Though its lawmakers may have been democratically elected, the AfD has given the Verfassungsschutz plenty of fodder to point to in its surveillance decision (436 pages of it, in fact, all from public comments or social media). Some of the party’s most visible politicians have promoted a revisionist view of the country’s dark past, most notably Björn Höcke, who leads the “Wing,” an extreme far-right faction within the AfD,which is now under surveillance. He has called Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, a collection of thousands of gray concrete pillars down the street from the Bundestag and the Brandenburg Gate, a “monument of shame” and once downplayed and defended a Nazi activist’s Holocaust denial. The party co-leader, Alexander Gauland has also come under fire: He referred to the Nazi era as a mere “speck of bird poop” in the country’s otherwise illustrious history and said that Germany should be proud of its World War II soldiers.
When it comes to the party’s rhetoric about refugees and migrants, AfD leaders have even at times run afoul of online hate-speech laws, with one lawmaker finding herself temporarily suspended from Twitter and Facebook last year after posting about “barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes.” And the Chemnitz riots, which saw AfD supporters and radical far-right groups such as Pegida marching side by side, showed the extent to which harsh rhetoric about refugees can turn into violent action.
Not every lawmaker in the AfD espouses such views: The party, after all, was originally founded in opposition to the euro, taking up the anti-refugee mantle only after the influx of newcomers to Germany in 2015 and 2016. But the fact that the party’s top leadership has allowed such rhetoric, and even in some cases elevated those politicians within its ranks, experts say, is part of why the Verfassungsschutz chose to move toward surveillance.
That, combined with some party members’ ties to other monitored extremist groups—the Young Alternative, AfD’s youth wing, was placed under surveillance in part because of its ties to the far-right extremist group Generation Identity, for example—gives the impression that the AfD tolerates, if not advocates for, extremist views. (Even Bernd Lucke, one of the original founders of the party who has since left, recently said that he believes the Verfassungsschutz is right to monitor some parts of the party.)
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"It may be that the majority of the AfD doesn't agree with everything Mr. Höcke says. The decisive thing is that Mr. Höcke isn't marginalized and isn't isolated,” says Axel Salheiser, a researcher who focuses on extremism at the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society in Jena, in eastern Germany.
There are also informal ways in which traditional parties use parliamentary procedure or unwritten rules to push back against rhetoric or specific members within the AfD they see as unacceptable. For example, when the AfD first put up its candidate for Bundestag vice president, Albrecht Glaser, in late 2017, members of other parties repeatedly refused to confirm him because of controversial comments he’d made about Islam. (Though typically each party gets to have one vice president in the legislature, the AfD still doesn’t have one.) And when it comes to involvement in certain topics or committee assignments—intelligence, or the culture committees that oversee museums and memorials, for example—lawmakers have rejected or delayed AfD nominees they find offensive or inappropriate.