The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a domestic intelligence agency whose mandate is to safeguard German democracy, recently classified a faction of the right-wing Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) as extremist and placed it under official surveillance.
In explaining the rationale for taking this drastic but necessary step, Thomas Haldenwang, the president of that organization, said, “We know from German history that far-right extremism didn’t just destroy human lives. It destroyed democracy.”
And warning of the threat the country faces today, he added, “Far-right extremism and far-right terrorism are currently the biggest danger for democracy in Germany.”
He was specifically referring to the “Wing” faction of the AfD, led by Bjorn Hocke, a history teacher from the state of Thuringia. With about 7,000 followers, it comprises no less than 20 percent of the AfD’s membership.
Hocke calls for a rejection of Germany’s postwar culture of penance, which accepts full responsibility for Nazi crimes against humanity and the need to provide reparations to its victim. He also believes that Germans should reappraise their view of Germany’s culpability for igniting World War II and its central role in the Holocaust.
Speaking at a rally in Dresden three years ago, Hocke denounced the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which was inaugurated in Berlin in 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. Germans were “the only people in the world to plant a monument of shame in the heart of their capital,” he said ruefully.
And in a diatribe against Germany’s constitutional liberal order, Hocke advocated a form of “German absolutism” that would require “human harshness, unpleasant scenes and temperate brutality.”
It’s clear that Hocke and his fellow travellers seek to upend the prevailing political and social status quo, which has facilitated Germany’s reintegration into the family of civilized nations since the horrors of National Socialism. Hocke’s retrogressive ideas, Haldenwang correctly noted, are found in “the breeding ground of far-right extremism.”
Germany’s 32,000 far-right radicals are bred in this dismal swamp, and 13,000 of them are primed to engage in violence. Since Germany’s reunification three decades ago, far-right terrorists have killed more than 200 people. In the past nine months, there has been an upsurge of such violence. In June, a government official was murdered in Kassel. In October, a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle. And last month, an extremist killed nine people with immigrant roots in Hanau.
Hocke cannot be held accountable for these homicides, but the outrage that fuelled them can be traced back, in part, to the AfD, the third largest political party in Germany since the 2017 general election.
Founded in 2013, the AfD climbed to national prominence after winning 94 seats in the Bundestag. Six million Germans, or 12 percent of voters, cast their ballots for the AfD, which challenges the core principles of liberal democracy, rejects kosher or halal slaughtering, and posits an aversion to Islam.
As its manifesto bluntly states, “Islam does not belong to Germany. Its expansion and the ever-increasing number of Muslims in the country are viewed by the AfD as a danger to our state, our society, and our values. An Islam which neither respects nor refrains from being in conflict with our legal system, or that even lays claim to power as the only true religion, is incompatible with our legal system and our culture. Many Muslims live as law-abiding and well-integrated citizens amongst us, and are accepted and valued members of our society. However, the AfD demands that an end is put to the formation and increased segregation by parallel Islamic societies relying on courts with shari’a laws. The AfD wishes to curb a trend towards religious radicalization amongst Muslims, and these turning into violent Salafists or terrorists.”
One can’t disagree with its position that Muslims in Germany should refrain from forming segregationist “parallel societies” or conducting their lives solely on the basis of Islamic laws. This is all the more true since the influx of more than one million Muslim refugees into Germany since 2015. But the AfD crosses the line into outright bigotry when it insists that Islam has no place in Germany. This is the stuff of ethnocentrism, racism and fascism, and a hallmark of Hocke’s beliefs.
Hocke and his ilk cannot tolerate ethnic and religious diversity, much less multiculturalism. In their heart of hearts, they dream of and desire a racially homogeneous, illiberal German state that harkens back to the Nazi era. This is not the model to which Germany should aspire, now or ever.
Which is precisely why the Office for the Protection of the Constitution should keep a close watch on Hocke and his rabble of followers in the AfD.