in the party, warned nationalist AfD members to watch their words or endanger a looming election breakthrough.

Ahead of three autumn elections, polls show the AfD running neck-and-neck with the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Saxony, in first place in Brandenburg and second place in Thuringia.

The AfD was not created “to create a space in which everyone can say everything”, said Gauland, predicting that embracing crude, nationalist language would scare away more moderate voters.

It remains to be seen if Gauland can survive the latest uprising in the party. After already toppling two leaders in its six-year existence, Höcke appears to be gearing up the AfD for a third putsch. On Friday it emerged that he had agreed a political pact behind Gauland’s back with his Bundestag co-leader, Alice Weidel.

A leading far-right ideologue within the party, Götz Kubitschek, said on Friday that Weidel had realised that the party “cannot shake off Björn Höcke and his network without causing damage”.

“All are in agreement that calming things down in the party is one of the most important tasks,” wrote Kubitschek in a blog post.

Founded in 2013 as a Eurosceptic party and bailout critic, the AfD narrowly avoided entering the Bundestag parliament that year. In 2017 it became the strongest opposition party, beating the Free Democrats (FDP), Greens and Left Party.

Crucial to a revival in its fortunes was growing public unease in Germany over the 2015 influx of more than one million refugees – and a series of violent attacks involving asylum seekers.

The last two years have been marked by a stream of departures of more conservative and liberal figures in the party. Höcke’s “Flügel” grouping inside the AfD has reached out to the xenophobic “Pegida” grouping behind Monday-night marches in Germany. It has also allied itself with the Germany branch of the “Identitarian Movement”, which opposes globalisation, liberalism and multiethnic societies.

This week German domestic intelligence said they viewed the Identitarian Movement, with about 600 members in Germany, as an “extreme right movement [working] against the liberal democratic constitution”.