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Germany: Far-right leader Höcke suffers defeat in court

May 14, 2024

Björn Höcke, the firebrand AfD leader in the eastern German state of Thuringia, was found guilty of intentionally using a banned Nazi slogan. This adds another chapter to his history of revisionist comments.

Björn Höcke in court
Björn Höcke is the chairman of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the eastern state of ThuringiaImage: Ronny Hartmann/dpa/picture alliance

Björn Höcke, the chair of the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) in the eastern state of Thuringia, was found guilty of intentionally deploying a slogan used by the Nazi party's paramilitary wing in a speech at a campaign rally. He has to pay a 13,000-euro fine.

In his closing statement, Höcke complained about the far-reaching restrictions on freedom of opinion in Germany.

"I have the feeling of being a politically persecuted person," he said.

The Halle Regional Court found him guilty of intentionally using a banned Nazi slogan in his campaign rally: "Everything for Germany" (Alles für Deutschland in German).

This was the slogan of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA), or storm troopers.

Participants in a rally in Dresden hold a sign showing Höcke with a Hitler mustache and the words "Höcke is a fascist".
Demonstrations in nationwide rallies for democracy and against right-wing extremism have derided Björn Höcke as a "fascist."Image: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/picture alliance

The SA played a major role when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, the NSDAP, came to power in 1933. In this early phase, the SA terrorized Germany, killing, torturing and intimidating mainly communists and Jews. During the Nazi era, Germans committed the Holocaust, killing over six million Jews and many other persecuted groups. They were also responsible for the deadliest conflict in world history, World War II.

With the fall of their self-proclaimed "Third Reich" and the end of German mass murder throughout Europe in 1945, the SA, like all other Nazi organizations, was banned along with its symbols and slogans. Under German law the use of slogans and symbols linked to anti-constitutional organizations such as the Nazi Party is banned in all but historical and educational contexts.

Björn Höcke's history of revisionism

During his trial, Höcke, a former history teacher, had argued not to know the origin of the "Everything for Germany" slogan.

His critics, however, point to his long history of voicing revisionist theories about Germany's Nazi past.

In 2014, Höcke moved to the state of Thuringia in former East Germany and quickly became one of the AfD's most radical representatives there. He has taken part in neo-Nazi demonstrations.  

In 2016, at an AfD rally, Höcke expressed sympathy for the notorious Holocaust denier Ursula Haverbeck, who had to serve a lengthy prison sentence as a repeat offender.

How much do neo-Nazi views influence Germany's AfD?

In 2017, the AfD tried to expel Höcke following his controversial speech in which he called Berlin's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe a "monument of shame." He also criticized Germany's remembrance of 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 suggesting a more positive, celebratory take on the country's history. At the time the Thuringian Court of Arbitration rejected his expulsion.

In 2018, Höcke published his thoughts as a book in a "volume of conversations." In it, he suggests it is wrong that "Hitler is portrayed as absolutely evil."

The book is full of radical statements and was later used as the basis for a court ruling in 2019 that Björn Höcke can legally be described as a "fascist," based on a "verifiable factual basis." The Thuringian regional AfD chapter has been classified as "verified right-wing extremist" by the state's intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

Whether because of or despite his radicalism, Höcke has led the AfD in Thuringia to become the strongest political party there. Höcke has never held a political office. But that could change this year: The AfD currently polls at over 30% ahead of this year's state election.

Germany's AfD classified as potential threat to democracy

Höcke wants to head the regional government which would make him the first far-right politician in postwar Germany to lead one of the 16 federal states. That office has considerable political power: Premiers are largely responsible for the education and media policy of their state, and decide on the details of executing the federal government's asylum policy.

The AfD has long been calling for a radical change of course in asylum and immigration rules. Höcke himself has suggested that the country needs a new leader to ward off the threat Germany is facing: "national death through population replacement."

Höcke has long set the tone in his party and has triggered nationwide debates about his thoughts, worldview, and political actions.

This article was originally written in German. It was originally published on April 17, 2024, and updated on May 14, 2024, to reflect the latest developments in Höcke's court case.

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