Protests against the far-right Alternative for Germany party are gaining momentum in the wake of a report that two senior party members joined a meeting to discuss plans for the mass deportation of citizens of foreign origin.
While the party has long railed against immigrants, the proposals for “unassimilated citizens” to be deported to “a model state in north Africa”, reported by outlet Correctiv, have struck a nerve in Germany. Some have compared them to the Nazis’ initial plan to deport European Jews to Madagascar.
“The line has long since been crossed,” protester Stephan Kalsh said at a demonstration in Cologne on Tuesday evening, where many protesters called for the party to be banned.
It was the latest in a wave of protests around the country that have attracted tens of thousands since the story broke last week. Some have been attended by high-ranking officials like Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
The AfD, which is polling second in nationwide surveys, has denied the plans are party policy. Co-leader Alice Weidel parted ways with one of her advisers who participated in the talks.
Still, Germany’s domestic spy chief Thomas Haldenwang has warned of extremist movements within the AfD, which is under security surveillance.
The reports of the plans have drawn widespread condemnation from political and security leaders. Scholz has urged democrats to stand against far-right “fanatics” while Haldenwang called for the “silent majority” to wake up.
“I am grateful that tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets across Germany these days against racism, hate speech and in favour of our liberal democracy,” Scholz said on social media platform X on Wednesday.
“We democrats are many – many more than those who want to divide,” he added.
Images of thousands of citizens braving sub-zero temperatures and snow to protest against the AfD in cities nationwide suggest they may just be.
“Nazis, no thank you”, “It feels like 1933, AfD ban now!” and “Investigate banning AfD” read banners at a protest in Berlin last Friday.
Other protests have been scheduled for later on Wednesday in Berlin and on Friday in Hamburg.
Weidel on Tuesday attacked what she called the use of the Correctiv report to misrepresent the AfD. She said the party aimed to exhaust all legal means to prevent illegal migration, restrict nationalizations and deport migrants suspected of terrorism.
“Whoever has German citizenship belongs without question and without doubt to the German nation,” Weidel told a news conference. “And that´s precisely why the German citizenship may not be sold off cheap and distributed with a watering can.”
The party has shifted more into focus this year ahead of the European Parliamentary elections and three state elections in eastern Germany in September where it is polling in first place. This is expected to make it much harder for mainstream parties, which have ruled out working with the AfD, to form workable governments.
Support for the 11-year-old AfD has soared over the past year as it has capitalized on discontent with the ruling coalition’s handling of a multitude of crises, from the Ukraine war and inflation to public services overwhelmed by immigration.
Public infighting has made Scholz’s government one of the least popular in modern German history.
There is no evidence yet of the Correctiv report damaging support for the AfD, which remained steady in polls released this week.
Political analysts say the strength of the AfD has already influenced the political debate, contributing to tougher policy and rhetoric on irregular migration.
Politicians this week discussed the possibility of calling on the constitutional court to ban the AfD although most concurred it risked backfiring. The hurdles to a ban are high and the party could stand to win from portraying itself as a victim of the establishment.