The Conservative Party aided and abetted German fascists with Nazi roots
by Nafeez Ahmed
Early 2016 has seen a series of surprise victories and near-victories for far-right political parties across Europe. This has coincided with the mainstreaming of xenophobic discourses in the United States through the rhetoric of the leading Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
But unknown to most, this far-right resurgence signals the return to prominence of traditional far-right groups, whose modes of operation have tactically evolved over decades in an effort to re-take power in liberal democracies.
This resurgence has been partly facilitated by two mainstream political parties, the Conservative Party, currently the ruling party in Britain led by Prime Minister David Cameron, and the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU) in Germany led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Tory alliance with Europe’s far-right
This year, pivotal electoral gains have been made by the Freedom Party in Austria, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, and the People’s Party in Slovakia. Other far-right parties rapidly gaining popularity include Geert Wilders’ People’s Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the Danish People’s Party, Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece and the National Front in France.
According to the report by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Brussels funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, the British Conservative Party has undergone an increasing shift to the right that now means it “also qualifies as a far-right party.”[i]
The report defines “far right parties” as the “broad spectrum of parties to the right of the conservative group of the European People’s Party (EPP).”
The German Foreign Office-sponsored report also confirms that the rise of the far-right in European Parliament has been facilitated by an extreme right faction of the British Conservative Party.
Political parties in the European Parliament are organised in formal political groupings, through which they attempt to collaborate on policymaking and voting. The UK Tory Party dominates the European Conservatives and Reformist Group (ECR), which since the May 2014 elections has become the third largest force in the EU Parliament. Alongside the Tories in the ECR are several far-right groups with neo-Nazi sympathies.
Apart from growing in size after the elections, Janssen reports that the Tory-led ECR “made a major shift towards the far right when it decided to accept such decidedly right-wing populist parties as AfD [Alternative for Germany], DF [Danish Freedom Party], the True Finns (PS) and the Independent Greeks (ANEL).” In fact, the anti-Euro AfD — which made major gains in three German states in regional elections in March — was “the third largest party in the group until its split”, resulting in the offshoot ALFA.
To his credit, David Cameron had opposed[ii] the AfD’s entry into the Tory-led ECR in June 2014 amidst mounting evidence of its extreme nationalist agenda, but was defied by two of his own MEPs. By March 2016, under increasing pressure, the ECR belatedly voted to expel the AfD from the coalition.
Despite ostensible differences, within this period the parties displayed a significant degree of coordination in EU policymaking:
“Political group cohesion — which measures the extent to which the Members in a political group vote the same way — was 77.66% from July 2014 to January 2015.”
The ECR is chaired by Conservative MEP, Syed Kamall, who is leader of Conservative Party in the European Parliament. This formal alliance with some of Europe’s most virulent far-right political parties not only illustrates the extent to which an extremist wing within the Conservatives has been able to defy even the top Tory leadership, but appears to be doing so as part of a strategy to sustain electoral popularity.
The Brussels report notes that the Tory Party moved further to the right “ahead of the May 2015 general election in response to UKIP’s successes.”[iii] The shift therefore reflects the extent to which the rise of the far-right is encouraging mainstream parties to move further right in an effort to compete for votes.
The AfD’s Nazi roots
The Conservative Party’s two-year alliance with the AfD in Germany signals a troubling resurgence of far-right ideology into the political mainstream.
Despite the AfD’s open partnership with the neo-Nazi affiliated street protest movement, Pegida, the Tory-led ECR continued to work with the AfD until controversial statements by its leaders began to damage the ECR’s reputation.
Yet this investigation exclusively confirms the AfD’s Nazi heritage.
The AfD, now the third most popular political party in Germany, represents a new brand of savvy neo-Nazi politicking, concealing its Nazi heritage, sympathies and ideology with carefully-calibrated PR involving the denunciation of Nazism.
This investigation establishes a clear connection between the party’s barely concealed neo-Nazi policy agenda, and the historical associations of its party leaders with the late Alfred Dregger — a former Nazi military veteran who became a senior politician in the Christian Democratic Union party that currently rules Germany.
Even before the Tories welcomed the AfD into the ECR, its racist leanings were evident. AfD founder Bernd Lucke, who later split from his own party (the ALFA, which remains part of the ECR), described[iv] migrants as “Bodensatz” — “dregs” — during his 2013 parliamentary campaign. He later apologised.
Lucke also used a staple Nazi phrase, “the degeneration of democracy”, which originally referred to the Weimar Republic’s failure to stabilise Germany.
The ECR voted to expel the AfD from its membership in March 2016, only after its leader advocated that refugees who enter Germany illegally should be shot at the border by police, eliciting public and international outrage.
In the interim period, the group’s neo-Nazi sympathies became increasingly obvious, but elicited no disciplinary action from either the Conservatives or the other parties in the Tory-led ECR.
In fact, the historical associations of the AfD’s key leaders throws light on the extent of their appropriation of Nazi ideology, and takes us back to the CDU’s early links with Nazis in the German state of Hesse. The AfD was formed in 2013 largely from disgruntled leaders of the most right-wing section of the ruling CDU, on an anti-Eurozone platform.
In Hesse, where the AfD won 13.2 per cent of the vote in regional elections in March 2016, the CDU’s state chairman was Alfred Dregger between 1967 and 1982. Dregger then became chairman of the CDU parliamentary group until 1991, before being appointed honorary chairman of the group, a post he held until his death due to illness in his hometown of Fulda, in 2002.
Dregger was also a former Nazi veteran. According to Frankfurter Rundshau, Dregger had joined[v] the Nazi Party in 1940 at the age of 19, serving as a soldier and battalion commander in the Nazi army. He only renounced his membership under postwar de-Nazification, granting him a ‘youth amnesty.’
In the latter part of his CDU political career, Dregger campaigned for the release of Nazi war criminal SS-Hauptsturmführer Ferdinand Hugo aus der Fünten, who was responsible for the deportation of over 100,000 Jews from the Netherlands. He also loudly criticised a seminal exhibition documenting the Nazis’ genocidal actions, The Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944, as “an attack” on “all of Germany.”[vi]
Several senior AfD leaders are ex-CDU stalwarts who cut their teeth in German politics under Dresser’s chairmanship in Hesse.
During much of Dregger’s CDE stint in the state, one of his senior colleagues was Walter Wallmann, who thanks to the success of Dregger’s CDU campaign in municipal elections, became Lord Mayor of the Hessian city of Frankfurt in 1977. Wallman’s successor in the German parliament named by the CDU was Hans Wissebach, who had served in Hitler’s personal SS division, Leibstandarte. Wissebach continued to maintain his SS affiliation as an active participant in the SS Mutual Aid Organisation. The Anti-Defamation League complained[vii] at the time that the CDU had refused to withdraw his appointment.
Wallman later became Hesse’s Minister-President from 1987 to 1991.
Alexander Gauland, Deputy Leader and federal spokesman of the AfD, as well as the party’s state chairman in Brandenburg, was a longtime CDU official employed as Walter Wallman’s Director of the Office of Mayor for 10 years, before eventually becoming state secretary in Wallman’s cabinet when he was Hesse’s Minister-President until 1991. In 2013, Gauland resigned from the CDU and became a founding member of the AfD.
Another Walter Wallman acolyte and CDU stalwart, Albrecht Glaser, was previously First Assistant Secretary under Wallman for the State Welfare Association of Hesse, later becoming City Treasurer in Frankfurt. Like his colleague Gauland, he also resigned from the CDU in 2013, and joined the AfD. He is now the AfD’s leader in Hesse.
Martin Hohmann, yet another CDU stalwart, led the AfD campaign in the Fulda district council in Hesse as a non-member. In early April, though, he formally joined the AfD and in May will be the AfD’s chairman in Fulda, where the party won 15 per cent of votes in March. Hohmann succeeded Alfred Dregger as MP for Hesse in 1998.
In 2004, the CDU expelled Hohmann from the party due to an anti-Semitic speech he gave in October 2003 to his own constituents, in which he promoted the Nazi mythology of Jewish violence[viii] during the 1917 Russian Revolution.
The AfD’s neo-Nazi sympathies
By December 2014, the AfD began to openly flaunt its informal alliance with the far-right street-protest Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West).
Neo-Nazi groups have increasingly and openly merged[ix] with the Pegida movement according to Deutsche Welle. Participants in Pegida marches have included officials from far-right parties such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NDP), “neo-Nazis from violence-prone regional groups, and convicted right-wing terrorists” — such as Karl-Heinz Statzberger, “who planned to carry out a bomb attack on a Munich synagogue in 2003.” Another senior neo-Nazi Pegida supporter, named only as Andre E., “has been on trial in Germany since 2013 on charges of helping the far-right terrorist group National Socialist Underground (NSU).”
Pegida organisers do not object to their participation. In fact, many organisers have been outed as neo-Nazis. An investigation by Stern magazine found[x] that two of Pegida’s foremost organisers were neo-Nazi sympathisers. Melanie Dittmer, the organiser of Pegida protests in the city of Bochum, is a former member[xi] of the neo-Nazi Young National Democrats.
Yet senior AfD leaders repeatedly court the Pegida movement. AfD deputy leader Alexander Gauland, an acolyte of the late ‘former’ Nazi Alfred Dregger, visited a Pegida protest in Dresden, and expressed support for the movement’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant demands.
In January 2015, AfD leader Frauke Petry announced that the party would join forces[xii] with Pegida in making policies after a joint meeting with the group. She dismissed concerns about Pegida’s racism and xenophobia as “false.”
The relationship prompted no action from David Cameron, his Tory leader in Europe, Syed Kamall, or the UK Conservative Party generally.
In January 2016, Petry and her assistant Beatrix von Storch, openly advocated murdering illegal refugees at the German border. The Tory-led ECR took no action to expel the AfD from the European Parliamentary group until March.
In the meantime, increasing confirmation of the AfD’s flirtations with Nazis emerged when German newsmagazine Stern exposed[xiii] contacts between AfD leaders in Saarland and the neo-Nazi NDP. The investigation also obtained emails between AfD Saarland chairman Josef Dörr and neo-Nazi NDP activist Ulrike Reinhardt.
Fearful of the PR ramifications, in March the AfD national leadership responded to the revelations by dissolving the AfD Saarland committee. But a separate Stern investigation this month also revealed that Reinhardt was in regular contact[xiv] with Attila Sonal, from the AfD’s state committee in Rheinland-Pfalz.
Too little, too late
The AfD’s covert neo-Nazi agenda was on full display when a draft version[xv] of the party’s election manifesto was leaked in March. The manifesto showed that the AfD plans to usher in a raft of neo-Nazi laws that would discriminate against handicapped children, single mothers and the mentally ill; minimise school history lessons on the Nazi-era; and set “limits” on the Muslim faith like outlawing minarets, the hijab and niqab, male circumcision, and ‘halal’ ritual slaughter of animals.
The final version of the manifesto approved at the AfD party congress tones down some of these provisions, but the discriminatory tone remains. In particular, the manifesto asserts that “Islam is not part of Germany”, and follows through with its anti-Muslim provisions.
“Islam is foreign to us and for that reason it cannot invoke the principle of religious freedom to the same degree as Christianity.”
The astonishing implication is that followers of Islam cannot be true Germans, unless they become non-Muslim.
Notably, Tillschneider did not mention any religion other than Christianity deserving protection under the principle of religious freedom. It is no surprise then that some of the AfD’s anti-Muslim provisions would also affect German’s Jewish population.
Josef Schuster, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, at the time described the provisions proposing to prohibit ritual animal slaughter as not just an attack on Islam, but also on Judaism.
The AfD’s neo-Nazi trajectory is therefore unmistakable.
Yet the expulsion of the AfD from the ECR was too little, too late. While it would be remiss to apportion the British Conservatives sole responsibility for this, there is no doubt that the Tory leadership jointly with the other leaders of the group had at first preferred to keep the AfD in the ECR.
In February, von Storch and her AfD colleague Marcus Pretzell were summoned[xvii] before the ECR’s leaders, including group leader Syed Kamall, David Cameron’s leading advisor and go-between who helped broker his EU renegotiation package. Despite that high-level role, Kamall is actually firmly opposed to the Remain campaign.
After that meeting, Kamall deigned not to take any action against the AfD. It was only on 8th March, after the surfacing of a video between AfD and Austrian Freedom Party leaders, that the ECR convened formally to consider whether to expel the group.
The AfD’s two-year alliance with David Cameron’s European political block granted the neo-Nazi party much-needed international legitimacy and credibility, an extensive European infrastructure, as well as access to EU funding. During this time, the ECR displayed considerable cohesion[xviii] in parliamentary votes on constitutional affairs (94.79%).
This investigation thus confirms that the acquiescence of the Tory Party as the leader of ECR in the AfD’s membership of the group played a pivotal role in permitting the German neo-Nazi party to expand its reach, and cement its domestic position. Now it is the third most popular political force in Germany.
[i] Janssen, op. cit., p. 9
[ii] Anna Nicolaou and Luke Baker, ‘Anti-euro German AfD joins Cameron’s EU parliament group’, Reuters (12 June 2014) http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-eu-britain-parliament-idUKKBN0EN0R720140612
[iii] Janssen, op. cit., p. 9
[iv] Stefan Wagstyl, ‘Germany’s anti-euro party AfD breaks national taboos’, Financial Times (22 May 2014) https://next.ft.com/content/6a6705ac-db84-11e3-a460-00144feabdc0
[v] ‘Nazi-Vergangenheit: Alfred Dregger’, Frankfurter Rundschau (20 February 2013) http://www.fr-online.de/rhein-main/nazi-vergangenheit-alfred-dregger,1472796,21882588.html
[vi] Alfred Dregger’s remarks in the Bundestag, 13 March 1997, in Jorg Berlin, Tilo Hoffman, Berhnard Nette and Stefan Romney, (eds.), Hamburger Materialien (Hamburg State Education Association, 1999)
[vii] ‘ADL Denounces Naming of Ex-nazi to West Germany’s Parliament’, Jewish Telegraph Agency (7 June 1977) http://www.jta.org/1977/07/07/archive/adl-denounces-naming-of-ex-nazi-to-west-germanys-parliament
[viii] Aaron Levine, ‘Russian Jews and the 1917 Revolution’, Primary Source (Vol. 4, No. 2, Spring 2014) http://www.indiana.edu/~psource/PDF/Archive Articles/Spring2014/2014 — Spring — 3 — Levine Aaron.pdf
[ix] Deutsche Welle, ‘PEGIDA, neo-Nazis, and organized rage’ (25 January 2015) http://www.dw.com/en/pegida-neo-nazis-and-organized-rage/a-18212964
[x] Maximilian Popp and Andreas Wassermann, ‘Where did Germany’s Islamophobes come from?’, Spiegel (12 January 2015) http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/origins-of-german-anti-muslim-group-pegida-a-1012522.html
[xi] Roman Lehberger and Hendrik Vohringer, ‘Bogida-Initiatorin Dittmer: “Es ist unerheblich, ob es den Holocaust gegeben hat”’, Spiegel (21 December 2014) http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/bogida-initiatorin-dittmer-mit-brauner-vergangenheit-a-1009832.html
[xii] Dario Sarmadi and Nicole Sagener, ‘Germany’s right-wing populists join hands with anti-Islamist Pegida’, EurActiv (9 January 2015) http://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/germany-s-right-wing-populists-join-hands-with-anti-islamist-pegida/
[xiii] Deutsche Welle, ‘AfD disbands Saarland state charter over far-right ties’ (24 March 2016) http://www.dw.com/en/afd-disbands-saarland-state-charter-over-far-right-ties/a-19141864
[xiv] Wigbert Loer, ‘Auch AfD Rheinland-Pfalz hatte Kontakt zu Rechtsextremisten’, Stern (1 April 2016) http://www.stern.de/politik/deutschland/auch-afd-rheinland-pfalz-hatte-kontakt-zu-rechtsextremisten-6775140.html
[xv] Tony Paterson, ‘Revealed: the neo-Nazi manifesto targeting single mothers and mentally ill that AfD doesn’t want you to see’, Independent (18 March 2016) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/revealed-the-right-wing-alternative-for-germany-afd-neo-nazi-manifesto-targeting-single-mothers-and-a6939941.html
[xvi] Tina Bellon, ‘Anti-immigrant AfD says Muslims not welcome in Germany’, Reuters (1 May 2016) http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-afd-islam-idUSKCN0XS16P
[xvii] Jennifer Rankin, ‘Tory MEPs under pressure to ditch Alternative für Deutschland’, Guardian (8 February 2016) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/08/tory-meps-pressure-ditch-alternative-fur-deutschland-migrants
[xviii] VoteWatch Europe data, Cohesion of (trans-national) political groups in the European Parliament (paywall) http://www.votewatch.eu/en/term8-political-group-cohesion.html
Tell MAMA independently and separately commissioned INSURGEintelligence to explore the network dynamics of far right extremism in Europe. The views and opinions in this investigative project do not necessarily represent those of Tell MAMA.