Germany’s domestic security bureau has been monitoring the far-right AfD to pose a threat to democracy, parliamentary sources said on Wednesday, striking a blow at the immigration party during a major election year.
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has classified the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party as a “suspected case” for having links to right-wing extremism, sources told AFP.
The decision, made late last week according to a weekly Der Spiegel report, will allow intelligence services to overshadow the party, knock on its communications and possibly use undercover informants.
It follows a two-year investigation and a report containing about 1,000 pages of evidence, including hundreds of speeches and statements by AfD members at all party levels, Der Spiegel said.
However, legislators as well as candidates running in the September elections will be excluded from the monitoring, Parliament’s sources said, noting that such monitoring would require even stricter justifications.
The BfV said it could not comment on the case given the precautionary measures taken by the AfD against the agency’s attempt to classify it as a “suspected case”.
One of the party’s leaders, Alexander Gauland, accused the BfV of playing politics and trying to bring about the AfD’s “destruction”.
The party would not “pander” to the agency, he told reporters, making comparisons with state security in the former East Germany.
Colleague leader Alice Weidel told the DPA news agency that the AfD would take legal action against the decision, which she called “particularly remarkable in view of the upcoming state and federal elections this year”.
The anti-Islam, hard-right AfD has often encouraged controversy by urging Germany to stop atoning for its Second World War crimes. Gauland once described the Nazi era as just “a speck of bird poop” in German history.
Beginning as an anti-euro outfit in 2013, the AfD capitalized on the public’s anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to allow a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-ridden countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
AfD took almost 13 percent of the vote in the 2017 election, which made it possible to make its debut in the German Bundestag, where it is also the largest opposition party.
But with the declining influx of migrants and the coronavirus pandemic losing Germany, the AfD has seen its popularity decline while Merkel’s handling of the health crisis has won praise.
AfD is facing six regional elections this year and a general election on September 26, the first in over 15 years that will not present Merkel, who is retiring.
The latest polls show the party’s popularity of between 9 and 11 percent.
The BfV had already placed a radical edge of the party known as The Wing under surveillance last year over associations with known neo-Nazis and suspicions of violating the constitution.
The faction, led by the fireplace Bjoern Hoecke, dissolved in March last year, but many of its 7,000 members are still active in the AfD.
Wingen’s continued influence in the party was one of the reasons for the BfV decision, according to Der Spiegel, along with links to various other right-wing extremist organizations.
AfD’s regional branches in Thuringia, Brandenburg, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt have also been named “suspected cases” of right-wing extremism.
The head of Germany’s central Jewish council, Josef Schuster, welcomed the classification as a “right and necessary step”.
“With its destructive policies, the AfD contributes to undermining our democratic structures and discrediting democracy,” he said.
But the decision to place the party under surveillance could actually increase AfD’s chances in the upcoming elections, according to the RND broadcaster.
The classification could serve as a “distinction” in the fight against the “Merkel system”, it said, suggesting that the BfV could play “a very dangerous game”.