Four months ahead of the next federal election, Germany’s biggest opposition party, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), has chosen its top candidates for the campaign.
The victors were Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla, both of whom are sitting members of parliament. Party members elected the pair with a resounding 71% of the vote share, giving a boost to the more radical far-right forces in the party.
Cold shoulder from party leader
Cracks are again beginning to show in the upper ranks of the AfD, the far-right party founded only eight years ago on a nationalist and euroskeptic platform, which has since been amended to emphasize anti-immigration policies.
Weidel and Chrupalla were not the preferred choices of party leader Jörg Meuthen, a member of the European Parliament, who had been promoting more moderate lead candidates for the campaign. His plan failed miserably.
Party co-chair Jörg Meuthen opposes the radical extreme right forces in his party
At a press conference after their nomination had been announced, Weidel and Chrupalla spoke in relaxed tones, called their nomination a great success, and said they saw the AfD now back on track after months of power struggles. The two explained that their main focus was now the fight against coronavirus mitigation measures imposed by the federal government.
“The lockdown is completely excessive,” said Weidel, an economist. She warned of Germany’s economic decline. She also chose to lash out at the Green party, which is currently leading in the polls, accusing them of intending to lead the country into communism with their climate and energy policies.
Chrupalla invoked the importance of the German middle class. He himself is a craftsman and has warned against small businesses being squeezed amid the economic downturn. The 46-year-old from Saxony joined the AfD in 2015 because of its anti-immigration platform.
He attracted significant criticism in 2020 after the global anti-racism movement sparked by the murder of unarmed Black man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer. Chrupalla tweeted about the Black Lives Matter protests, warning that the unrest showed how multiracial societies were doomed and how Germany needed to avoid such a development.
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Christian Lüth Ex-press officer Christian Lüth had already faced demotion for past contentious comments before being caught on camera talking to a right-wing YouTube video blogger. “The worse things get for Germany, the better they are for the AfD,” Lüth allegedly said, before turning his focus to migrants. “We can always shoot them later, that’s not an issue. Or gas them, as you wish. It doesn’t matter to me.”
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Alexander Gauland Co-chairman Alexander Gauland said the German national soccer team’s defender Jerome Boateng might be appreciated for his performance on the pitch — but people would not want “someone like Boateng as a neighbor.” He also argued Germany should close its borders and said of an image showing a drowned refugee child: “We can’t be blackmailed by children’s eyes.”
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Alice Weidel Alice Weidel generally plays the role of “voice of reason” for the far-right populists, but she, too, is hardly immune to verbal miscues. Welt newspaper, for instance, published a 2013 memo allegedly from Weidel in which she called German politicians “pigs” and “puppets of the victorious powers in World War II.” Weidel initially claimed the mail was fake, but now admits its authenticity.
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Frauke Petry German border police should shoot at refugees entering the country illegally, the former co-chair of the AfD told a regional newspaper in 2016. Officers must “use firearms if necessary” to “prevent illegal border crossings.” Communist East German leader Erich Honecker was the last German politician who condoned shooting at the border.
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Björn Höcke The head of the AfD in the state of Thuringia made headlines for referring to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame” and calling on the country to stop atoning for its Nazi past. The comments came just as Germany enters an important election year — leading AfD members moved to expel Höcke for his remarks.
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Beatrix von Storch Initially, the AfD campaigned against the euro and bailouts — but that quickly turned into anti-immigrant rhetoric. “People who won’t accept STOP at our borders are attackers,” the European lawmaker said in 2016. “And we have to defend ourselves against attackers,” she said — even if this meant shooting at women and children.
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Marcus Pretzell Pretzell, former chairman of the AfD in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and husband to Frauke Petry, wrote, “These are Merkel’s dead,” shortly after news broke of the deadly attack on the Berlin Christmas market in December 2016.
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Andre Wendt The member of parliament in Germany’s eastern state of Saxony made waves in early 2016 with an inquiry into how far the state covers the cost of sterilizing unaccompanied refugee minors. Thousands of unaccompanied minors have sought asylum in Germany, according to the Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (BumF) — the vast majority of them young men.
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Andre Poggenburg Poggenburg, former head of the AfD in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, has also raised eyebrows with extreme remarks. In February 2017, he urged other lawmakers in the state parliament to join measures against the extreme left-wing in order to “get rid of, once and for all, this rank growth on the German racial corpus” — the latter term clearly derived from Nazi terminology.
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks Alexander Gauland, again … During a campaign speech in Eichsfeld in August 2017, AfD election co-candidate Alexander Gauland said that Social Democrat parliamentarian Aydan Özoguz should be “disposed of” back to Anatolia. The German term, “entsorgen,” raised obvious parallels to the imprisonment and killings of Jews and prisoners of war under the Nazis.
AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks … and again Gauland was roundly criticized for a speech he made to the AfD’s youth wing in June 2018. Acknowledging Germany’s responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi era, he went on to say Germany had a “glorious history and one that lasted a lot longer than those damned 12 years. Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history.” Author: Dagmar Breitenbach, Mark Hallam
More recently, Chrupalla has been advocating more moderate language — drastic messages would put off women voters, he said.
Weidel, who hails from western Germany, joined the AfD in 2013 and has held a high party office for several years. The openly gay co-head of the party in parliament opposes same-sex marriage, although she herself raises two children with her partner, who is of Sri Lankan origin. Weidel has been embroiled in a scandal over the false declaration of party finances and has more recently faced inner-party criticism for not pulling her weight in the regional election campaign for her home state of Baden-Württemberg.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Chrupalla and Weidel were not big on the details of what exactly they want to change.
The AfD has no chance of playing a part in the German government after September’s federal elections. The AfD strongly opposes all other parties — which, in turn, are unified against the far-right party.
Opinion polls put the AfD at over 10% of the vote
Support from extreme-right ‘Wing’ faction
The nomination of Weidel and Chrupalla is a victory for the AfD’s radical fringe. For months, the extreme faction of the party, called “the Wing,” has been under investigation by the German domestic intelligence service. A report by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution collected some 1,000 pages of evidence on the anti-constitutional nature of the “Wing,” which has since been formally dissolved.
Now, it seems that moderates around party co-chair Jörg Meuthen are on the retreat. “The outlook for party leader Meuthen has become worse,” political scientist Frank Decker said on the Phoenix television station. “He has to expect that he will not survive in office at the next party conference.” However, that will not take place until after the Bundestag elections in September.
Against immigration, gender sensitivity and Islam
The AfD is calling for a radical restructuring of German society: The party wants to severely limit immigration and believes that citizenship should once again be dependent on a person’s origin.
The party wants funding cut for numerous projects that fight racism or support a modern understanding of gender. The AfD also doubts the reality of human-made climate change and wants Germany to continue to rely on coal and nuclear energy, both of which have been significantly reduced in recent decades. The party rejects the EU and has called for Germany to leave the bloc.
Weidel and Chrupalla said their main opponents in the election were Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats. Their election goal, they said, is to become stronger than the center-left Social Democrats, who are currently struggling.
The AfD is currently polling at around 11% of likely voters.
Hans Pfeifer contributed to this report.
While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.