The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis

Since 24th October 2017, Germany’s parliament has 92 new Neo-Nazis. In a colorful picture on parliamentarian seating arrangements, German officialdom has assigned the color blue to the crypto-fascist AfD (Alternative for Germany), not the traditional Nazi color brown. Modern populism demands that today’s Nazis no longer call their party NSDAP. Today, it is called AfD. Despite the misleading blue, AfD populism remains deeply fascistic rejecting much of what modernity has to offer. It is profoundly xenophobic, racist, glorifying heroic manliness and it is misogynistic.

Unsurprisingly, among the new AfD parliamentarians barely ten are women. This mirrors the “3Ks” of Nazi ideology. Women should be confined to kitchen, kinder, and Kirche (i.e. church). Still, like the old Nazis’ “League of German Girls”, the AfD has some use for women. The very recent defection of long-time AfD front-woman Frauke Petry demanded a quick replacement with another female face: Alice Weidel. A Goldman Sachs banker, now mutated into a “Nazi Slut”, Weidel represents the traditional “Nazism-Capitalism” link with a pretty Lesbian face.  She is part of today’s, Germany’s right-wing populism that now has 92 parliamentarian voices. Unlike in the USA and the rest of Europe, Germany’s right-wing populism has one crucial difference: Auschwitz. True to its ideological forefathers, the AfD still wants to “build a new underground railway directly to Auschwitz” (14th September 2017).

Currently, the AfD is lacking a charismatic Führer. Nonetheless, the unchallenged AfD boss and king-maker remains Alexander Gauland. His key parliamentarians are Frank Magnitz (the demagogue), Leif-Erik Holm (the friendly face), Corinna Miazga (the threat to traditional conservatism), Detlev Spangenberg (ex-Stasi), Andreas Bleck (the ruthless careerist), Jens Kestner (the militaristic soldier), Kay Gottschalk (finance), Marc Jongen (the ideologue), Tino Chrupalla (exPegida, AfD’s street-fighters), and Wilhelm von Gottberg (Holocaust denier). Their parliamentarian task is to frame outright Nazi populism as the voice of what AfD ideology calls ‘concerned citizens’.

Much of AfD populism centers on racism often expressed as a xenophobic hate of everything foreign. Accordingly, it draws a “sharp line” between the Germanic race and multiculturalism and Islam. Xenophobic populism is often underscored by a hatred of modernity. Consequently, the AfD comes with rampant Anti-Americanism. Individual freedom, democracy, a free press and liberalism are values AfD populism rejects. Rejecting the USA (AfD slogan: “Go to hell, USA”) is pared with the glorification of what the AfD calls the “good twelve years”, i.e. the time when their ideological ancestors –the Nazis– ran Germany while destroying Europe and killing millions. True to Nazi populism that still lingers in Germany, the AfD believes in Germanic greatness, a racially cleansed Aryan Volk, and a strong nation.

In what a leading German newspaper recently called a “Disgusting Nazi Speech”, local AfD boss Björn Höcke called the way in which postwar Germany came to terms with its Nazi past “stupid”. He glorified the “outstanding achievements of Nazism”. Very much like the old Nazis, Germany’s new Nazis defame Germany’s democratic parties as “bloc parties” (a Nazi term not otherwise used in Germany). AfD populism frames these parties as the enemy of the German Volk. Like the old Nazis, the AfD is convinced that Germany’s democratic parties will cause the destruction of Germany. It sees itself as the sole defender of the German race. Nazi glorification is also the theme of AfD boss Gauland adoring Germany’s Nazi army. Aligned to that is local AfD leader Wolfgang Gedeon. His favorite book is one of the infamous Anti-Semitic pamphlets, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” taking its propaganda as literal truth.

These are not the actions and speeches of a few isolated people. The AfD received close to 6 million votes (September 2017). At a neo-Nazi music festival in July, 6.000 neo-Nazis came to hear “rock against foreigners”. Defending Germany against an invented flood of foreigners remains a core part of AfD populism. The AfD is here to defend the German race against “foreign infiltration” (AfD). Its populism is to present itself as the sole “defender of Christianity in Europe”. Common to such Nazi and AfG hallucinations is the belief that foreigners have an invasion strategy to “march into our land to steal from us” (AfD). It seeks to make people believe that foreigners will “take our wallets, our Christianity, our homes and our women” (AfD). To further this sort of populism, AfD members are even asked to take on elements of the old fascist ideology.

AfD populism favors a Nazi “Volksgemeinschaft” and sees this as a mythical and ethnically cleansed Aryan community – not a modern society! To reach this, the AfD seeks to destroy anyone who is in the way. This is particularly directed against political parties on the left (Die Linke, Antifa), progressives, trade unions, etc. In the case of Sarah Rambatz, for example, AfD/Pegida henchmen intimidated a young member of Die Linke into resigning from her candidature. But the AfD’s fight against the left also takes on more traditional Nazi forms. As workers celebrated Labor Day in 2017, the AfD –like its ideological ancestors– sought to convert “Labor Day” into a “patriotic day for the national-social liberation of Germany”. Just as in 1933, AfD populism includes rising “the flag of workers’ struggle”.

Then as today, this has never been about the struggle against capitalism (then) or neoliberal capitalism (today) but against those who suffer from capitalism. What was once the Jew is now the migrant, the Muslim, and the foreigner in general. Old-Nazi and new Nazi populism follow the same pattern using much of the same strategies, speeches, rituals and have similar but always invented enemies. Ideologically eliminating capitalism in favor of race, the AfD supports a redistribution of wealth –not from capital to labor– but from foreigners to Germans.

Almost self-evidently, all this means reducing capitalism’s complexities to a few populist buzzwords: Germanness, race, foreigners, Volksgemeinschaft. Modern AfD populism also incorporates modern elements. The AfD has learned much from Donald Trump. It believes that its populism is at its best under the slogan: “a few thousand Euros squandered concerned people. They get upset. But when we talk about three billions, the sum is so abstract that nobody cares” (AfD). As racist chauvinism overlays capitalism, the AfD thrives in the four current crises of neoliberal capitalism: a) the crisis of traditional conservatism with Merkel as the AfD’s main target. German chancellor Merkel has moved traditional conservatism as much to the left as she could (e.g. introducing a minimum wage); b) a crisis of representation (AfD populism assures that the so-called “concerned citizens” are made to feel no longer represented through Germany’s political institutions); c) a crisis of capitalism (new scapegoats are invented for neoliberalism’s victims); and finally, d) a crisis of the social-welfare state (the neoliberal reduction of welfare provisions and the resulting poverty and misery is directed against anyone non-German).

Unlike Donald Trump, Germany’s AfD has no strong leader who fills his own pockets while promising heaven on earth. Still, the AfD is serving what philosopher Adorno once called the authoritarian personality. Similar to the US, authoritarian populism works better in Germany’s periphery than in Germany’s centers. Similar to US fly-over-states, AfD populism focuses on remote regions and small towns affected by neoliberalism’s centrifugal tendencies that move wealth, educational opportunities, jobs and people towards the center. Classical scapegoatism directs these frustrations away from neoliberalism and towards foreigners. In economic terms, AfD populism seeks to create a heightened nationalistic, barbaric and deregulated neoliberalism in which not you and me but others are framed as losers.

One should make no mistake that the rise of the European right-wing (e.g. Hungary’s Orban, France’s Le Pen, etc.) including Germany’s AfD is not unconnected to the well-engineered and corporate media driven decline of Western European Communism (first) and social-democracy (later). Capitalism’s media offensive against progressive forces everywhere plays into the hands of right-wing populism working with fake news and alternative facts. In its German version, classical Nazi ideologies like the “lying press” are called upon once again. Much of this is aligned to a cultural “revolution of the right” and the hallucination that Germany’s Aryan Volk is a racial entity from which the foreigner [das Fremdrassige] is to be excluded.

Similar to many US populists, Germany’s AfD populists are not part of the traditional ruling power elite. Donald Trump, for example, thrives on his much acclaimed outsider status to Washington. Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Heydrich, Eichmann, etc. weren’t part of Germany’s 1930s elite. And so are most AfD leaders not part of Germany’s current economic and political elite. What the AfD does is serving the elite while pretending to serve everyone. In this project, AfD populism uses people as mere “objects of power”. The goal is to radically re-construct the ruling class favoring one part of the capitalist class (the nationalists) over another section (the globalizers).

For obvious reasons –like hiding all too obvious Nazi-ideologies– AfD populism focuses on a conglomerate consisting of classical right-wing ingredients like reactionary thinking, chauvinism, misogyny, nationalism, racism, fascism, etc. Much like Donald Trumpism it feeds on stupidity. Trump’s stupidity became famous through his lack of geographical knowledge. For the new way of populism, stupidity is no longer embarrassing. What follows from that is the ideological construction of a simplistic bi-polar worldview in which the good (AfD) fight and win against the evil (the left, foreigners, Muslims, etc.). This is something that, in turn, fits neatly into the AfD’s Aryan Volksgemeinschaft based on blood, lineage and race. This is the populism of them against us setting outsider against insider and Germans against foreigners. As a consequence, AfD populism also includes a fight against competition in workplaces (foreign vs. German workers) and society (domestic vs. foreign welfare recipients).

Much of this feeds on fear and a deliberately created and often tabloid-TV induced atmosphere of fear – fear of crime, fear of drugs, fear of change, fear of job loss, fear of diseases, fear of foreigners, etc. AfD’s populism is the populism of fear. It is a well engineered and corporate media broadcasted fear of asylum seekers, foreigners, non-Germans, Muslims, etc., a reflection of what Frank Furedi calls “The Politics of Fear”. Fear is also what drives the AfD’s hallucinations of a weak Germany threatened by its overwhelming enemies. To protect its populace, AfD –just as Trump’s– populism does not promise to solve local and global problems. Instead, it simply wants to destroy these problems and bring, for example, “fire and fury” to North Korea.

Populism’s strong-vs.-weak dichotomy is part and parcel of the psychological makeup of populist leaders. The outwardly pretended strength of Donald Trump, for example, exists with a weak psychological core. It is the inner insecurity of the bully. The psychological self-doubt drives such leaders towards receiving external adulation, stardom, if not outright worshipping. The TV-clown depends on the audience’s worship. He depends on constant Twitter and Facebook checking following the corporate media like Skinner’s lab conditioned rat. He graves for external support. If adoration and worship is denied, he falls into deep depression that can end in suicide. Trump’s obsessive rage over the size of the crowd at his inauguration indicates as much.

To camouflage such weaknesses, the AfD populist needs the Aryan Volk. Populism merges the völkisch, e.g. a race-based Volk that is ethnically cleansed, with the standard fare of conservatism, the radical-right, and even fascism. Today, this sort of thinking is booming in Germany supported not just by AfD parliamentarians but by its street-fighting henchmen Pegida as well as its right-wing think tank, the institute for state policy. Its crypto-intellectual but deeply ideological Godfathers are well known Nazi writers such as Oswald Spenger, Carl Schmitt, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Ernst Jünger and Alfred Rosenberg, all of whom fought against liberalism and in particularly the Anglo-Saxon version of it. Anglo-Saxon liberalism is accused of favoring individualism, thereby creating an atomized individual that is estranged in its own country and race. The AfD’s Volksgemeinschaft will rescue these.

Instead of class, AfD populism favors strong national cohesion and the destruction of all non-Aryan races. For that, it mobilizes race and nation inventing ever more national-chauvinistic phantasies. In the case of the AfD, this includes attacks on German chancellor Angelika Merkel. While corporate media often presents Merkel as a mother figure, AfD leader hallucinations are set against that by including misogynistic male phantasies positioned against a caring mother (Merkel). The self-confident female needs to be eliminated in favor an authoritarian fixation of overt manliness. Much of this has crypto-philosophical and ideological underpinnings.

Old Nazi philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Oswald Spenger, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck and Alfred Rosenberg are not too openly paraded by AfD populism. Instead, today’s AfD philosopher is Peter Sloterdijk’s pupil Marc Jongen –who recently entered Germany’s parliament. Jongen speaks of a nationalistic democracy imbedded in a German-based market economy. He wants a national, strong and healthy German nation. Only such a nation can be the Führer of Europe. Jongen’s AfD populism thrives on xenophobic-racist attitudes hyped up in the wake of the 2015 intake of refugees. Jongen is the ideological thinker behind much of the AfD’s neo-fascism. He fears a titanic attack of foreigners on our land. Welcoming non-Aryans, according to Jongen, will lead to the abolition of Germanic culture. For Jongen, Germany has already been weakened through international appeasement and global peace seeking illusions. Not having a strong army is deeply irrational and dangerous given the current world situation. He believes that hanging onto peace and international cooperation will lead to Germany’s inevitable downfall.

For Jongen, only Social Darwinism (the strong will survive) will be able to rescue Germany. Only when Germans can reject the illness of modernity –that for the AfD is often linked to the 1968 revolts– can Germany eliminate the culture of guilt (of Nazi war crimes, the Holocaust, etc.). This has been inflicted on Germany since 1945. In line with Jongen is AfD crypto-philosopher and ideologue Heiner Mühlmann. Glorifying war and battle, he believes there is no culture without war. He also thinks that only during the heroic battle against everything foreign and by having clear marching orders for Germany’s global domination can Germany unlock its true potentials. This demands a culture of brave manliness – heroes marching into battle. Mühlmann links this to Himmler admirer and Italo-Fascist Julius Evola as well as German war glorifier Ernst Jünger – both dreaming of a Reich. Today, it is the resurrection of the Germanic empire.

AfD populism carries one of its strongest connections to Germany’s Nazi past through the idea of the “Reichsbürger”. Its close approximation are US-American Sovereign Citizens. The core idea is Christian fundamentalist and that modern states are part of a Global Jewish Conspiracy. The Southern Poverty Law Centre estimated in 2011 that there where up to 100.000 Sovereign Citizens in the USA. But there are differences between the USA and Germany as well. While US-American Sovereign Citizens reject the state, Germany’s Sovereign Citizens are longing for a place in the state hierarchy. Needless to say, Germany’s Nazi Sovereign Citizens reject the modern Federal Republic of Germany. The current democratic state should be replaced by a racially unified Aryan Volksgemeinschaft. AfD populism frames this as anti-establishment, anti-bureaucracy and anti-modernity.

In conclusion, AfD populism is deeply racist, reformulating and using Nazi ideology. Just like old Nazi populism, the modern version merges old Nazi themes with modern themes to remain effective and up-to-date. It also aids the AfD’s ability to distance itself from Nazism whenever needed – albeit this appears to be less and less relevant as the former fringe –Nazism– moves more and more towards the center of German politics. Unlike other forms of populism, Germanic populism not just has a Nazi past. When the AfD seeks to build a new railway to Auschwitz, one should never forget that it was Nazi Germany that had built it in the first place. This makes Germany’s right-wing populism different from all others. It is no longer afraid of conjuring up outright Nazi ideology. Perhaps the real danger –then as today– is to fall for the Nazis and the AfD’s “wolf in a sheep skin”. Behind the AfD’s friendly face lurks a pack of wolves that will hunt us down to kill us – then as today.


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Thomas Klikauer is the author of Managerialism (Palgrave, 2013).

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