250,000 protest in Germany against far-right AfD over talk of mass exportation plans

Wave of mobilization sparked by an investigative report that party members discussed expulsion of immigrants and ‘non-assimilated citizens’ at a meeting with extremists

People gather as they protest against the AfD party and right-wing extremism in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, January 20, 2024. (Michael Probst/AP)
People gather as they protest against the AfD party and right-wing extremism in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, January 20, 2024. (Michael Probst/AP)

FRANKFURT, Germany — Around 250,000 people turned out across Germany on Saturday in protests against the far-right AfD, which sparked an outcry after it emerged that the party’s members discussed mass deportation plans at a meeting of extremists.

Around 35,000 people joined a call under the banner “Defend democracy — Frankfurt against the AfD,” marching in Frankfurt, the financial heart of Germany, according to police.

A similar number, some carrying posters like “Nazis out,” turned up in the northern city of Hanover.

Another 30,000 turned out in the western city of Dortmund

In all, demonstrations have been called in about 100 locations across Germany from Friday through the weekend, including in Berlin on Sunday.

ARD public television put the total turnout on Saturday at 250,000.

Not only politicians but also churches and Bundesliga coaches have urged people to stand up against the AfD.

A demonstrator holds a placard with a barred AfD sign refering to Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and a doll representing Thuringia’s regional leader AfD party Bjoern Hoecke during a demonstration against racism and far right politics in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany on January 20, 2024. (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

The wave of mobilization against the far-right party was sparked by a January 10 report by investigative outlet Correctiv, which revealed that AfD members had discussed the expulsion of immigrants and “non-assimilated citizens” at a meeting with extremists.

Among the participants at the talks was Martin Sellner, a leader of Austria’s Identitarian Movement, which subscribes to the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that claims there is a plot by non-white migrants to replace Europe’s “native” white population.

Conservative split

News of the gathering sent shockwaves across Germany at a time when the AfD is soaring in opinion polls, just months ahead of three major regional elections in eastern Germany where its support is strongest.

The anti-immigration party confirmed the presence of its members at the meeting but has denied taking on the “remigration” project championed by Sellner.

But leading politicians including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who joined a demonstration last weekend, said any plan to expel immigrants or citizens alike amounted to “an attack against our democracy, and in turn, on all of us.”

He urged “all to take a stand — for cohesion, for tolerance, for our democratic Germany.”

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser went so far as to say in the newspapers of the Funke press group that the far-right meeting was reminiscent of “the horrible Wannsee conference,” where the Nazis planned the extermination of European Jews in 1942.

A person holds up a placard reading ‘Say Nope to AFD’ as she takes part in a demonstration against racism and far right politics, in Erfurt, eastern Germany on January 20, 2024. (JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

Friedrich Merz, the leader of the opposition conservatives CDU party, also wrote on X that it was “very encouraging that thousands of people are demonstrating peacefully against right-wing extremism.”

But besides members of the AfD, two members of the hard-right faction Werteunion of the CDU were also at the meeting near Potsdam cited by Correctiv.

Amid the outrage over the Potsdam meeting, the Werteunion’s leader Hans-Georg Maassen said Saturday it had decided to split from the CDU.

The group said it has about 4,000 members, many of whom were originally members of the CDU or the CDU’s Bavarian sister party CSU.

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