8 Reasons Why 33% of Germans Could Vote Neo-Nazi

German Neo-Nazi in 2020, source: author’s photo (TK)

In a few weeks, voters in two western German states – Hessen and Bavaria – will head to the polls. While nobody is expecting a major shift in the conservative-environmental-green (Hessen) and conservative-reactionary/antisemitic (Bavaria) coalitions in power in both states.

There is, however, a stratospheric rise of Germany’s hard right AfD. Deceptively, the party calls itself Alternative for Germany. According the conservative CDU party boss, Friedrich Merz, the AfD is an openly Nazi party.

In recent public polling, this openly Nazi party is doing extremely well. In Germany’s Sunday Question: Who would you vote for if there was an election next Sunday? The AfD got a whopping 14% in Bavaria and 17% in Hessen. In a recent poll – 27th September 2023 – the AfD received 20%. But that is not all.

In the eastern German states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the AfD sits at 34%; in Brandenburg at 32%; in Saxony at 35%; and in Thuringia at 32% – that means that 1/3 of all potential voters could vote for the AfD.

In last-week’s election for mayor in a city in Thuringia, barely 3 miles down the road from Buchenwald concentration camp, an AfD candidate was narrowly defeated by a margin of 55 to 45. But that means 45% of the people voted for the AfD.

All in all, and with a clear East vs. West divide (eastern Germans are still treated as second-class citizens) a whopping 1/3 of all eastern Germans are ready to vote for a Neo-Nazi party.

Nationwide, the AfD sits at 18%. This is probably not accidental. In the 1940s one of Germany’s most astute observers of the rise of German Nazism, Sebastian Haffner, said that Germany has a hard core of about 20% who are convinced Nazis. Not much seems to have changed.

Even after all the truth and horror that has been revealed about German Nazism, today the unconcealed anti-democratic AfD ranks at the same level as Germany’s once mighty social-democratic SPD in popularity and just behind Germany’s traditional conservatives, the CDU (Merkel’s old party).

Most recently, a CDU-AfD union has cut funding for a Holocaust site called “Lager Stalag 326” where 60,000 Soviet prisons died by the Nazis under horrendous conditions.

In recent weeks, a debate has flared up about the causes of the rise of these right-wing extremists. On closer examination, eight causes for the party’s increasing popularity have emerged:

1. The weakness of the governing coalition

According to the latest polling, there is a dissatisfaction with Germany’s federal government. This did not come out of nowhere. The AfD benefits from what might be called a sustained corporate media-engineered bad mood (negative marketing) toward the governing coalition which is known as The Traffic Light Coalition because it reflects the political colors that identify the three governing parties:

  • social-democratic SPD (red);
  • the neoliberal FDP (yellow); and,
  • the environmentalist Greens.

Germany’s corporate-owned conservative media, for example, has run an anti-government propaganda campaign which distorts the government’s environmental policies in order to renew investment in private heating systems.

Germans were made to fear that the government would rip out their heating systems and make them sit in the cold during the looming winter – a hallucinatory lie but very effective. See: Heiz-Hammer (Heat-Hammer).

The AfD benefits from this negative publicity by riding the anti-government wave thus instigated by Germany’s conservative media. The media campaign’s effectiveness can be seen in the fact that four out of five voters are becoming less and less satisfied with Berlin’s traffic light coalition. Of course the most dissatisfied are AfD voters. 98% of its supporters think the traffic light coalition is a disaster.

Two-thirds of the AfD are disappointed with all of Germany’s current parties. The AfD is using this disappointment for its gain.

2. Fear of war, recession, and inflation

The AfD is the party of fear, fear of anything. The AfD skillfully engineers fears about an expansion of the war against Ukraine, fear of an economic recession, fear of unaffordable heating costs, and of course, fear of migrants and refugees.

AfD voters rate their own situation as worse than the situation of the supporters of other parties. 46% of AfD supporters see their own economic affairs as not good or bad. Among conservative CDU supporters, it is just 29%. Among Green voters, it is only 14%.

3. Nationalism

While not occupying an official party position, the unchallenged ultra-nationalist wannabe Führer of the AfD remains Björn Höcke. He is the their most outspoken ultra-nationalist, chauvinist, and racist.

Since the creation of the party, and featuring in all his speeches, immigration continues to play by far the largest role for party voters. For years, it has been trying to link virtually every socio-economic issue – even rising inequality – to migration.

For the AfD, wealth is not redistribution between above and below (class) but between inside and outside (us & them = race) – as demagogue Björn Höcke never grows tired of repeating. The party’s outspoken racism seems to be catching on with a part of the population as simple slogans that speak to the simple minds of their common voters.

4. Support from Germany’s traditional conservatives

Recently, the AfD has been receiving massive support from Germany’s conservatives (CDU) in its obsession with the culture warKulturkampf. Perhaps inspired by the ideology of US Republicans, the AfD defames gender, wokeness, feminism, environmentalism, and political correctness.

Having adopted the Republican ideology, the result is that Germany’s conservatives failed miserably to weaken the AfD. Instead, Germany’s traditional conservatives strengthened their right-wing competition. When seeking to outrun the other in the right-wing Kulturkampf, the CDU loses and the AfD wins.

5. A selling proposition: The Peace Party

The fifth reason for the rise of the AfD comes from Germany’s public discussion about the war against Ukraine. 55% of Germans believe that the government is not doing enough diplomatically to end the war. At the same time, fewer and fewer people find that to support Ukraine only with weapons is not enough.

The AfD benefits from this. When it comes to dealing with war, the right-wing electorate is very different from that of Germany’s democratic parties. Among democratic parties, between 32% to 43% support sending combat weapons to Ukraine. Meanwhile, only 7% of AfD voters support this. Why? Probably because, as we know from various studies, they idolize the strong authoritarian ruler, and like with the US right-wing, Putin is regarded as an icon they can smile upon.

6. Success in East-Germany

The AfD remains particularly strong in the East. In eastern Germany, it is now the number one political party by far, and it has above-average success particularly in sparsely populated regional areas. It has managed to appeal to voters in the East much better than in the rest of Germany.

Eastern Germany is the AfD’s success story, and although the eastern half acts as a power center of political strength for the party’s most outspoken far right-wing extremists, the rightward shift increasingly gravitates towards western Germany.

7. The AfD currently shows outward unity – no more open power struggles

The party has also benefitted from the fact that, after the resignation of the more moderate, neoliberal darling of Germany’s conservative media, and ex-party leader Jörg Meuthen, the AfD has managed to avoid internal party power struggles – though those still exist but no longer penetrate the information space outside of the party.

For the core electorate of the AfD, the party appears united. The public image that the party shows to the outside world is likely to take on an even higher significance for voters who are undecided and have never voted for the AfD.

8. Normalization

Even though the AfD remains a deeply anti-democratic party, the party is increasingly perceived as a normal political party. This is the mainstreaming of fascism.

When polled with: The AfD should in no case ever be elected, in 2020 74% agreed, today it is just 55%. Dressed in suits and white shirts, their top brass has again emulated the smartly dressed American fascists to avoid looking like the Neo-Nazi skinheads of yore.

Hugo Boss no longer needs to tailor SS uniforms – the AfD can dress itself in standard Boss wear. This has paid off: these days 24.5% of all Germans can somehow imagine voting for the AfD.

Another indication of a normalization of fascism is that more and more Germans consider the AfD to be a normal “democratic” party. Interestingly, normalization takes place at a time when the party is moving ever more towards the extremist right – particularly in eastern Germany.

Standing at 20% to 25% nationwide, it seems the party has largely exhausted its potential pool of voters. Yet, if the normalization of fascism continues, the party’s support is likely to increase.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

What drives people to the AfD is, in part, also a nostalgic longing for an extremely transfigured past. These are people who the Germans call Ewiggestrige – those stuck in the past.

Yet, the central characteristic of many AfD voters is what might be called a nihilistic rage. In part, this is inflamed by an inability to imagine a future.

For the AfD, a vision of the future does not include a concrete political idea or any kind of a positive utopia. To make matters worse, the AfD supporter is defined only by a very abstract negation of the status quo.

The present time is consistently perceived as a catastrophe. For the AfD voter, a normal way of life is related to a mythological “Germanic Way of Life,” that of a heterosexually defined nuclear family (father, mother, children) based on a (racially defined) white, and above all German (read: Aryan) identity.

This mythological “Germanic Way of Life” is perceived as disappearing fast because of the influx of “the other.”

This creates an imaginary crisis of a so-called national identity that has, for the cognitively restricted, become a permanent feature. An open-minded future has become a threatening scenario. AfD supporters look at the world with apocalyptic images representing end-time dystopias (like Evangelicals in the USA).

Worse, current society as a whole is not characterized by lively, forward-looking visions. In a narcissistically hollow way, AfD supporters see themselves as part of a mini-elite who can see through the looming downfall of society.

Viewed from inside their online echo-chambers, they believe that they are constantly becoming victims of exclusion and hostility just because they are nonconformists.

But it is precisely because of this apocalyptic feeling that they misinterpret themselves as being predestined for being able to take the helm as the chosen elite. Strictly speaking, therefore, the concept of right-wing populism might no longer fit.

AfD supporters do not see themselves as a silent majority, but as a chosen mini-elite in the midst of looming end times. Again like the Pence Evangelicals in the USA, who are doing God’s work.

From this it follows that AfD supporters believe, if needed, society must be ruled by force, and this force will be meted out by the mini-elite. Tellingly, party supporters imagine that our society is rowing toward a waterfall.

One boat – the AfD boat – has started rowing back against the current. It is this boat that is the only one that can foresee the looming disaster and promises rescue.

Meanwhile, the AfD is currently not characterized by a charismatic leader – there is no Trump, no Modi, no Bolsonaro, no Duterte, and no Viktor Orbán. Despite his support and his very own wishes, Björn Höcke has not – yet – become the new Führer.

Even without a charismatic leader, the AfD is set to win big in the upcoming two elections in Hessen and Bavaria and is set to win even more in elections scheduled for next year in the eastern German states of Saxony, Brandenburg, and Thuringia.

One of the key issues facing Germany is whether or not Germany’s conservatives will enter into a coalition with Germany’s Neo-Nazis (AfD). This would mark a remake of 31 January 1933 when Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor – not through an election! – but when German conservatives allied with the Nazis and made Hitler Reichskanzler.

Later, the complicity of German conservatives in making Adolf Hitler was camouflaged through the myth of a Machtergreifung even though there was no grabbing (Ergreifung) of power (Macht).

Hitler didn’t even need a Mussolini-style March on Rome. There was no March on Berlin. Hitler was simply put into power by conservative politicians. Given Germany’s history, many observers are waiting for the next move by German conservatives. If they have to depend on the AfD to secure their path to power, will someone ask: Were they pushed? Or did they jump?

Thomas Klikauer is the author of German Conspiracy Fantasies – out now on Amazon! Danny Antonelli grew up in the USA, now lives in Hamburg, Germany and writes radio plays, stories and is a professional lyricist and librettist.