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German far-right leader used banned Nazi slogan, court rules

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Höcke is a key leader of the party’s most extreme wing. He first drew international scrutiny for a 2017 speech lamenting the construction of a Holocaust memorial near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Calling Germans “the only people in the world who planted a memorial of shame in the heart of their capital,” Höcke demanded a “180-degree turn” in the country’s “politics of memory.” In 2019 a court ruled he could justifiably be called a “fascist” for his views.

Despite — or perhaps due to — the controversies, Höcke’s influence within the party has grown in recent years. He retains solid support in Thuringia, near the Czech border, where he is running to become premier ahead of a September regional election.

In a recent poll, the AfD was Thuringia’s most popular party by a wide margin with 30 percent support. Nationally the party is polling second at around 18 percent.

Höcke has maintained he was unaware the banned slogan was used by Hitler’s storm troopers. His critics have rejected that defense, noting Höcke was a history teacher before his AfD days.

In light of the country’s Nazi past, the German constitution contains provisions to prevent authoritarian politicians from using democratic means to rise to power — a system Germans refer to as “defensive democracy.” Parties deemed anti-democratic and extremist may find their state financing revoked, can be monitored by domestic intelligence — and can even be banned. The law also prohibits the use of “symbols of unconstitutional and terrorist organizations.”

A high court ruled on Monday that Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the intelligence agency tasked with monitoring anti-constitutional groups inside the country, was justified in classifying the AfD as a “suspected extremist” organization. That designation allows the agency to monitor party politicians through wiretaps and informants.

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