Long before Nazism – the most extreme form of right-wing extremism – appeared on the scene during the 1920s, Germany already had right-wing extremists. One hundred years later and after Auschwitz, Germany’s right-wing extremism has not disappeared. If anything, it got worse.
Of course, the biggest boost on right-wing extremism comes from Germany’s newest political party, euphemistically called Alternative for Germany or AfD. Ever since the party’s conception, AfD apparatchiks have been successful in networking with external right-wing extremists. In 2023, the AfD was the largest and most important actor within Germany’s extreme right.
The AfD is present in almost all regions and local parliaments – be it with local community offices [Bürgerbüros], the party-ran electoral booths, political rallies, and organized campaign events. With its stronghold being in East-Germany, the AfD also performed rather well in West German states – often hiding its right-wing extremism.
Yet, inside the AfD, there are strong and even more radical Völkisch-nationalist forces (Neo-Nazis). In 2023, these Nazi-Volksgemeinschaft adoring forces were able to prevail as far as possible, and, as in many cases, gained in power. Yet, the party is also plagued by internal conflicts as plenty of regional leaders want to be the Führer.
Party disputes inside the Völkisch Nazi wing centered mostly around a candidate’s position on pre-electoral lists to be elected. Meanwhile, the entire party as well as its semi-fascistic youth association – the so-called Young Alternative – is currently under observation by Germany’s federal domestic intelligence agency, officially called: Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
In 2023, two state secret services – in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt – have also started to investigate local AfD setups because of its links to right-wing extremists and Neo-Nazis.
However, being targeted by the state did not lead to any form of voter rejection of the AfD – on the contrary. Propagandistically, the AfD played the role of being the victim of state persecution. Recently, the AfD has even gained in voter support.
There is the case of 18.4% of voter support in the West-German state of Hessen. Meanwhile, voter support for the AfD in Bavaria reached 14.6%. These two outstanding election results were widely celebrated by the AfD – for which the AfD’s Mini-Me Führer even flew in for.
Worse, in nationwide polls, the AfD sits at about 20%. With that, the AfD became the second strongest party in Germany.
Yet, an historically trained observer might ask:
is there a link between the AfD’s 20% and the 20% of Germans that once supported Hitler’s Nazi party, of whom Sebastian Haffner mentioned in his 1941 masterpiece, Germany: Jekyll and Hyde – An Eywitness Analysis of Nazi Germany? And is Germany – in 1933 as in 2023 – a country where roughly 20% of the voting population supports Nazism (1933) or Neo-Nazism (2023)?
It is getting worse. According to recent public polls – the AfD will soon become the strongest political party in virtually all East German states. Its approval ratings are at 30% – or more. To the right of the reactionary AfD are outright Neo-Nazi parties like:
- the Free Saxony;
- but also the Alliance Germany in the northern city-state of Bremen; and,
- top- anti-Semitic Aiwanger’s Free Voters in Bavaria.
Bavaria is a place where Free Voter party boss – Hubert Aiwanger – once was happy to see Jews to get a free flight through the chimney of Auschwitz, as Aiwanger himself wrote. In 2023, anti-Semitic Aiwanger received a 4% boost in an election held shortly “after” the scandal broke.
Meanwhile at the municipal level, the AfD was also able to achieve a number of stunning electoral successes throughout 2023.
In June, the AfD – in Thuringia’s Sonneberg – managed, for the first time, to be represented as an extreme right-wing party at a district council.
Just one week later, the AfD also won in Raguhn-Jeßnitz (Saxony-Anhalt). Here, it was the first time an AfD candidate was elected as a full-time mayor. Especially in remote, backward, and rural areas, the AfD does well.
It has been argued that this is due to what is called a “neighborhood proximity” of locals to local AfD people operating in an atmosphere of right-wing ideologies, the fear of being left behind, conspiracy fantasies, resentment against democracy, etc.
For German municipalities, for regional states as well as for federal political institutions, the following applies: whether the neo-fascist AfD can succeed in establishing itself depends on an acute awareness of democratic forces that the AfD is a threat to democracy.
This is exactly where the problem lies. Many representatives of democratic parties – especially from Germany’s conservative side of the democratic spectrum – have a strong tendency to downplay the AfD’s right-wing extremism and its various links deep into Germany’s Neo-Nazi milieu.
Instead of clearly articulating the AfD’s anti-democratic and deeply authoritarian ideology, Germany’s conservative parties continue to avoid calling a spade, a spade.
The conservative narrative has contributed to the normalization of the AfD. This is the mainstreaming of fascism, as Henry Giroux calls it correctly.
Worse, German conservatives have even let themselves be driven by the AfD that sets the agenda on its preferred issue: migrants. Once again, the year 2023 has also shown that the AfD works closely with people and organizations of Germany’s extreme right. The AfD remains well connected with almost any group that fancies authoritarianism, fascism, Nazism, etc.
Of course, this also includes a neo-fascistic ideology manufacturing think tank called, Institute for State Policy (IfS) The IfS is located in Schnellroda (Saxony-Anhalt), a village in East Germany. This center of demagogy production is known as “the” place for right-wing extremists. In it, ideologically drilled neo-fascist cadres are forged.
In 2023, several right-wing events took place at the IfS. At the IfS, AfD politicians and adjacent ideologues from East- and West-Germany like to be invited, to be seen, to mingle, and to engage in right-wing ideologies and in strategy debates on how to use democracy for anti-democratic ends.
Worse, the IfS is regularly in contact with Germany’s neo-fascistic Identitarian Movement or Identitäre Bewegung (IB). Although the IB has somewhat lost its German-wide momentum, there are still regional IB platoons. These continued throughout 2023. The IB carried out smaller right-wing activities assuring that they are still recognized as a neo-fascist force.
In addition, numerous right-wing projects and publicity stunts have emerged from the IB that like to imitate the propaganda methods of Italian fascism. Interestingly, the IB likes to recruit young and well- educated right-wing students. And as such, the IB network offers a recruiting function – similar to the IfS – for the AfD. Meanwhile, the AfD and particularly the AfD’s youth organization – the Young Alternative – are extremely well connected and networked into Germany’s Neo-Nazis.
For example, in the northern city of Neumünster (Schleswig-Holstein), the AfD organized a rally at which – among other right-wing extremists – local representatives of a Neo-Nazi party, The Heimat featured. Die Heimat is the new name for Germany’s now outdated traditional Neo-Nazi party.
In other words, the once “Neo-Nazi” – the NPD – has been replaced by the “not-so-openly-Neo-Nazi” party, the AfD. Meanwhile, at a local “strategy” conference of the AfD’s youth organization in the West-German state of Lower Saxony, a Neo-Nazi publisher gave a speech in February 2023. These are just two examples of the 100s of links between Neo-Nazis and the AfD.
Perhaps an even more important voter reservoir for the AfD comes from Germany’s Coronavirus deniers.
Yet, with the pandemic ending, anti-democratic Coronavirus deniers did significantly less well in 2023 when it came to mobilizing people – compared to the years 2020 to 2022. The number of anti-state and anti-democracy rallies as well as the number of rally participants were – with some regional exceptions – falling.
Still, right-wing anti-vaxxers have established – in the East as in the West – rather stable milieus out of which rallies and attacks on democratic politicians and democratic institutions are organized. Originally, the pandemic was the central issue. But in recent months, it became as a side issue. Instead, the part of Germany’s right-wing that was linked to COVID-19, has started to attack a whole range of different topics:
- Russian war against the Ukraine;
- the denial of global warming;
- the hatred of Germany’s government;
- the loathing of democratic parties;
- the fight against the eternal enemy: the environmentalist The Greens;
- as well as the fight against migrants to keep Germany white.
Worse, almost any issue of public interest is re-interpreted through a lens composed of bizarre conspiracy fantasies and right-wing ideologies to fit into a right-wing extremist worldview. As a consequence, political rallies have spread far beyond extreme right-wing circles entering the petit bourgeois center of German politics.
Germany’s conservative petit-bourgeois center, on the one hand and Germany’s right-wing extremist groups, on the other hand, have started to overlap as right-wing extremism started to infiltrate Germany’s political center. Yet, both groups also have their own filter bubble.
Initially, both groups became already visible in 2020 in the wake of rallies against the hated COVID-19 measures of the state. In 2020, Germany’s right-wing extremist anti-vaxxers also imagined a looming COVID-19 dictatorship – yet, it never came.
Throughout 2023, the anti-state and anti-democracy wing of Germany’s center has continued to solidify while simultaneously opening up towards right-wing extremism. Their current ideological mix includes – depending on regional specifics:
- those who reject Germany’s democratic constitution;
- those who are open Neo-Nazis;
- AfD members and their apparatchiks;
- conspiracy fantasies believers, and outright racists;
- Aryan anthroposophists;
- those holding right-wing esoteric beliefs;
- Germany’s Christian-religious fundamentalists; and,
- the anti-West opponents of Russia’s war against the Ukraine; and those who simply glorify Russia and Putin.
One of the overall ideology unifying forces for many on the right is anti-Semitism which comes in its various guises, formulations, dog-whistling acts, specific framing, misinformation and disinformation, dehumanization, and the delegitimization of anyone who is not seen as being German. For virtually all of this, online platforms provide a forum for right-wing ideologies. Yet, there are also real right-wing acts committed by real people.
For example, in the West-German cities of Cologne, Wuppertal, and other cities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, right-wing rallies of an alliance called “NRW wake up” [NRW Erwache] were held. Their battle cry is a reminiscence of Hitler’s Deutschland Erwache – a Nazi song.
This Neo-Nazi alliance is considered to be another reservoir of anti-vaxxers, opponents of COVID-19 vaccination, but more importantly for the Putsch-plotting, extremely violent, militant, and ready-to-kill Reichsbürger, as well as other anti-democratic groupings.
Next to the Reichsbürger who glorify Germany’s the Reich – Germany’s authoritarian and deeply anti-democratic empire – Germany’s right-wing extremists also included regional and often smaller, but no less dangerous, groupings. These are, for example, micro-parties such as the aforementioned Die Heimat – the homeland; Die Rechte – The Right; and Der III. Weg – the code-word for Hitler’s 3rd Reich.
Throughout 2023, German Neo-Nazis remained highly visible in public places – albeit somewhat less than in previous years.
Yet, German right-wing extremists still managed to organize a so-called funeral march in the East-German city of Dresden and a racist protest rally for the Free Saxons – a regional Neo-Nazi party in backward Dunkeldeutschland. The rallies of the Neo-Nazis’ Free Saxons are defined as reactionary resentments against almost anything that modernity offers.
Meanwhile in Schleusingen (Thuringia), a town in East Germany, Neo-Nazis remain instrumental in organizing rallies against refugees and migrants. To support that and to remain visible in the public eye, German Neo-Nazis liked to distribute leaflets, held so-called vigils, sprayed right-wing graffiti, and plastered public places with stickers. Such actions are also directed inward to solidify the right-wing base.
This is done via Neo-Nazi’s organized regional hikes, training camps, Nazi songs during get-togethers and recital evenings, as well as the so-called network days. All this is performed to strengthen the internal cohesion of right-wing groups. Yet, such right-wing networks also consist of:
- right-wing entrepreneurs;
- owners of right-wing and Neo-Nazi clothing stores;
- those who run right-wing online platforms like Telegram and YouTube channels;
- internet mail-order companies;
- those who run tattoo studios; and,
- right-wing music labels – like the violently Erschiessungskomanndo or execution commando.
Germany’s battle-hardened neo-Nazis are part of a far-right parallel world – a kind of self-reinforcing filter bubble of likeminded people.
Such right-wing milieus and filter bubble communities make it possible for people to stay within their ideologically defined groups. Meanwhile, German Neo-Nazis are also present in sport clubs – especially in martial arts. Inside such clubs, Neo-Nazis smokescreen their ideology by pretending to be mere athletes. In other cases, Neo-Nazis operate their very own martial arts studios while also hosting right-wing and Neo-Nazi events. Neo-Nazis also meet for joint training sessions in gyms run by other Neo-Nazis.
Meanwhile, in September 2023, Germany’s Ministry of the Interior outlawed a particularly violent Neo-Nazi, Aryan, and White Power organization called Hammerskins. How the government’s 2023 ban will affect the Hammerskins in long-term is not yet foreseeable. Previous experience with prohibitions of Neo-Nazi groupings have shown that Neo-Nazi memberships slowed down, but it didn’t stop Neo-Nazis all together.
Finally, there are the coup d’état organizing Reichsbürger. They seek to replace democracy with and an authoritarian Kingdom of Germany. There are, roughly two core streams within the extremely dangerous Reichsbürger:
- The first current includes Neo-Nazis and brutal right-wing extremists;
- the slightly more moderate group dreams of a new state – the German Reich or Empire.
In 2023, a secretive and sect-like group within the second current was visualizing a Kingdom of Germany or Königreich Deutschland (KRD). With the mythical KRD, it was trying to expand its influence throughout Germany. And its ultimate plan was to set up a new administrative, economic, social – but ultimately – authoritarian regime.
In one case, the Reichsbürger group started with the acquisition of real estate at which the Reichsbürger offered so-called seminars on how to exit the hated democratic “system”. Once done and through a coup d’état, the plan was to develop its own Reichs-infrastructures – after democracy was to be eliminated.
Not only in the East-German rural town of Halsbrücke (Saxony) but throughout Germany, where followers of the Reichsbürger’s Kingdom of Germany bought real estates in 2023. In the Halsbrücke case, the Reichsbürger had setup an agricultural enterprise, a park, and even a cheese factory. The purpose was to camouflage a planned coup d’état against democracy.
To network nationwide, the Reichsbürger also created an organization called Vaterländische Hilfsdienst (VHD) – a right-wing paramilitary fighting squad modeled on Germany’s Imperial Reich.
In addition, the VHD also operated inside Germany’s anti-COVID-19 milieu where it found new followers and tried to build ever more Reichsbürger structures. Besides all this, one of the preferred strategies of the Reichsbürger is to cause significant workloads for Germany’s public authorities.
The Reichsbürger constantly launched right-wing – and often fantastical but ultimately rather nonsensical – petitions, filing applications and lawsuits like, for example, demanding compensation for those Reichsbürger members that had been abducted by UFOs. These absurd acts overburden public administration. Meanwhile, Reichsbürger refuses to pay taxes to a democratic state they despise, hate, and want to eliminate.
In summary, Germany’s Reichsbürgers, right-wing extremists, Neo-Nazis, and adjacent groups maintain a high visibility even though their power has somewhat declined as the COVID-19 pandemic ended and did not lead to the anticipated COVID-19 dictatorship.
While Germany’s right-wing extremists appear to receive more support in East-Germany rather than in West-Germany, right-wing extremists remain active throughout Germany – albeit to a varying degree.
Taking just one month – June 2023 – as an example, a single month in Germany – registered 1,407 right-wing crimes.
Counted for one month, these violent offences of Germany’s right-wing extremists included:
- two attempted homicides;
- 59 bodily injuries;
- one case of arson;
- dangerous interferences with ship, air, rail, and road traffic; and,
- three incidents of resisting arrest;
- in 55 cases, a xenophobic and racist motivation was found;
- 130 crimes were classified as anti-Semitic.
In other words, Germany’s right-wing extremists, the AfD, Reichsbürgers, Neo-Nazis, and similar groups remained highly active and dangerous in 2023. One can easily imagine that the year 2024 will be no different.
The opening photo sticker reads: Skinheads – white and proud. Source.
Check out Ku Przestrodze / Watch Out project led by Forward Foundation, aiming at educating on what fascism and nazism really were, how they led to tragedies of millions of people and what should be done to never allow them to come back.