Germany’s Far Right and Trumpism
In early September, 50,000 German conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, and nationalists took to the streets to protest Germany’s lockdown to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump’s face was plastered on banners, t-shirts, and flags as the crowd marched towards parliament. For the far-right in Germany, Trump has become a cult figure, resembling a “savior” according to Miro Dittrich, an expert on far-right extremism. Trump’s tolerance of white supremacists has encouraged far-right extremism and terrorism in Germany. Just in the past 15 months, a synagogue has been attacked and there have been shootings of immigrants in central Germany.
In the U.S., an Internet-driven conspiracy theory called QAnon has gained traction. QAnon followers believe that Satanic-worshiping pedophiles are running a global child sex-trafficking ring plotting against Trump. QAnon followers have popped up at Trump re-election rallies and followers have been using social media to spread disinformation to influence the November presidential election. Some of its followers have been charged with murder, domestic terrorism, and planned kidnappings. Yet, Trump feigns ignorance when asked about the conspiracy theory. In Germany, many of the protestors are followers of the QAnon movement and the QAnon community in Germany is the biggest outside of the United States. German followers of QAnon believe that Trump will help liberate them from Angela Merkel’s “dictatorship.” The number of QAnon accounts on YouTube, Facebook, and Telegram has reached more than 200,000 in Germany.
It’s not only QAnon members in Germany who worship President Trump, but also members of the Reichsbürger: a portion of German citizens, also called Citizens of the Reich, that do not accept the post-World War II Federal Republic of Germany and want to be liberated from their own government. The followers of the Reichsbürger spread racist threats and propaganda and are openly anti-Semitic, claiming that the Holocaust did not happen. They have an estimated 19,000 members in Germany. They believe that the 1937 borders of the German Empire exist, they refuse to pay taxes, and have declared their own national territories. They believe that the current German government is an occupation by Allied powers. Followers of the Reichsbürger are not opposed to violence. The latest report from the BfV, a German Intelligence Agency, states that followers are ready and willing to commit “serious acts of violence.” At least 1,000 have a license to own firearms.
QAnon members and members of the Reichsbürger are enabled by Trump’s racist rhetoric, but the threatening views are not isolated to fringe groups – it has spread to mainstream politics. Trump’s rhetoric has legitimized the ultra-nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD). In 2013, the party emerged as an anti-euro party. However, in 2015 the party shifted direction and started to spew anti-immigrant sentiment. They gained traction after criticizing German Chancellor Merkel’s decision to let 1.5 million migrants and refugees into Germany. Then in 2017, they became the third biggest party in Germany after winning 94 seats in the German federal parliament. While the party may not have started out as a far-right one, today, their anti-immigration and German nationalist sentiment, along with their skepticism about climate change, bear striking resemblance to the modern-day Republican Party of Trump.
The growth of the party has caused concerns for many opposition leaders in Germany and abroad because of its connection with anti-Semitism. For example, 10% of the AfDs staffers in the federal parliament are members or former employees of right-wing extremist organizations. The AfD has adopted some policies similar to the Nazis, such as using the slogan Lügenpresse, meaning “lying press.” This is quite similar to Trump’s rhetoric of calling the press “fake news.” Furthermore, the AfD has adopted an anti-Islamic stance claiming that multiculturalism does not work and warning against the Islamization of the West. The AfDs claims about Islam parallel Trump’s 2017 Executive Order 13769 which banned the entry of citizens from 7 majority Muslim countries. Furthermore, the AfD has called for a closing of all borders similar to Trump’s desire to build a wall on the southern border of the United States.
With Angela Merkel set to retire in 2021, right-wing politicians have the ability to come to the center stage. Will the AfD continue to grow and spew racist rhetoric? Will Trump continue to enable German followers of QAnon and Reichsbürger to be actively anti-Semitic and violent? Will Trumpism have consequences for nations outside the United States? Germany’s future looks quite uncertain.