Björn Höcke has said he will stay away to avoid "initiating a scandal." He has criticized Germany's culture of Holocaust remembrance and been banned from the hotel hosting the AfD's national congress in Cologne.
Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician Björn Höcke has announced that he will stay away from the right-wing, anti-migration party's national convention next week, saying "I do not want to give a motive for initiating a scandal," in a video posted to his Facebook page.
His message gave rise to suspicions that the right-wing populists may finally be ready to oust Höcke, a regional lawmaker in the eastern German state of Thuringia, after months of top party members waffling over statements he made in January downplaying the Holocaust.
"I do not want to give a motive for polarization," according to Höcke's statement.
However, even if he wanted to attend, he has been banned from any properties belonging to the Maritim hotel chain, which is hosting the party convention in Cologne. The company made the call after Höcke referred to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin as "a monument of shame."
These comments were made at an event for the AfD's youth wing in January, in which Höcke proclaimed that Germany was too invested in memorializing the Holocaust. "These stupid politics of coming to grips with the past cripple us - we need nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance," he said at the gathering in Dresden.
Höcke accused of writing neo-Nazi propaganda
Although Höcke later apologized for the remarks, they have continued to haunt him. When the AfD made its first concrete attempt to oust him at the end of March (a process hampered by in-fighting, an ongoing problem for the party), a document signed by several party members including chairwoman Frauke Petry declared him "too connected with National Socialism" to be allowed to stay in the party.
Höcke's problems were compounded when the daily Tagesspiegel brought back long-standing allegations that the lawmaker had written for neo-Nazi publications connected to the extreme right National Party of Germany (NPD). Supposedly writing under the pseudonym "Landolf Ladig," Höcke is accused of having praised the Third Reich and supporting fascist ideology.
"I have never written under a pseudonym for an NPD newspaper," Höcke responded.
Party leadership, however, disagrees. After investigating the allegations on their own, an AfD panel announced on Wednesday that they were confident that Höcke was indeed "Landolf Ladig."
Petry seeks to scratch far-right ideas
But it may already be too late. Party leader Petry has already signaled a desire to step back an association with the far-right. In a motion signed by the chairwoman last week, the AfD leadership hopes to adopt the resolution that "there is no space for racist, anti-Semitic…and nationalist ideologies," in the party at next week's convention.
How that will play out in poll numbers remains to be seen, for it was only after adopting an increasingly anti-migrant and anti-Islam stance over the past two years that the AfD saw its popularity surge.
According to a report by Spiegel Online, Petry has called a secret meeting of top AfD officials to be held on Monday ahead of the Cologne summit. One of the top points of the agenda is to decide on Höcke's future so the leadership can present a united front on the matter in front of the party. Petry and party spokesman Alexander Gauland have already expressed vaguely differing opinions on the matter, with Gauland seemingly content with Höcke's apology.
The AfD will be under intense scrutiny going in to the convention. Amidst criticism that her strategies cost the AfD a much-needed victory in recent regional elections in the state of Saarland, Petry has hinted that she may step away from politics if the party no longer supports her. The populists are set to decide on the candidate for chancellor at the summit, ahead of Germany's federal elections in September.