In Germany's upcoming federal elections on September 24, the extremist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) political party is expected to become the first openly far-right party to enter the German national parliament since the end of World War II.
The AfD party is polling in third place at 11 percent of the prospective national vote behind the center-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) with 23 percent and Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservative Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) with 36 percent. In Germany, a political party must attain at least 5 percent of the national vote to seat its members in the Bundestag, the lower chamber of the German parliament. Since its founding in 2013, the AfD has entered 13 out of 16 German state parliaments, known as Landtage, and it collectively holds 9 percent of the seats.
Once in the national parliament, the AfD will be able to advance its agenda by proposing and voting on federal legislation for the first time. However, all of the other major parties have ruled out joining a coalition with the AfD as a result of its extremist views, which would keep the AfD out of the ruling government.
If the AfD had its way, Germany would close off its borders to halt immigration and begin deporting refugees and other migrants.
The AfD's extremist views are never far from the surface. During a recent televised debate, Sahra Wagenknecht, leading candidate of the socialist party Die Linke, accused the AfD of allowing "half-Nazis" to join its ranks. Her AfD counterpart Alice Weidel ignored the comment and casually remarked that her party had the highest proportion of politicians with doctoral degrees in Germany. Later that week, Weidel walked off stage during another live debate on TV after being pressed to denounce extreme far-right statements made by a fellow AfD politician.
In January, prominent AfD state party leader Björn Höcke demanded Germany commit a "180-degree turn" and stop atoning for its past Nazi crimes, and soon afterward another state faction attempted to defund Holocaust education for schoolchildren. Other regional AfD leaders have been caught actively recruiting neo-Nazis by promising they will more effectively realize their goals as AfD members than by voting for their own taboo and ineffective parties.
At the same time, Merkel and her CDU have also enacted xenophobic proposals such as a partial burqa ban -- proposals that political opponents have described as race-baiting in an attempt to appease the far right. In recent months, the chancellor stepped up deportations of Afghan asylum seekers, a move that was acclaimed by her conservative allies.
But even these xenophobic measures do not placate the AfD and its supporters, who support more draconian attacks on migrants and Muslims in Germany.
The official platform that the AfD now campaigns on includes proposals, such as the banning of all mosques and minarets, the prohibition of Muslim calls to prayer, and the criminalization of wearing any Muslim face veils. If the AfD had its way, Germany would close off its borders to halt immigration and begin deporting refugees and other migrants. AfD leaders have previously said that German police should shoot migrants illegally crossing the border into the country.
Other AfD proposals include a eugenics platform for criminalizing adults suffering from mental illness by sending them to jail instead of offering them treatment. The platform also calls for removing children with disabilities from general schools and defunding any assistance programs that benefit single mothers and their children. Incentives would instead be implemented for "traditional" German families, which the party claims are necessary to reverse the declining fertility rate in Germany.
National AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch, who helped draft the proposals, claimed that the party had to move away from its initial founding purpose -- opposition to the European Union and bailouts -- to instead focus purely on opposition to any form of Islam within the country. While being interviewed to outline their new platform in April 2016 von Storch said, "Islam is a political ideology that is not compatible with the German constitution."
As a result of the remarks made by von Storch -- who also happens to be the granddaughter of Adolf Hitler's finance minister -- "Islam does not belong to Germany" is now an official AfD position. Currently, von Storch is one of two AfD members representing Germany at the European Parliament in Brussels, where she is a member of an anti-EU parliamentary group chaired by leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage.
Farage recently spoke at an AfD event in Berlin to show his support for the AfD and its Euroskeptic efforts. Having been invited by von Storch, Farage told the party "to speak the unspeakable" once it entered parliament in opposition.
Commentators in the German media have referred to this new tone as the AfD embracing "Trump-style" politics, although the turn actually began in 2014 at the EU election. This led the AfD's founder, Bernd Lucke, to publicly denounce his party's new xenophobic shift and favorable views of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Only a month after Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015, the founder of the AfD had already left his party.
The following year, a month after Trump was elected on promises of mass deportations and a Muslim ban, an AfD lawmaker broke from her party in December 2016. Claudia Martin, who represented the AfD in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament, abruptly left the AfD after only six months in office and disclosed an internal working paper that she referred to as a "Warsaw ghetto" plan to deport all refugees in the country.
Speaking to German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Martin said, "There are papers in the AfD's drawers that are worse than what the NPD used to want," referring to Germany's oldest neo-Nazi party, which polls at between 1 percent and 2 percent nationally.
The proposal of the working paper -- referred to as "Fit for Return" -- involves detaining all of the asylum seekers and refugees in Germany and putting them in "special camps" (also referred to as "communities") that would be isolated from the general public. These camps would prepare detained asylum seekers for forced returns to their largely hostile nations of origin.
The drafted proposal, written by the AfD's Baden-Württemberg deputy chairman, Emil Sänze, called for the suspension of numerous articles to the German Constitution, including the right of self-determination (Article 2), equal treatment (Article 3) and freedom of movement (Article 11). Instead, those held in detention, who are referred to as "inhabitants" in the working paper, would only be afforded "limited basic rights" under the law.
In the same interview with FAZ, Martin went on to compare the "Fit for Return" bill to Hitler's "Madagascar Plan" for European Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. The Madagascar Plan led to the creation of segregated Jewish ghettos, such as the one in Warsaw that imprisoned 400,000 European Jews, in addition to expanding networks of concentration camps and slave labor. By January 1942 the Madagascar Plan had created the infrastructure necessary for the Holocaust, which the Nazis used to expediently carry out their "final solution" of genocide.
Martin said that the AfD, initially a party based on opposition to the European Union, was refusing to distance itself from the far right and instead recruiting extremists into its ranks. Now, the AfD "isn't a serious party anymore" and "has lost all ability to take any self-criticism," she said.
In response to the allegations, Martin's colleagues were quick to voice harsh criticism. AfD national co-chair Jörg Meuthen, also a leading candidate for the AfD in Baden-Württemberg, called her statements "pure hypocrisy" and warned Martin that she was "playing the wrong game." Disclosure of the "Fit for Return" bill by Martin was actually a "premeditated backhanded action for a cheap 15 minutes of fame," Meuthen claimed.
Ignoring the shocking content of Martin's disclosures, Meuthen went on to accuse Martin of simply being overburdened by her office and unable "to reach a consensus" within the party.
Sänze later called on Martin to return her seat to the AfD. But Martin has remained in office since resigning from the AfD and continues to represent her constituents as an independent candidate, using the slogan "AfD -- we need to talk!"
In her first interview on the matter with foreign media, Martin spoke to Truthout about the current state of the AfD, the "Fit for Return" bill, and similarities with Trump and his unconstitutional Muslim travel ban in the US.
AfD politicians often compared their own right-wing positions and their reception to those of Trump.
Martin said the prevailing tendencies within the AfD are now "massively against Islam and Muslims" and that the party has started opposing "every form of Islam" since the new party platform was adopted in April 2016. The AfD now intends to implement "all kinds of regulations that breach the right to practice religion" such as a ban on any Muslim headscarf, Martin said.
According to Martin, those in the AfD refuse to acknowledge the existence of Muslims who are liberal, identify with German society and speak the German language.
Addressing the nativist "America First" economic rhetoric from Trump, Martin said her former colleagues in the AfD "weren't even remotely interested in whether or not his policies would damage the German economy." She said they were guided by rigid ethno-nationalist ideological convictions irrespective of economic and political realities.
She added that AfD politicians had followed the presidential campaign of Donald Trump with an immense interest. In fact, AfD politicians often compared their own right-wing positions and their reception to those of Trump. "They saw it all as very good and very right, and they celebrated it when Trump became the president of the USA," Martin said.
"I would say there were parallels," Martin said when asked to compare the AfD's "Fit for Return" bill to Trump's Muslim ban. In the days after the newly inaugurated US president enacted his first Muslim travel ban, leading AfD candidate and party cofounder Alexander Gauland praised Trump's measure while lambasting Merkel for not considering similar acts in Germany.
Martin went on to warn that the AfD continues to present its "Fit for Return" bill only in a "diluted form" to the public. The legislation is currently touted by the AfD as a mere "proposal to deal with the refugee crisis" on the campaign trail, while the original working paper is far more draconian.
The "Fit for Return" bill states "that refugees need to be kept to themselves, and that they should only be allowed to learn a little of the German language, since they don't need it." Current asylum seekers and refugees "should more or less be made fit as care workers and for manual labor" in Germany so that later they can "build up their own countries" after they are all deported, according to the bill.
Furthermore, the bill decrees that detained children of these families "should be taught by their own compatriots so that they are separated from the German school system," as the AfD views both migrants and children with disabilities as a burden on classmates.
"This is why I said that this separation of people reminded me of the Warsaw ghettos, and for me it contradicted the first article of the German constitution -- that human dignity is inviolable," Martin stated. "Based on the fact that they have made the fight against refugees and the fight against Islam their two main issues, I would say that there certainly are tendencies in the party that have long since crossed the line into racism."
Over the next four years, the AfD will likely be given the chance to show just how far it is willing to go as it joins the opposition in Germany's parliament.