Germany's populist right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) is feeling the long arm of the law after leaks from a WhatsApp group in the Saxony-Anhalt state party revealed far-right slogans and fantasies of armed resistance.
The federal police and the Saxony-Anhalt branch of the Verfassungsschutz, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, are combing through around 8,000 messages, dated between February and May of this year, that were published unredacted by the left-wing news site "linksunten" on Monday.
Around 200 AfD members belonged to the WhatsApp group, named "AfD Info LSA," including André Poggenburg, the head of the state party and leader of the opposition in the state legislature, who confirmed the messages were genuine.
Poggenburg himself might be feeling some of the most direct heat, since one of his messages read "Deutschland den Deutschen" ("Germany for the Germans"), with a smiley. The slogan is commonly used by neo-Nazis in Germany.
Indeed, in April the AfD in another state, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania, issued an official warning to its own deputy chairman Ralph Weber for using the same phrase on Facebook, partly on the grounds that it was a "common campaign slogan" used by the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).
Poggenburg, for his part, was unapologetic. In a tweet published on Wednesday, the AfD leader simply said, "Why should this put pressure on me? Of course 'Germany belongs to the Germans,' and that's how it should stay!"
Poggenburg elaborated in an additional statement: "Of course a country should 'belong' to those who have lived there a long time, who have put down roots over decades or many generations, and have brought themselves into the state." He added that he was "more than happy" if "left-wing ideologues, who apparently often enough have the aim of abolishing Germany, feel provoked by that."
Overthrowing the state
But other WhatsApp messages have caught the attention of the German police for their apparent intention to overthrow German democratic institutions. In two messages sent a minute apart in February this year, an unnamed group member, who in other messages said he was a federal police officer in the financial fraud department, argues for Soviet-style state control of the media "after the takeover of power."
"Without getting the media, there is no power. That's just how it is. The little doctor knew that [an apparent reference to Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels], and even those 68er assholes recognized that and managed it," the member said, referring to the German student revolutionary generation of 1968. "We have to undermine the media; otherwise it will become very difficult."
In the next message, he adds, "With the takeover of power a committee has to check and sift through all journalists and editors. Bosses need to be fired, anti-people's media banned."
Perhaps alerted to the fascist implications, another unnamed member of the AfD group asks the policeman to "define" what he means by "takeover of power," warning him: "A lot of room for interpretation!! This is almost public here, so be more careful!" But neither he nor any other group member objects to the proposal itself.
Conspiracy and paranoia
In another message, the same apparent federal police officer offers to teach someone "solidarity," "with weapons or without," after his interlocutor appeared to be dreaming about violent insurrection.
"We've all been in the resistance for a long time, but up till now we've made ourselves small and inconspicuous, mainly to protect ourselves and our families and our social contacts and to keep our normal lives intact," the member writes. "But that will change more and more and at some point it won't go on. I've been sick of hiding for a long time now!"
Elsewhere, members of the group appear to joke or fantasize about which of them will take on different Cabinet roles once the AfD forms the German government. There are plenty of conspiracy theories too: "The Allies are attacking again and dividing up Germany with the help of the old parties," one member says.
Saxony-Anhalt's Interior Minister Holger Stahlknecht said on Wednesday that the Verfassungsschutz is now examining the messages to determine whether the AfD would have to be put under surveillance. In Germany, the Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution) is tasked with tracking extremist groups that pose a threat to the state or the democratic principles set down in the German constitution.
Other politicians have also voiced their outrage. Wulf Gallert, of the Saxony-Anhalt Left party, said the leaks showed how little the AfD understood about the rule of law in Germany, while Green party spokesman Sebastian Striegel said, "This shows once again that the AfD is a nationalist and racist party."
The state of Saxony-Anhalt, which was part of East Germany, is where the AfD celebrated its biggest electoral success to date, winning 24.3 percent of the vote in a state parliament election in March 2016.Ben Knight