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Germany's far-right AfD to dissolve extreme faction

March 20, 2020

The far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is set to dissolve its extreme nationalist faction, known as the "Wing." The group had been designated extremist by the country's domestic intelligence agency.

Björn Höcke
The Wing was cofounded by the AfD's Thuringian leader Björn HöckeImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Schackow

The executive committee of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Friday voted to dissolve the extremist faction known as the Flügel (Wing) after the group cameunder surveillance by the German domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz.

Eleven board members voted for the resolution, which was put forward by party leaders Jörg Meuthen and Tino Chrupalla as well as board members Alice Weidel, Beatrix von Storch, and Carsten Hütter, all prominent figures in the far-right party.

The vote to dissolve the Flügel by April 30 was decisive, with only one vote against — believed to have come from Flügel member Andreas Kalbitz — and one abstention. German public broadcaster ARD reported that the abstention came from Bundestag member and Flügel supporter Stephan Brandner.

The decision followed several hours of discussion. According to the DPA news agency, there had been broad agreement on the group being disbanded, but arguments about when and how it should be done.

The Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution) last week said it would run formal surveillance on the AfD's most nationalistic group.

The agency says that the Flügel violated "characteristic features of the free democratic basic order, human dignity, democracy and the rule of law."

As a result, it said, the Flügel had been designated as a "proven extremist endeavor" warranting observation from security forces. The classification allows authorities to tap members' phones, store personal data, recruit informants among its ranks and infiltrate the group with undercover agents.

Read more: Germany underestimated far-right terror for 'too long'

Murmurings within party

Several AfD lawmakers at the state level had previously called for action to be taken against the Flügel, amid concern that the entire party could be brought under suspicion. However, the group's weight within the party had, until now, protected it.

The faction, which has some 7,000 members in Germany, was identified as suspicious by the agency in January 2019 and was already being monitored, along with the far-right party's youth branch.

It was co-founded by notorious AfD lawmaker Björn Höcke, who has sparked outrage with attacks on Germany's culture of remembrance of atrocities committed by the Nazis.

Shift to the far-right

The AfD initially began in 2013 as a protest party against the euro single currency, but it has shifted further to the right over the last seven years.

After Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision in 2015 to keep Germany's borders open to refugees, the AfD picked up support from voters unhappy with the government's migration policy. It is now the largest opposition party in Germany's lower house of parliament.

Germany has been hit by several right-wing extremist attacks in recent months, most recently with the murders of nine people at a shisha bar and a cafe in the city of Hanau in February.

Mainstream politicians have accused the AfD of fueling the violence with its rhetoric.

rc/bk (AFP, dpa)