For a moment last week, it seemed like there were such voices in the party. A week ago Sunday, four days after the killings in Hanau, AfD national party leaders Tino Chrupalla and Jörg Meuthen published an open letter to members. In it, they clearly stated: “The crime in Hanau is a racist crime.” They also wrote that “like the murder of (regional politician) Walter Lübcke and the killings in Halle, it was a disgrace for Germany.” The letter also stated that the party needed to ask itself “why our political opponents have been able to link the party with such a crime in the first place.” As difficult as it might be, Chrupalla and Meuthen wrote, the question had to be addressed.
But the party co-chairs didn’t provide an answer to the question themselves. Even in this statement, they continued to speak of “xenophobia” and “foreign cultures,” even though many of those killed were Germans themselves and the others had been in the country for years. They ended the statement with the usual litany about attacks against the AfD. They also published the letter on the afternoon of the state election in Hamburg, a time when early exit polls indicated the AfD might have difficulty landing seats in the city-state’s legislature.
But were they serious about a new tone – or was it merely a tactic?
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Sources close to the AfD leadership say the party is largely driven by fears that it will be placed under official observation by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is responsible for monitoring extremism in the country. Other parties in Germany have been calling for that step to be taken, and it has created considerable pressure for the AfD. Furthermore, after the Hanau murders and the AfD’s recent shenanigans in the Thuringian state parliament, center-right parties in Germany have taken steps to further distance themselves from the right-wing radical party. The AfD’s political opponents and broad swaths of the populace believe that the racism propagated by the right-wing radical party was one of the causes of the killing spree.
Some say that Chrupalla is seeking to ease that pressure, but doesn’t really stand behind his words. Others say he meant the letter seriously. After all, you can’t work with other parties if they won’t talk to you — and at the moment, there isn’t even a remote possibility that the conservative Christian Democrats or the business-friendly Free Democratic Party would agree to join the AfD in a coalition government. Other sources say that Chrupalla was simply trying to get the conversation started within the party — a courageous step, they insist, given that he is still new to his post.
Meuthen, who is generally considered to be more moderate than Chrupalla, distanced himself from the letter in a conference call with the party’s executive committee last week. He had even tried to tone it down beforehand. Above all, he didn’t want the missive to refer to the murders in Hanau as a “racist crime,” as DER SPIEGEL learned from several people who were involved in the drafting of the letter.
Meuthen confirmed as much when approached for comment, saying he found the expression to be “unfortunate, because it’s incomplete.” He also said he didn’t want to be accused of changing his mind. It is his view, Meuthen said, that “this remains the act of a madman, as I initially tweeted.” That doesn’t mean, he added, that the act was not also racially motivated. “The question is what guided the action? And here, I maintain my assumption that it was the mental illness.” He also admitted that he warned Chrupalla prior to publication, saying, “This letter will cause considerable displeasure.” He said he nevertheless stands behind the letter.
The letter did indeed stir up a lot of anger within the AfD against the party leaders, including from Björn Höcke in Thuringia. The figurehead of the “Flügel,” the extremist, ethnic-nationalist wing of the party, reportedly called the AfD co-chairs to complain about it personally.