How does a party of economists and businessmen transform into a party of new voters bashing Islam? Republican elites wringing their hands over Donald Trump—who officially clinched their party’s nomination on Thursday and who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States—aren’t the only ones asking that. The founders of Germany’s “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) party probably spared a thought for it, too. After racking up historic gains in regional elections in March, the party this month adopted a new manifesto insisting that “Islam is not part of Germany.” A meeting between the AfD and Muslim leaders broke down this week after the president of the Central Council of Muslims refused to retract previous comments comparing the AfD to Nazis.
The party’s beginnings weren’t quite so dramatic. The AfD started out in 2013 with a Ph.D.-riddled member list and a wonky Euroskeptic manifesto that could have lulled a caffeinated squirrel into a midday nap. It called for empowering national governments to ditch the euro, limiting state bailouts, and mandating national referenda for certain EU policies, alongside scintillating stipulations about European Central Bank maneuvers and alternative funding for renewable-energy subsidies. Yet the huge influx of predominantly Muslim refugees in the past year, along with incidents such as the infamous New Year’s Eve assaults on women by men seeming mostly to be of North African descent, has helped radicalize group. Last month’s manifesto not only declared Islam incompatible with German legal and cultural values, but also endorsed a ban on burqas and the call to prayer.