As far right party surges, Germany’s intelligence agency warns of growing extremism

BERLIN (AP) — The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned on Tuesday of a growing threat of extremism, particularly from the far right, with the number of politically motivated crimes carried out by extremists reaching a record high last year.

Thomas Haldenwang, who heads the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or BfV, said that his agency had come to the “sad conclusion” that extremism of all shades is on the rise in Germany. His comments come as polls show growing support for the far-right Alternative for Germany party in recent weeks.

The party has come under scrutiny from the BfV for its links to extremists and also its ties to Russia. Of the 38,800 far-right extremists counted by the agency last year, more than 10,000 are members of the party, known by its acronym AfD.

“We see a very strong current of people within this party who are opposed to our constitution,” Haldenwang told The Associated Press. “We see a lot of hatred and agitation against minorities of all kinds there.”

Alternative for Germany first entered the national parliament in 2017, after campaigning strongly against migration in the wake of an influx of refugees to Europe during the preceding years.

Despite being largely shunned by mainstream parties, AfD has established itself as a powerful force — particularly in the east, where it stands a strong chance of winning state elections next year.

Lately it has come out against German support for Ukraine, echoing some of Russia’s arguments for its attack against Kyiv last year.

Haldenwang said some members of Alternative for Germany have “very intensive contacts” with Moscow and had met with Russian officials in Germany, though that doesn’t apply to the party as a whole.

Asked about possible attempts by Moscow to support the party, Haldenwang said that “it is certainly in the interest of Russian policy” to sow discord among Germans.

“Wherever there are opportunities to divide society, Russia will take measures to support this,” he said, adding that this applies for far-right and far-left parties alike.

Presenting his agency’s annual report in Berlin, Haldenwang declined to say whether the BfV is monitoring any of the party’s active lawmakers, a move for which there are legal obstacles.

Asked about possible extremists within the security agencies and the potential for AfD to interfere with its work if it gains power at the regional or state level, Haldenwang said he was not worried about far-right infiltration of his agency.

Authorities are working to ensure that police forces in Germany prevent and recognize potential extremism within their own ranks, he said.

“These are all measures that will ensure Germany security agencies are resilient against such forms of extremism over the very, very long term,” said Haldenwang.

Figures published by the BfV agency show that there were almost 2,000 more extremist crimes of all political shades — 35,452 in 2022, compared to 33,476 in 2021. The number of crimes classified as violent crimes dipped by just over 140 — to 2,847 last year, from 2,994 the year before.

Haldenwang made clear that his agency doesn’t currently see any extremist tendencies among climate activists from the group Last Generation, who have drawn strong criticism in recent months for blocking roads and throwing food at artworks in protest at the lack of action to curb global warming.

“Extremism assumes a threat to the free democratic order,” he said. “We don’t see that yet in the Last Generation.”

Frank Jordans
Frank Jordans
Berlin correspondent covering Germany, climate and science