Bringing neo-Nazi figures into mainstream politics in a manner unprecedented in recent German history, the far-right extremist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has entered state parliament in Germany’s smallest state of Saarland. Since its formation in 2013, the AfD party has won election after election and now holds seats in 11 out of 16 German state parliaments.
The AfD party received 6.2 percent of total votes for Landtag in Saarland last month, although it had been anticipating a much larger share of the vote only a few months ago and is considered to be in a slump.
This follows revelations published by Stern magazine just last year in March that the head of AfD-Saarland, chairman Josef Dörr, was using WhatsApp messenger and his email to collaborate with locally known and active neo-Nazi leaders in his state. The local faction leader working for Dörr, AfD co-deputy Lutz Hecker, was also found corresponding with local Saarland neo-Nazis.
Most shockingly, however, both Dörr and Hecker were actively recruiting members from rank-and-file supporters of various Saarland neo-Nazi groups into their own local AfD faction. This included supporters traditionally voting for the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) party in German elections. Saarland AfD party leaders gained access to active neo-Nazis in the area after lobbying their appeals to local neo-Nazi organizers, such as senior NPD party member Sascha Wagner and a prominent public hate speech artist Ulrike Reinhardt.
The NPD is an official German political party notorious for its crude neo-Nazi imagery and Nazi apologism. In particular, the party is mostly known for protesting against commemorations of Holocaust victims along with their illegal public sentiments involving Holocaust revisionism and denial.
On January 27, 2005, German lawmakers in the Saxony state parliament were honoring the 60th anniversary of Soviet forces liberating the Auschwitz death camp. The Saxony Landtag was all but emptied after the rest of parliament attempted to shout down and eventually walked out on NPD speeches denouncing commemorations of the Auschwitz liberation while instead centering on the German civilians killed in Dresden during the three days of firebombing.
Responding to the renewed calls for a party ban, the NPD referred to the Dresden firebombing as a “Holocaust of bombs.” Two weeks later, one NPD supporter at a Dresden rally told reporters: “There’s no point in banning us — we’ll simply find a new name.”
Largely ridiculed and viewed as ineffective in Germany, the NPD has polled at less than 1 to 2 percent nationally in federal elections since 1972. Since its founding in 1964, the NPD has never entered the Bundestag, the parliament in the capital Berlin.
By contrast, the AfD party has won unprecedented electoral successes outpacing those of any far-right extremist party in Germany since the end of the Second World War.
Despite falling national poll numbers from 16 percent in January 2017 to just 8 percent two months later in March, the AfD party is widely expected to enter the German lower house of parliament. After entering the Bundestag, the party could then introduce and vote upon federal legislation for the entire country along with their fellow German lawmakers.
Recruiting the Saarländer Neo-Nazi Scene
Saarland AfD chairman Dörr and co-deputy Hecker had been trying to convince local neo-Nazi leaders and their supporters that voting for the traditional NPD party wasn’t the best option available for advancing their platforms in the current state election.
Instead, they were encouraged to vote for the AfD party that was about to enter the Saarland Landtag in March 2017. As the local faction was already expected to enter the state parliament while the NPD remained stagnant, increasing turnout would help secure an even greater party share of seats in the Landtag for AfD candidates. Then, the former NPD voters could advance their platform from within the Saarland AfD.
After meeting with Saarland AfD chairman Dörr in Kaiserslautern, one prominent neo-Nazi from Saarbrücken, Ulrike Reinhardt, emailed the faction leader, stating that he had “highly inspired and also motivated” her to “continue my patriotic work.” Most notably, the work of Reinhardt involves her giving speeches read off a smartphone at public gatherings of neo-Nazis and NPD members that she organizes in downtown Saarbrücken, which are viewable on YouTube.
The actions by Saarland AfD chairman Dörr and his party co-deputy, Hecker, led to the entire state faction being disbanded by its national party leadership in March 2016. The national AfD leadership described the neo-Nazi recruitment as “serious violations against the party’s political goals and internal order” that gave them “no other choice” but to disband the Saarland chapter.
The local Saarbrücker Zeitung newspaper later revealed that in private, national AfD leaders had only asked chairman Dörr and co-deputy Hecker to temporarily step down from the local party leadership during the immediate aftermath so they could be quickly reappointed later. Instead, the entire state board leading the Saarland AfD faction was planning on resigning the next month so that they could immediately run in elections for their same positions.
Saarland AfD spokesperson Rudolf Müller told reporters in response to the allegations that local party leaders were “not aware of any wrongdoing” and that their state chapter would be joining other regional AfD factions to challenge the national party decision in its own court.
Nazi Gold and Death Camp Money
Six months later, the Saarland case was still being reviewed by the AfD party’s internal court of arbitration.
Then in late September, Stern magazine revealed new evidence of Saarland AfD spokesperson Rudolf Müller illegally selling Nazi-era medals engraved with swastikas at his antiques shop in downtown Saarbrücken — the capital of Saarland. Furthermore, the undercover investigator working for Stern magazine was even offered what historians refer to as Lagergeld [camp money], which was circulated for use inside the Nazi death camps. The reports were further corroborated by the German TV news show “Panorama,” which sent in their own undercover reporters.
Müller euphemistically referred to the money as KZ-Geld, which was the abbreviation used by Nazi soldiers for Konzentrationslager-Geld [concentration camp money], while he attempted to sell the illegal currency to Stern’s undercover reporter.
European Jews and countless others deemed undesirable and starved and murdered by the Nazi regime in death camps, such as Auschwitz, were forced to buy food and other heavily limited goods with grossly inflated Konzentrationslager-Geld earned through harsh slave labor. The purpose for Lagergeld was to prevent Jews who escaped the camps from acquiring food with Nazi Reichsmarks so that they may starve.
When Müller was confronted by the reporter, the Saarland AfD spokesman stated that he did not believe selling outlawed paraphernalia from the Nazi regime adorned with swastikas was in fact illegal because it was not on public display. “I always stick something over them,” Müller told the press in response to questions about the illegal swastikas.
Müller admitted that selling Nazi-era medals engraved with swastikas or concentration camp money may not be the best look for a top AfD candidate campaigning to win a seat in the Saarland state parliament. He then went on to casually volunteer the fact that French and US nationals were “wild for it” and driving the swastika sales at his local shop in the heart of Saarbrücken.
At the time, national AfD co-chair Jörg Meuthen suggested to Müller that he resign from the party after informing the Saarland faction leader that his behavior was “not consistent with membership of the AfD.”
“Apparently he is aware of that too,” Meuthen told the German press when asked about Müller’s illegal conduct and activities.
The Saarland State prosecutor’s office confirmed to German media that Müller had been put under investigation for selling outlawed Nazi paraphernalia following the latest revelations.
Party Politely Asks Louder Neo-Nazis to Leave
Two months later in November 2016, the internal AfD court of arbitration ruled in favor of its own accused Saarland faction leaders.
Disbanding the entire state chapter for the recruitment of neo-Nazis or outlawed sales of Nazi paraphernalia by its highest-ranking members would be a “disproportionate” punishment for the rest of the faction. All three of the AfD party leaders under investigation were cleared to continue their roles inside the Saarland faction, which they currently still do.
The internal party court remarked that the evidence provided against the Saarland chapter consisted of “serious” allegations. More curiously, the court went on to describe the accusations as “largely true” despite the extensive documented evidence provided by both Stern magazine and ARD television reporters in the form of recorded video and text, in addition to protracted exchanges over email and various messenger services, such as WhatsApp.
The two heads of the national AfD party, co-chairs Jörg Meuthen and Frauke Petry, went into full damage control and reacted immediately with a statement released to their entire party. To preserve the party’s favorable electoral chances nationally for the upcoming federal elections in September, 2017, their Saarland chapter should withdraw from the German state elections scheduled earlier that year in March.
“This step should be taken for the sake of the entire party in the important 2017 election year,” stated Meuthen and Petry in their memo to AfD party members.
The local AfD faction responded that its chapter’s withdrawal from the Saarland state elections next March was out of the question. The state chapter had recently submitted their list of candidates with the election only five months away. Therefore, the Saarland faction reasoned, it was already too late.
Saarland AfD spokesperson Müller further dismissed that their state faction had damaged the party’s prospects in the federal election. “We’re not damaging the party, we’re helping the party. We’ve been doing the work of the AfD here for years, according to its principles,” Müller told Deutsche Welle in an interview.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of — that’s what the ruling said.”
Five months later in March, 2017, the notorious AfD party faction entered Saarland state parliament for the first time with its neo-Nazi recruiting leadership remaining intact.