Meet Germany’s Alt-Right

In September, Germans will head to the polls to elect a new parliament. One of the parties expected to enter the Bundestag for the very first time is the Alternative für Deutschland (or Alternative for Germany). Over the course of two years, as AfD has transitioned from an agenda of economic reform to one of nationalist populism, they have morphed into something resembling the American alt-right.

In 2012, a group of German conservatives and classical-liberal economists who had defected from Angela Merkel’s center-right and the traditional liberal-democrat party found themselves associating with independent-voter groups in order to run for office on the local level. Soon, these conservatives, who were heavily critical of the European Union’s economic interventionism and especially the European common currency, found themselves alienated by these existing platforms, and in 2013 they founded the AfD.

Soon after its creation, the party began to struggle with internal disagreements about the priorities of its political message: the classical liberals were keen on developing a German brand of Euroscepticism—which, relative to the Anglo-Saxon brand, would appear less aggressive and more academic—while nativists and those who were religiously inspired pushed for more nationalism and social conservatism on issues like gay marriage (which remains illegal in Germany). These were internal fights over these differences during the 2013 election, which contributed to the AfD narrowly failing to enter parliament.

In 2014, the party continued its rise in the polls. It won electoral success in the European Parliament, local parliaments, and municipal councils. Former AfD chairman Bernd Lucke, a classical-liberal economist known for his numerous appearances on German TV shows dedicated to debates on the Euro and its effect on the European debt crisis, became the target of the nationalist wing of the party. But AfD’s moment in the spotlight was short-lived. As the issue of Greece leaving the Euro was swept off the table and the Euro-crisis became uninteresting for the German media, so did the focus on the AfD.

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