The illegality of Germany’s neo-fascist party

The case for banning Alternative for Germany (AfD)

Even before anti-AfD rallies took place all over Germany, banning Germany’s most outspoken Neo-Nazi party, the AfD, was one of the most hotly debated issues. Unfortunately, some of Germany’s Neo-Nazis are really clever. The far right knows how to take advantage of the weakest points in a liberal democracy. Therefore, traditional ideologies like chauvinism and ultra-nationalism that used to define of Germany’s right-wing extremism, have taken somewhat of a backseat. 

Still, civil society seems to have woken up to the danger of German neofascism. There have been mass protest against the AfD all over Germany – for months. 100,000 protesters marched through grey, cold, and rainy Munich on 11 February 2024. And they were not alone.

The demonstrations, which have lasted months now and have activated more than two million people, were triggered by the deportation fantasies of the Neo-Nazi AfD. Hundreds of thousands of people in smaller cities and even in the former East Germany – the true stronghold of the AfD – continue to demonstrate against fascism and right-wing extremism. 

Many experts are meanwhile discussing whether and how dangerously democracy is being threatened by the AfD. These experts as well as ordinary people are exploring avenues on how to deal with the existential threat of the far right. German society is, finally, truly concerned. 

Not very long ago, it looked as if the right-wing AfD would goose-step from electoral success to electoral success in the three key elections set for 2024.

Nevertheless, some prescient observers fear – even now with mass rallies every weekend – that the reflex to rally against the far right, which will be repeated and repeated again and again over the coming weekends, misses the actual problem entirely. These analysts of history argue that confronting neofascists, coming up with arguments against them, and challenging their violent populism, is, in fact, a futile exercise. 

This is because far right fascism is about something else entirely. It is about the willful destruction of democracy. Unfortunately, liberal democracies provide their enemies with legislative support and protection because they furnish them with the same rights given to those who defend democracy. 

The enemies of democracy will use the financial and institutional support given to them by democracy to war against democracy. They will use their state-sponsored offices and support staff  to destroy every vestige of democracy. 

At the same time, adorning the camouflage provided by a sympathetic press and some oligarchs,  the far right makes sure that it appears – in public – as a morally impeccable political party. To the outsider, Germany’s AfD is no longer characterized by internal quarrels, contradictions, and double standards. 

Meanwhile, democratic societies are dependent on a vigilant civil society, functioning institutions, and well-balanced control mechanisms capable of defending democracy. 

Neo-fascists such as Martin Sellner and Björn Höcke know that democratic societies have weak spots. They take advantage of those spots in a very targeted manner. 

Meanwhile, the current outrage over the Neo-Nazi term remigration is appropriate. However, it comes a bit late. Germany’s Neo-Nazis and the Identitarian’s spokesman, Sellner, the Austrian, have for a very long time pushed their Neo-Nazi ideology.

The same can be said about Höcke, the history teacher and state employee who can officially be called a fascist. Sellner and Höcke have been talking and writing about their Neo-Nazi ideology for years. Both of them, and the AfD, use pop and net culture to broadcast their far right ideology to the clueless mass of lemmings who follow them. 

Germany’s far right have never abandoned or toned down their racist, white supremacist and völkisch ideology. When they use the word “völkisch”, they mean the eradication of anyone they believe to be non-Aryan. They mean a recreation of Dachau and Auschwitz – without ever saying it out loud of course.

Another person who is also of the same frame of mind is Neo-Nazi publisher Götz Kubitschek. He, along with the others, has been working on the destabilization of democracy for years. 

They have also shown an enormous amount of determination to attain their goal: the annihilation of democracy. Because their approaches and strategies are rather clever, they seem to work.

They, and their faceless PR consultants, know how to skillfully combine pop and online culture with an ideology that is linked to historical fascism. 

By using these technological methods they aim to systematically undermine and destroy democracy. So far, their electoral successes have proven that their techniques work effectively. Right-wing populists don’t even need a coherent program. 

And yet, analysts engage in an academic and absolutely fruitless task attempting to dissect the AfD party program. It is as useless as arguing with Mengele in Auschwitz as he prepares you on the table for an operation without anesthetics. Delving into the details of the AfD’s party program entirely misses the point.

The goal of the far right is to flood the political arena and online platforms with their misanthropic, racist garbage in order to permanently damage the entire democratic culture:

  • they put vulgarity in the place of a democratic spirit; 
  • they put racist motivations in the place of empathy;
  • they weaken or, preferably, abolish the boundaries between truth and falsehood;
  • they blur society’s ability to recognize truth;
  • they work toward a complete transmogrification of democratic culture; and,
  • they glorify a nihilism that no longer shies away from the excesses of violence

Currently, many things – the Ukrainian war, sustainability, global warming, etc. – are playing into the hands of far right populist demagogues from the “fascist camp” – as is well known in Germany. In historical terms, the post-World War II era of the relatively calm activities of Neo-Nazis during the second half of the 20th century is over. Today’s Neo-Nazis are hyperactive.

Reactionary anti-modernism has returned in the 21st century at a breathtaking pace. Due to the recent success of the AfD, it is difficult to have confidence in the future of democracy. 

The AfD can exploit the fact that we live in a highly complex world that is changing at a rapid pace and whose global inter-connections leave even professional observers puzzled.

Many people can no longer fully grasp the complexities of life in the 21st century. This makes it difficult to have confidence in the future. This includes the apocalyptic dimensions of the global climate crisis. 

All these factors cloud the future prospects for people and lead to a kind of depressive atmosphere. The impending darkness is then exploited with the Big Lie of how a strong leader will make the future bright and worthwhile again. 

Everyone has realized that the planetary scale of global warming demands solutions that must be adopted worldwide. In a globally networked world, people in the Global South are aware not only of the ravages of the colonial past, but also of the resulting economic dependencies that still exist today and the incomparably better living conditions in the countries of the North. 

Germany’s far right exploits all of these areas through its right-wing propaganda machine. The bots and fake social media accounts provide easy crypto-solutions to complex problems, coupled with a plethora of imaginary conspiracies that appear to target normal people and endanger their existence.

Germany’s environmentalist Green party is aware of the dangers of climate change and hate against women and the disadvantaged in society and therefore advocates a radical change in current policy. 

This type of change in society, with more critical thinking, more generosity toward outsiders, if it were to spread throughout society, would eradicate neofascist ideology completely.

The far right is therefore engineering an unprecedented hatred of the Greens. This is especially visible online. The longed-for moment of a so-called “existential crisis” is advertised as being imminent. 

For far right fascists like Höcke and Trump this is the moment they have been waiting for because they are ready to initiate the decline of the West – once again. As Goebbels once said: “You can’t change the masses. They will always be the same: dumb, gluttonous and forgetful.”

Authoritarians only do this out of a desperate psychopathic need to secure their own political and power-holding existence. To them – the anti-democratic neofascists – the fact that democratic negotiations are often rather tedious and nerve-racking, serves as proof of their belief that democracies are fundamentally weak – which they view as corrupted, in the sense of being contaminated, ill, crippled, and therefore allowed to be put to death, like the disabled were during the Nazi era. 

Meanwhile they claim – as true right-wing populists – to speak for a silent majority, or as they call it in German: das Volk. For many Germans the word Volk simply means the people, but for Neo-Nazis, the AfD, and Germany’s right-wing extremists it means Volksgemeinschaft, the authoritarian-loving community they mistakenly believe has something to do with being “Aryan.” 

Old Tricky Dicky Nixon famously used similar communication strategies, known as dog whistles, to send scantily coded messages to racists in the Old South in order to get their votes.

The real goal is not democratic engagement but an authoritarian overthrow of democracy. It is a kind of dark revolt against a torn modernity. Its fears have been translated into support for the far right. The far right has no concept or program for the construction of a successful future, and they don’t promise one either. There is no need.

Instead, they unleash vague and gloomy resentments against the imagined evils of democracy. They also promise protection, usually against an outside enemy, as can be currently found in migrants seeking refuge, in global warming, in Covid-19. In the politics of fear, any old reason will do. 

What it boils down to is: “You are nothing, your Volk is everything.” This is how the Nazis of the 1930s formulated it. It is terror from below – instigated from above. Nazism, fascism, as well as Neo-Nazism are top-down affairs.

As a consequence, the far right is toxically resentful of the many demonstrations and discussions that are now taking place because they come from below

They also resent them because they are against the far right and the AfD. All these mass rallies will unfortunately not tackle the problem at its root. 

In other words, democratic engagement can be effective with someone inside democracy – someone who is reading from the same playbook. It cannot be effective with someone who is dead set to destroy democracy. Since this is the goal of the AfD, people are increasingly advocating for a ban of the AfD.

It is none other than über-Nazi Joseph Goebbels who made all this very clear in the year 1935, when he said:

Das wird immer einer der besten Witze der Demokratie bleiben, dass sie ihren Todfeinden die Mittel selbst stellte, durch die sie vernichtet wurde. Die verfolgten Führer der NSDAP traten als Abgeordnete in den Genuss der Immunität, der Diäten und der Freifahrkarte. Dadurch waren sie vor dem polizeilichen Zugriff gesichert, durften sich zu sagen erlauben als gewöhnliche Staatsbürger und ließen sich außerdem die Kosten ihrer Tätigkeit vom Feinde bezahlen. Aus der demokratischen Dummheit ließ sich vortrefflich Kapital schlagen.

my translation:

It will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy that it provided its mortal enemies with the means by which it was destroyed. The persecuted leaders of the NSDAP, as deputies, enjoyed immunity, diets and a free ticket. As a result, they were protected from police access, were allowed to say themselves as ordinary citizens and, in addition, had the costs of their activities paid by the enemy. It was possible to make excellent capital out of democratic stupidity.

Democracy does not need to make the same mistake twice (1933 and 2024). A huge number of people – actually 800,000 – are advocating for a ban of the AfD. 

All over Germany, the calls for legal action against the AfD have been getting louder. A recent survey showed that no less than 49 elected politicians are ready to seriously examine initiating legal action to ban the AfD. 

The recent push is supported by the fact that AfD members met with right-wing extremists and other Neo-Nazis in a hotel near Potsdam – Wannsee 2.0 – to discuss plans for the mass deportation of people with a migrant background from Germany. 

The AfD also wants to deport those it deems not assimilated, i.e. not fitting into the Volksgemeinschaft. Donald Trump is reading from the same playbook.

Based on recent mass rallies against the AfD, the question of making the AfD illegal – “verboten” or forbidden – has increased in recent weeks. It is a question of, “how best to fight the AfD?” 

As a matter of fact, the procedure to ban the AfD can be initiated by the Bundestag (the parliament), the Bundesrat (senate) as well as by Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court.

However, the obstacles to ban a political party are extremely difficult to overcome. The concern is that the whole thing could go horribly wrong. It did once before when the highest court rejected banning Germany’s former Neo-Nazi party, the NPD

They were eventually dissolved. The NPD renamed itself Heimat [homeland] and plays no role whatsoever in Germany. Its members have gleefully moved to the AfD. 

Just like the former NPD, the AfD is a deeply racist and inhuman party. Hence, many people are in favor of a close examination in order to start prohibition procedures. Of course many people also think that even a successful procedure to ban the AfD will not be a sufficient solution to deal with Neo-Nazism in the underbelly of Germany. 

Meanwhile, parliamentarians of all the democratic parties are starting to band together in Germany’s Bundestag, seeking to ascertain the chances for the success of a ban. 

Some have already decided to “go to Karlsruhe.” Karlsruhe is where the Federal Constitutional Court is located. Rules state that five percent (5%) of members of the Bundestag are sufficient to place the issue of a ban of the AfD on the agenda in parliament. This means no more that 37 parliamentarians are needed. 

These 37 can request that Germany’s federal government examine the potential chances of success for a ban. On the other hand, the Bundestag itself can also decide to request a ban. In a second step, a resolution to initiate a ban would have to win a majority of parliamentarians for the case.

Support for a ban of the AfD is more widespread among members of the social-democrat SPD, the environmentalist Greens and the socialist Die Linke. It is not as widespread among parliamentarians of the conservative CDU/CSU and the neoliberal FDP. 

Unsurprisingly, the idea of banning the AfD is strongly supported by members of parliament that come from eastern Germany than among those from the western states. 

This might be because the AfD is much stronger in the old DDR states compared to the western ones and therefore presents more of a challenge to the democratic parties over there.

Self-evidently, support for banning the AfD is higher among members of parliament that come from families who have a migrant background than among those who don’t. A liberal party member from Thuringia, for example, recently said: 

I have strong sympathies for a ban of the AfD. The party is classified as right-wing extremist in Thuringia. We all realize how dangerous the AfD is. However, the procedure to ban the AfD must have a chance of success. 

For many reasons, it is uncertain whether parliamentarians will all unite behind a joint motion across all political groups to ban the AfD. If there is a proposal to ban the AfD, it would also need a two-thirds majority of the senate. Germany’s constitution – called the Basic Law – says in article 21 paragraph 2:

(2) Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behavior of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional. 

Many parliamentarians are convinced that the AfD constantly violates the principle of human dignity, which is a cornerstone of Germany’s liberal democratic basic order. They feel that the state has a duty to take action against this. What exactly all this means has been rather unclear. 

After all, it has been a very long time since Germany’s supreme court banned a political party. It banned a Nazi-remake called Socialist Reich Party (SRP) in 1952, and it banned the Communist Party of Germany in 1956. Members of the SRP contained people who built the concentration camps. The communists of the KPD were prisoners in those concentration camps.

In 2003 and 2017, two proceedings against the far-right NPD failed. The first time (2003) it was because of procedural errors. The second time (2017), the party had become too insignificant to enforce a ban. Today, no one could argue that the AfD is insignificant and therefore can avoid a ban on those grounds.

Information material and websites in German that explain and encourage banning the AfD: German Institute for Human Rights; Politische Schönheit; Campact

Thomas Klikauer is the author of over 950 publications including a book on Alternative für Deutschland: The AfDpublished by Liverpool University Press.

Danny Antonelli grew up in the USA, now lives in Hamburg, Germany and writes radio plays, stories and is a professional lyricist and librettist. 

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