The German security service is allowed to eavesdrop on members of the largest opposition party
The largest opposition party in the German Bundestag, the AfD, has been labeled as ‘suspected right-wing extremist’ by the internal security service. With that label of ‘Suspicious fall’ from now on, the security service is allowed to eavesdrop or observe the 32,000 members of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), and possibly also allow infiltrators to enter the party. Within the AfD, the security service argues, the radical right, and the accompanying democracy-undermining rhetoric and ideology, is no longer an outgrowth, but the norm.
Security has not made the decision public, but sources confirmed to magazine on Wednesday Der Spiegel and other German media that the AfD has been treated as ‘suspected right-wing extremist’ since late last week.
The decision of the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) is the result of lengthy research. Since the beginning of 2019, the service has been investigating to what extent the AfD is undermining the democratic order. For two years party programs were analyzed, speeches and tweets by party leaders were discussed, party congresses were attended. This resulted in a 1,100-page report. The manifest hatred of Islam and the hardly less manifest anti-Semitism within the party, plus the widespread contempt for parliament, are, according to the BfV, sufficient reason to suspect the party of anti-democratic tendencies.
The result of the two-year investigation was expected in January this year, but the AfD did not only fight the qualification at the administrative court in Cologne (‘Suspicious fall’), but also the disclosure of the judgment. In doing so, the AfD invoked the right to equal opportunities in the upcoming elections.
In the German ‘Superwahl year’ – in addition to the national elections in September, there are parliamentary elections in six federal states – the decision of the BfV is drastic. The AfD got the vote of 5.9 million voters, or 12 percent, in 2017. With the opinion of the security service, this democratically elected party is now labeled as a threat to the democratic order.
The AfD top sees the interference of the security service as a political tool for the established parties to kill the opposition. AfD voters will feel empowered in their belief that the government is not taking their vote seriously. But AfD critics also recognize that the role of the security service is not entirely apolitical.
The decision of the security service comes as no surprise to the Alternative für Deutschland. The party branches in states such as Thuringia and Brandenburg were already being followed by the security services, as were the youth organization, the Junge Alternative, and the radical wing, Der Flügel. The ongoing investigation by the security service in recent years has landed the AfD in a battle of directions. Party chief Jörg Meuthen wanted to avoid observation and distanced himself from the extremists in his party; Meuthens fellow board member Tino Chrupalla and group chairmen in the Bundestag Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland would see the radical party members as an essential part of the AfD.
In April last year Meuthen disbanded the radical wing; its estimated 7,000 members could remain AfD members. In addition, Andreas Kalbitz, formerly party leader in Brandenburg, was expelled from the AfD in May for membership in a neo-Nazi organization. As a final charm offensive, the AfD sent another letter to all members on January 18, 2021, a so-called ‘Erklärung zum deutschen Staatsvolk und zur deutschen Identität’. In it, the AfD stated that anyone of German nationality, regardless of origin, is “just as German by law as the descendants of a family living in Germany for hundreds of years.”
The AfD was founded in 2013 as a Eurosceptic party, but over the years has always found new topics to oppose the ‘political elite’. And the party is close to a movement that sees cabinet members as ‘traitors’ because the European Union would have too much power, because immigration would change the country beyond recognition, because personal freedom would be sacrificed to the health lobby. That movement speculates online about a revolution; some of them occupied the steps of the Reichstag in August.
In Germany, for historical reasons, it is not uncommon for the security service to interfere with parties at the extremes of the political spectrum, but it often turns out to be a tricky matter. Certain departments of the Die Linke party, which stems from the GDR ruling party SED, are occasionally bugged because of the suspicion of left-wing extremism. In the nineties, the service infiltrated with so many men in the right-wing extreme NPD that the party could not be disbanded in 2003: because of the many infiltrators, it was unclear exactly who was responsible for the party’s course.
The BfV is therefore not an undisputed body. It is headed by Thomas Haldenwang, who succeeded Hans-Georg Maassen at the end of 2018. Maassen had good ties with the AfD leadership, and was eventually fired for downplaying the scale of the right-wing extremist demonstrations in Chemnitz in 2018. Maassen has now openly expressed himself on Twitter as an AfD aficionado. Shortly after his appointment, Haldenwang initiated the investigation into AfD; Haldenwang therefore clearly interprets the constitution and the way in which it should be protected from its predecessor.