Merkel lets German intelligence services themselves decide on AfD probe

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It is for German intelligence professionals and not the federal government to decide whether alleged links between the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and right-wing extremists should be investigated, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday night.

Merkel’s remarks were heard during a conference at the government’s Meseberg country retreat, referring to an increasingly heated public debate about the democratic legitimacy of the AfD in Germany.

In the chancellor’s view, it was a “good practice” for the relevant authorities, including the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), to reach their own verdict on whom to monitor.

“These are not political decisions but rather decisions based on facts,” Merkel said.

BfV officials at the federal and regional levels were already keeping track of the evolving situation to determine whether the necessary conditions for investigations into the AfD’s conduct were fulfilled.

Earlier, Thomas Opperman, deputy president of the federal parliament (Bundestag), had publicly urged intelligence services to begin monitoring the AfD in light of widely-publicized far-right marches in the East German town of Chemnitz.

AfD politicians have helped organize several demonstrations provoked by the alleged murder of a German by two foreigners in Chemnitz. Following clashes with police, anti-Nazi protestors and civilians, the party’s leadership defended what it saw as understandable outbursts of anger.

“It is legitimate to go berserk after this kind of crime,” the AfD’s deputy leader Alexander Gauland said at the time.

Opperman argued that violent demonstrations in Chemnitz had hereby showcased how the AfD cooperated with Neonazis and other far-right activists who were plotting to overthrow Germany’s constitutional order.

Opperman’s intervention has met with mixed reactions. Speaking in Meseberg as well, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz agreed with Merkel that the decision ultimately lay with intelligence professionals but said that the scenes from Chemnitz justified a thorough re-assessment in this context.

By contrast, Christian Social Union (CSU) party leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer insisted that it was not yet necessary for the BfV to be involved.

His party colleague Andrea Lindholz, president of the parliamentary interior committee, warned that such a move could allow the AfD to strike the pose of being a victim of the political establishment.

Meanwhile, the regional offices of the BfV in the states of Lower Saxony and Bremen have already launched independent investigations into the youth organization of the AfD last week.

“The AfD youth organization represents a worldview in which minorities like immigrants, asylum seekers, Muslims, political adversaries and homosexuals are sweepingly denigrated and defamed,” Lower Saxony State’s Interior Minister Boris Pistorius said.

“One can no longer avert one’s eyes and downplay (the behavior in question). The time has come to act,” Pistorius added.

Earlier, Lars Steinke, the leader of the AfD youth organization in Lower Saxony, was stripped of his role after he described the Nazi resistance fighter Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg as a “traitor.”

AfD deputy regional party leader Kay Gottschalk emphasized in response to the latest BfV investigation that the leader would not tolerate “any right-wing extremist tendencies” in the youth organization and considered stripping the group of its official title if it failed to remove members with such views.

At least so far, the AfD’s involvement in far-right marches in Chemnitz does not seem to have hurt its electoral prospects, with national voter support rising to 17 percent in recent polls.

However, a survey by the Civey opinion research institute found that 57 percent of Germans are in favor of the party being monitored by the BfV on a federal level.

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