Posted on May 30, 2023

Germany Intensifies Scrutiny of Far-Right AfD, Labeling Its Youth Wing ‘Extremist’

Nadine Schmidt and Sophie Tanno, CNN, May 24, 2023

Germany’s intelligence services already have the right to monitor the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD), the first time the authorities have taken such a step against a political party since the Nazi era. Now, they have taken aim at the AfD’s youth faction, whose members are as young as 14. CNN has been taking a closer look at the group.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), in April labeled the group as “extremist” after four years of investigation.

In a statement in April, the intelligence agency deemed the AfD’s youth wing, the Young Alternative for Germany or Junge Alternative für Deutschland (JA), as “clearly xenophobic” and “propagating a racial concept of society based on basic biological assumptions.” It deemed the group was likely to adopt “non-peaceful behavior” towards people perceived as foreign.

The move, which doesn’t apply to parent party AfD, is as far as the state can go aside from an outright ban. German authorities are now able to monitor and intercept JA mail correspondence, phone calls and online conversations. It can also limit members’ ability to get employment in the public sector and make it more difficult to obtain licenses for weapons.

The party has rejected the labeling. “I am not an extremist, on the contrary – I have put my life on the line for Germany in Afghanistan,” Hannes Gnauck, AfD Member of Parliament and the JA’s federal chairman, told CNN.


The JA was founded in the same year as its parent party in 2013. However, it remains legally independent from that party and is often seen as its more hard-line faction.


According to the BfV, the JA promotes an ethno-nationalist worldview that ostracizes anyone who is not a native, white German.

In 2019, BfV President Thomas Haldenwang said members showed “clear evidence of an anti-immigration and particularly anti-Muslim attitude,” which is contrary to Germany’s democratic principles.

Last October, the JA elected Gnauck as its federal chairman. He had previously served in Germany’s army for seven years, including several months in Afghanistan in 2019-2020.


Gnauck says he remembers a different Germany in the 1990s, when it was “possible to leave your door open in the village, but that doesn’t happen anymore.”

He blames immigration for the perception that Germans feel less safe in their homes {snip}


Gnauck said the group’s designation as extremist was not a surprise. “We have been expecting it,” adding that he believed it was a “political maneuver.”

State chairman of the AfD’s youth wing in Saxony, Alexander Wiesner, was more forceful, drawing comparisons between Germany’s domestic intelligence agency and the Stasi secret police in communist East Germany, known as the GDR.

“Other countries do not have this political secret service. It is a German tradition that should be abolished,” he told CNN. “People in Saxony belong to the former occupied zone and the GDR – people had a lot of experience here with the Stasi.”


But Johannes Kiess, a sociologist specializing in right-wing extremism at the Univeristy of Leipzig in eastern Germany, says the new labeling is not only justified, but long overdue.


Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has also condemned the JA, accusing it of spreading “nothing but hatred and exclusion.” She described members as “intellectual arsonists” whose danger “nobody should underestimate.”

The group’s anti-migrant ideology is clear in an advert for the party posted on Facebook in March. The post states: “Germans are now right at the bottom of the hierarchy of victims in our society.”

Gnauck denied that his party has any links to Germany’s far-right, adding that it rejects violence.


“Of course, we want to change this country and we want to change it democratically through elections and not through violence. This is what distinguishes us from real extremists.”

The authorities’ move against the JA comes amid a broader crackdown against the far-right in Germany. Two other organizations – the Institute for State Policy (IfS) and the “Ein Prozent” (One Percent) association – were labeled extremist at the same time as the group.


Gnauck says that his party, along with the AfD, is rising in popularity among voters in Germany.

“We see our party rising in the polls again. We are polling at 16%,” he claimed.


But Kiess points to concerns over migration in Germany as the main reason for its recent strong polling. “The migration debate has sprung up again here in Germany – particularly because the federal government was in conflict with the state over financial issues and how to accommodate refugees.