Crisis of the afd in the north: stumbling hard to the right

The AfD is also divided in the north and has lost several seats in state parliaments. The party is in its deepest crisis to date.

After the AfD lost its parliamentary group status, it had to be rebuilt in the Kiel state parliament Photo: Frank Molter/dpa

AfD national spokesman Tino Chrupalla’s Christmas and New Year greeting has only one message. On Facebook, Chrupalla appealed to his party to immediately stop "dividing itself" because they are "one party" and should not allow themselves to be "divided from the outside and not from the inside." The appeal is likely to receive applause in general, but not to curb ambitions in particular.

The supposed "alternative" is in its deepest crisis yet at the end of 2020. After the initial successes in the north, federal political disputes are having an increasing impact in the state associations of Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. The AfD has lost several seats in state parliaments, and the party has lost its parliamentary group status in three states. Personnel conflicts alternate with disputes over political direction – triggered by state intervention.

For since the party’s founding in 2013, journalistic research, anti-fascist analyses and academic studies have pointed to the party’s volkisch nationalist base as a far-right characteristic. Only with the debate of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the state offices to have to observe a part of the AfD – "the wing" around the Thuringian state parliamentary group leader Bjorn Hocke – and possibly to observe the party as a whole, the pressure in the party increased – even if the offices and authorities did not present any new findings so far. Civil society and the media, however, may have contributed to the state’s action.

The dispute that has now openly erupted over the extent to which the AfD wants to be a "movement party" or a "citizens’ party" had already been hinted at since 2015. The "wing," which formally dissolved itself to prevent the entire party from being monitored by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, declared that year that it wanted to be a "resistance movement" and warned against becoming a "technocratically oriented party."

Dispute over the party’s orientation

The name of the party network is gone, but the network of people is not – even in the north. In Lower Saxony, the unclarified orientation, but also the unclear balance of power, was just reflected. At the state party conference in September of this year, AfD member of the Bundestag Jens Kestner prevailed in a fight vote for the state chairmanship against AfD state parliamentary group leader Dana Guth.

Kestner is close to the "wing" and sees himself as a "patriot." After being voted out, Guth reacted as expected. Together with two other AfD mandate holders, she left the parliamentary group, thus ending the faction status with the defectors. A revenge that meant less money – around 100,000 euros a month. From the federal to the new state leadership, Guth’s party expulsion was demanded. In early December, she left the AfD.

However, at the state party conference in December to nominate candidates for the 2021 Bundestag elections, Kestner also suffered a resounding defeat, failing to gain a place on the list. Joachim Wundrak, a retired lieutenant general and supposed moderate, became the top candidate, followed by two others close to Jorg Meuthen.

AfD national spokesman Meuthen had just countered AfD parliamentary group leader Alexander Gauland again in Junge Freiheit before the holidays. The AfD is a "conservative-freedom civic party," he told the new-right weekly, "without acting as the parliamentary arm of the very heterogeneous ‘Querdenkerbewegung’ or other street protest movements."

Gauland had previously emphasized this orientation to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, complaining that "we should not make what the president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Thomas Haldenwang, says the standard for our actions." But that’s no way to be a real opposition," Gauland said.

In Schleswig-Holstein, disputes have dominated the AfD state association for years – right into the state parliamentary group. In September of this year, Frank Brodehl ended the faction status. In the debate on all-day schools in the state parliament, he declared that this was his last speech as a member of the AfD and its parliamentary group. He cited the state association’s shift to the right as the reason, saying that "the volkisch-nationalist forces" had "tended to increase even more."

Contacts in the extreme right-wing milieu

This conflict over direction is also one reason why the state association has not yet found a new state chairman after the expulsion of former state leader Doris von Sayn-Wittgenstein because of right-wing extremist contacts, including contacts in the Holocaust denial milieu.

In Bremen, on the other hand, the AfD has been elected to parliament in every state election since 2015. However, it did not achieve parliamentary group status due to its low election results and internal conflicts. However, the proximity of group leader and AfD Bundestag member Frank Magnitz to the "wing" and the far-right Identitarian movement hardly bothered anyone internally. Here, the leadership style is deplored.

Finally, in Hamburg, it became known in early December that Detlef Ehlebracht was leaving the parliamentary group and the party. For personal reasons, explained the now former parliamentary director of the AfD parliamentary group. Already in 2018, AfD parliamentary group leader Jorn Kruse turned away from the parliamentary group and the party because of the ongoing right-wing trend. If another AfD mandate holder leaves the parliamentary group, parliamentary status is also lost on the Elbe.

The pressure is growing. In mid-December, Hamburg’s Interior Senator Andy Grote (SPD) stated that the "current findings of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution" suggested a "visibly increased right-wing extremist potential" within Hamburg’s AfD – right into the parliamentary group. However, the Hamburg Alliance Against the Right had already pointed out in 2017, among other things, the possible relations of the faction press spokesman to the right-wing extremist Junge Landsmannschaft Ostdeutschland.

Since 2015, it has also been known through the taz that the parliamentary group chairman Alexander Wolf is an old man of the far-right fraternity Danubia. In the dispute over direction, Wolf was nevertheless able to present himself in the media as a moderate because of the criticism of the "wing" – just like Meuthen. Although Wolf just formulated again that the party wants to get away "from the left-red-green-smeared 68er Germany".

The fact that such media stagings actually succeed despite their contradictory nature reveals the shift to the right in Germany – also in the north.