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Björn Höcke: The True Leader of Germany’s Right Wing AfD

  • October 14, 2022

Taking on an grumbling tone, Chrupalla urges his listeners to “finally exert pressure on political leaders” through trade organizations, chambers of commerce and industry and chambers of handicrafts “so that something finally changes in this country.” And he emphasizes that the AfD is fighting on behalf of his audience “in the parliaments and on the street,” which is their function as a “parliamentary and street party.” It is precisely that, he says, which differentiates the AfD from its adversaries. “We take to the streets on Mondays against Habeck, against (Foreign Minister Annalena) Baerbock, against (Finance Minister Christian) Lindner, against Scholz, against this government and against the faux opposition of the conservatives,” he says.

It’s hard to ignore the similarities between what he says and the speeches delivered by Höcke.

Tino Chrupalla, 47, is a house painter by trade and he shares most of his political views with Höcke. He was, to be sure, never an official part of the extremist wing surrounding Höcke, which is why he has long been considered as more of a centrist, but he also has never distanced himself from such extremist sentiments. On the contrary, he says that he has “no problem” with the extremists in the party and sees “no contextual differences” with his own positions. He also once attended an annual meeting of the far-right “Flügel.”

The fact that Chrupalla even became a co-leader of the party in 2019 is thanks to the far-right wing, who made him the successor to Alexander Gauland. In Riesa, Chrupalla’s re-election again came on the strength of votes from the Höcke camp, with the two of them having reached agreement on the issue prior to the party congress.

The situation is hardly different with Alice Weidel, the 43-year-old former business consultant who is AfD co-leader together with Chrupalla. She, too, was elected to her current role with the help of Höcke’s people, having reached a kind of non-aggression pact with him in 2018. That year, she met frequently with Höcke and Kubitschek and went after Jörg Meuthen when he started to launch attacks on the extremist wing for tactical reasons. She even hired a Kubitschek family member as an adviser and her tone grew sharper.

In early September, when Weidel and Chrupalla introduced their new campaign slogan “Our Country First!,” that tone was clearly audible. The people of Germany, she said, were being “screwed” by the government,” were being “ripped off in cold blood” and were “completely defenseless,” Weidel called out, her face contorting. “What do you think is going on here in Germany?” she demanded, anticipating that people would be hitting the streets throughout the entire winter, and claiming they have “every right to do so.” She referred to the government as “this amateur theater troupe up there” and as a “comedy club.” Such comments tend to be well received among party extremists.

More recently, though, the two of them have grown wary of Höcke’s influence. They aren’t interested in giving up their power quite yet and are trying to keep him in check, for example by blocking the creation of a commission on party reform that he was set to lead. Weidel was angry because a member of the right wing had sought to run against her in Riesa and Höcke didn’t hold him back. Ultimately, the challenge never materialized, but Weidel realized that Höcke’s loyalties are with those who have been in his camp for the long haul.

In standing up to Höcke, the two party leaders have – similar to Jörg Meuthen before them – positioned themselves as Höcke adversaries. And that, as seen by the careers of Meuthen and his predecessors in party leadership, Frauke Petry and Bernd Lucke, isn’t particularly good for longevity.

Whereas Höcke knows what he wants and takes steps to achieve it, Weidel and Chrupalla frequently do little more than react. And in contrast to Höcke, they have no significant power bases of their own. Chrupalla, to be sure, has some support via his state AfD chapter in Saxony, and Weidel remains quite popular, but neither of them has a network to speak of in the party at large. They also have little leverage against Höcke when it comes to their political agenda, only focusing on issues that are already the focus of much discussion: energy prices, inflation, coronavirus policies, migration and the euro.

Plus, the party survives by creating an atmosphere of fear, and has now become trapped in a spiral of escalation. When a crisis doesn’t turn out to be as bad as the party claimed it would and Germany again manages to survive, another, larger crisis must be identified so that voters still have a reason to listen to the AfD. Harald Weyel, a member of the extremist wing and, thanks to Höcke, a member of the leadership committee, said just a few weeks ago that the gas crisis would “hopefully” be severe because: “If it’s not dramatic enough, then things will just continue on as before.” A fellow party member responded that the AfD isn’t needed “if it’s not dramatic.” These disgraceful sentences only came to light because the microphone was still on.

It is just another demonstration, though, that alarmism is part of the AfD’s DNA. “We are no longer in the 11th hour on World War III, we are just one minute to midnight on World War III,” Chrupalla said in Cottbus.

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