That’s not the wholly fictive scenario it once used to be. The surging AfD is polling at 22 percent — a level of support greater than what each of the three centrist and center-left parties in the country’s ruling coalition currently command. It seems poised to break the “cordon sanitaire” erected around it by Germany’s more mainstream parties that have so far refused to entertain coalition talks with the far-right faction and possibly shoulder its way into power in state elections later this year.
That AfD officials were openly entertaining the idea of forced repatriation of migrants and even some German nationals of foreign origin horrified many in a country with a deep memory of its dark past. By some accounts, more than a million people participated in the anti-AfD protests.
“In Hamburg and Munich, rallies had to be dispersed because significantly more people than expected attended. Aerial images from across the country showed masses of people braving bitter January temperatures to fill city squares and avenues,” reported my colleague Kate Brady. “According to police figures, in Berlin on Sunday, about 100,000 people gathered on the lawns of the Reichstag, which houses Germany’s lower house of parliament.”
Signs and slogans at the rallies made clear what many Germans believe is at stake. Banners warned of the return of “Nazis” — and marchers summoned the legacy of the 1930s, when Adolf Hitler and his allies seized control via the ballot box. “Everyone, together, against fascism” was the chant in Berlin.
The investigative report by nonprofit research institute Correctiv detailed the extensive private discussions had between AfD members and a coterie of influential right-wing extremists and wealthy business executives at a November meeting in a hotel in Potsdam, outside of Berlin. This included talk of a “remigration” plan that would deport asylum seekers, non-Germans with residency rights and even “non-assimilated” German citizens.
Martin Sellner, a far-right extremist and leader of the Austrian “Identitarian Movement,” attended the gathering and floated a “master plan” that could even see these deportees sent to an imagined “model state” in North Africa. Whatever the unviability of the proposals, it echoed Nazi deliberations in 1940 to forcibly relocate millions of Jews to Madagascar. Sellner once maintained correspondence with Brenton Tarrant, the white nationalist gunmen who carried out the hideous 2019 killing spree at a set of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Top AfD leaders have sought to distance themselves from the meetings, arguing that they were not officially sanctioned by the party and do not reflect its stated agenda. Alice Weidel, the party’s co-leader, said in a recent interview with the Financial Times that the AfD’s views were unfairly stigmatized and criticized the methods Correctiv used to infiltrate the gathering.
“It was just an attempt to criminalize the very idea of repatriating people lawfully who don’t have leave to remain here, or are subject to a deportation order,” said Weidel, whose close aide Roland Hartwig reportedly attended the November event. “The AfD is the party that stands for enforcing this country’s laws.”
That’s a claim bound to raise eyebrows. In three German states, party officials are known to be under surveillance by the German domestic spy agency for their “certified right-wing extremist” positions. Some of the party’s opponents want Germany’s judicial authorities to intervene and ban the party under provisions in the German constitution that allow for the banning of factions the “seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order.”
More than a million people have signed a petition calling on constitutional authorities to strip Björn Höcke, the AfD party chief in the state of Thuringia, of his rights to vote and participate in politics because of the “fascist” threat he poses for the country’s democracy and Germans of migrant background.
But there’s a high bar for such a measure and the German political establishment, including deputy chancellor Robert Habeck, is broadly leery of endorsing such efforts, fearful they may backfire. Already, the party is channeling the notoriety of being under surveillance in its favor, wearing the classification as “a badge of honor, using it as yet further proof that it’s the only real alternative to the other parties,” noted Georg Mascolo, political columnist at the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The party’s extended surge in the polls comes on the back of mounting discontent with the ruling coalition. “Even though 2024 is just a few weeks old, Germany has already been rocked by huge farmers’ protests, with thousands of tractors blocking cities and motorway junctions this past week alone,” detailed Spiked’s Fraser Myers. “It has been crippled by transport workers’ and doctors’ strikes. Factories in its much-vaunted manufacturing sector are shutting down and shipping production elsewhere. The federal government is struggling to reckon with a budget crisis and is ushering in a new age of austerity. Data released this week showed that Germany had the worst economic performance last year of any major economy.”
In this backdrop, the avowedly anti-establishment AfD is picking up momentum. “Calls for the AfD to be banned are completely absurd and expose the anti-democratic attitude of those making these demands,” Weidel said in a written statement to Politico, echoing the line one may hear from former U.S. president Donald Trump and his supporters as his legal travails follow over the course of this election cycle.
In her interview with the Times, Weidel looked confidently ahead to the coming months, when the AfD is expected to perform well in upcoming European parliamentary elections. She even raised the possibility of her nation following Britain out of the European Union. “If we fail to rebuild the sovereignty of the E.U. member states, we should let the people decide, just as Britain did,” she told the British newspaper. “And we could have a referendum on ‘Dexit’ — a German exit from the EU.”
For now, the AfD’s opponents hope to kneecap the far right before it gets close to achieving its goals. “You are a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Lars Klingbeil, leader of the Social Democrats, told Weidel during a Bundestag debate last week. “But I’m telling you: your facade is beginning to crumble. People are finally getting to see the real face of the AfD.”