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October 28, 2019 11:28 am

Shock in Germany as Far-Right Demagogue Björn Höcke Strengthens Position With Regional Election Victory for AfD

avatar by Ben Cohen

Björn Höcke, leader of the German far-right AfD party in Thuringia and the head of its ultranationalist faction. Photo: Reuters / Hannibal Hanschke

The leader of a far-right grouping whose activity is monitored by Germany’s official body to defend against political extremism celebrated a surge in support on Sunday in a key regional election in the east of the country.

In a record turnout, nearly one in four voters in the eastern state of Thuringia opted for the ultranationalist “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), pushing the CDU party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel into third place.

The AfD — led in Thuringia by the extreme-right firebrand Björn Höcke — took 23.4 percent of the vote in the state, coming second to the socialist Left Party, which won the poll with 31 percent of the vote, and ahead of the CDU with 21.8 percent.

With its first representatives elected to the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, in 2017, the AfD’s star has continued to rise. The party now has 91 MPs in the federal parliament and won second place in two regional elections in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony in September.

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Its success in Thuringia — once part of Communist East Germany — may heighten internal tensions within the AfD by strengthening Höcke’s leadership ambitions, German political analysts said on Monday.

At present, Höcke leads a hardline nationalist faction within the AfD called Der Flügel (“The Wing”), which is militantly anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic, and which supports the repeal of legislation in Germany banning the denial of the Nazi Holocaust. In an interview with the German news outlet taz in the lead-up to the Thuringia elections, Mike Mohring — the center-right CDU’s candidate —  said that he was in no doubt that “Höcke is a Nazi.”

In January 2019, the official German agency tasked with countering political extremism announced that it was treating both Der Flügel and Höcke’s AfD party in Thuringia as a threat to Germany’s “democratic governance.”

But after the party’s success in Thuringia on Sunday, the German news magazine Stern noted, members of the AfD’s leadership with known reservations about Höcke found themselves with little choice other than to defend him.

“Der Flügel is not right-wing extremist, Björn Höcke is not right-wing extremist,” Alexander Gauland — the leader of the AfD grouping in the federal parliament — declared in a post-election interview.

The most notorious controversy to have embroiled Höcke occurred in Jan. 2017. In a speech to a right-wing youth rally in Dresden, Höcke denounced the existence of Germany’s national memorial to the Holocaust in Berlin.

“We Germans are the only people in the world to have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital,” Höcke said, in remarks that roused the fury of German’s centrist parties and the leadership of its Jewish community.

The negative impact of the speech was so great that the AfD’s former leader, Frauke Petry, condemned Höcke as a “burden” on the party and attempted to have him expelled. However, following a 2018 internal ruling in favor of Höcke’s continued membership of the party, his position within the AfD has continued to strengthen.

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