After becoming the first declared anti-immigrant party four years ago to enter the German parliament, the AfD now becomes the first party to be monitored in this way since the Nazi era ended in 1945.
He was propelled into the Bundestag in 2017 by voters angry at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to host more than a million migrants. But he has been ostracized by other parties, who say his rhetoric contributes to an atmosphere of hatred that fosters violence against immigrants.
The BfV move follows a two-year review of the AfD’s political platform and will allow the agency to eavesdrop on calls and conversations involving AfD members and scrutinize party funding.
A BfV spokeswoman declined to comment, citing a court case brought by the AfD, but the party was furious.
“The agenda is clear. First we have a ‘case to investigate’, now we are a ‘suspected case’ and we are under surveillance, and at some point there will be a request to ban our party,” Alexander Gauland said. Parliamentary leader of the AfD. “That, thank God, will be a decision of the Constitutional Court and not of the BfV.”
Gauland and AfD co-leader Tino Chrupalla told a news conference that they had only learned of the decision, first reported by Der Spiegel magazine, through media reports. They accused the BfV of trying to undermine their chances in the national elections in September.
Germany’s Central Council of Jews welcomed the decision, saying: “AfD’s destructive policy undermines our democratic institutions and discredits democracy among citizens.”
The AfD recorded 12.6% support in the 2017 federal elections to become the third-largest party in the Bundestag, and it also has legislators in all 16 regional assemblies.
But his support has fallen to around 9% in recent polls, marred by infighting and his opposition to lockdown measures to halt the coronavirus pandemic.
One of its co-leaders, Joerg Meuthen, has blazed a trail by arguing that the AfD needs to expel members suspected of sympathizing with far-right groups advocating violence to broaden its appeal.
The AfD had also obtained a court ruling that prevented the BfV from publicly describing it as a “case under investigation”, as this puts it at a disadvantage in the elections. However, an attempt to stop the BfV review is still in court.
The BfV told the Cologne Administrative Court last month that it would not monitor AfD lawmakers in national, regional or European parliaments while that case was being heard.
This suggested that formal surveillance would for now be limited to lower-level party members.
Four years ago, the German government did not ban the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), which had won a handful of seats in various regional state assemblies. The Constitutional Court ruled that while it resembled Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party, it was too weak to endanger democracy.