German authorities plan to step up surveillance of the far-right Alternative for Germany amid growing concern that the third-largest party in parliament is closing ranks with extremist groups.
Activists for AfD marched in the eastern city of Chemnitz alongside leading figures in anti-migrant group Pegida and members of the area’s militant neo-Nazi scene in the past week, after two refugees were arrested over a German citizen’s fatal stabbing.
“Parts of AfD are openly acting against the constitution,” justice minister Katarina Barley told the RND media group.
“We need to treat them like other enemies of the constitution and observe them accordingly.”
Boris Pistorius, Lower Saxony’s interior minister, said the decision was not related to recent events in Chemnitz. It was based on the Young Alternative’s anti-democratic goals and close links to the Identitarian Movement, a white nationalist group which has been under surveillance for four years, Mr Pistorius said.
His counterpart in Bremen, Ulrich Maeurer, described the views of AfD’s youth wing in the city-state as “pure racism”.
AfD immediately announced it would dissolve the two youth sections in question to avert harm to the party and insisted its aims were democratic.
AfD’s rise since its founding five years ago has shaken Germany’s establishment and called into question the country’s post-war consensus that far-right parties have no place in the mainstream.
The party, bolstered by widespread unease in Germany about the influx of more than a million refugees since 2015, placed third in the 2017 national election.
Officials are particularly concerned about its strategy in eastern Germany, where Mr Kalbitz said the party hopes to become the strongest force after state elections next year.
Saxony — where Chemnitz is located — has an entrenched neo-Nazi scene and AfD has done particularly well there.
The party encouraged last week’s protests, which drew thousands following the August 26 killing of 35-year-old carpenter Daniel Hillig in Chemnitz. Some of the demonstrations erupted into violence between far-right marchers and counter-protesters.
A 22-year-old Iraqi citizen and a 23-year-old Syrian citizen were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter over Mr Hillig’s death, police said.
Government officials urged Germans who are upset over the killing to distance themselves from the neo-Nazis who performed Hitler salutes, chanted “Foreigners out” and harassed journalists covering the demonstrations.
“If one doesn’t think this way, it would be good to draw a clear line and distance oneself from those who are doing that,” said Steffen Seibert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman.
In an organized response to the far-right events, tens of thousands of people gathered on Monday in Chemnitz for a free open-air concert by some of Germany’s best-known bands.
The show was part of an effort to encourage young Germans to stand up against far-right extremism. It was promoted with the hashtag #WeAreMore and broadcast live online.