Germany’s domestic intelligence agency announced Tuesday that it is stepping up its scrutiny of the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD), examining whether the party has crossed the line into extremism forbidden by the country’s post-World War II constitution.
The agency, known as the Constitutional Protection Office, announced that it will conduct a preliminary evaluation into the whole of the party’s operations nationwide. It is scrutinizing the federal party as a “Prüffall” — or “test case” — the lowest level in a three-tiered system of investigation that the office conducts. This means it will only review public statements of the party and other public information, but will not rely on confidential informants or the surveillance of communication.
The agency is going a step further with two affiliated organizations, classifying them as “suspected cases,” which allows it to use some limited intelligence sources in its investigation. Those inquiries will investigate the AfD’s youth group, Young Alternative, and a faction called the Wing that includes some of the AfD’s most hardcore nationalist politicians.
As the probe was announced, Joachim Seeger, head of the Constitutional Protection Office's right-wing extremism department, implied that all politicians who signed a 2015 declaration calling for the party to move in a more nationalist direction would fall under scrutiny. This includes the party's national co-leader, Alexander Gauland, and one of its most controversial state leaders, Bjorn Höcke of Thuringia, where the AfD is poised to make substantial gains in state elections later this year.
“We think the decision of the [Constitutional Protection Office] is wrong. We will take legal action against it,” Gauland said in a press conference. “We consider the arguments to be unsustainable throughout. We believe that political pressure has led to this.”
Spokespeople for the AfD, Young Alternative, and the Wing did not immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment, nor did a representative of the Constitutional Protection Office.
The AfD caused widespread alarm among the rest of Germany’s political spectrum when it won seats in the national legislature for the first time in 2017 after an aggressive anti-immigrant campaign. It is the first far-right party to win federal election since the Nazis, and it has moved further to the right since taking office, including marching with even more radical anti-immigrant groups that it had barred party members from collaborating with during the campaign.
In September, the party organized a march in an eastern German city following anti-immigrant riots, and an AfD member of parliament implied other parties wanted to see a kind of genocide against Germans at a local meeting that followed. The party is now polling neck-and-neck with the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel in the region, and it stands a chance of entering a state government for the first time when elections are held in Saxony this fall.
The Constitutional Protection Office is taking action against the party shortly after its former chief, Hans-Georg Maassen, was removed after a series of controversies in which he was accused of being too close to the AfD. The office rejected calls last year to place the AfD under its highest level of scrutiny — “monitoring” — though state-level agencies have placed affiliated organizations under observation in at least three states.
“We now know why Maassen was chased away,” Alice Weidel, co-leader of the AfD in the German Parliament, said at the party's press conference on Tuesday. “We now know why Maassen was chased away. With Mr. Maassen, this decision would not have been possible. ... What does a 'Prüffall' mean? A 'Prüffall' ultimately means nothing.”
The youth wing is being observed because of its ties with Identitarian groups including Generation Identity, perhaps best known abroad for its 2017 stunt of sailing a boat to obstruct migrant rescues in the Mediterranean. The former leader of the youth wing also employs someone aligned with Russia and accused of coordinating a terrorist action in Ukraine, an allegation he denies.
Pascale Mueller contributed reporting to this story from Berlin.