German far-right party weighs expelling members who attended neo-Nazi festival

Alternative for Germany, which won 13% of vote in national elections, fears increased government surveillance of its activities

People attend the 'Shield and Sword' festival in the Polish border town of Ostritz from April 20 to April 21, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)
People attend the 'Shield and Sword' festival in the Polish border town of Ostritz from April 20 to April 21, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

BERLIN — The far-right Alternative for Germany party is considering expelling three members who attended a neo-Nazi festival as it tries to avoid surveillance by the country’s domestic intelligence agency.

German news agency dpa reported Monday that the party’s regional leadership in the northwestern city of Osnabrueck has stepped down after media reports that two of its members and a party employee took party in the “Shield and Sword” festival.

The event drew hundreds of neo-Nazis to the eastern town of Ostritz in April, with some participants openly displaying their support for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Alternative for Germany, which won almost 13 percent of the vote in last year’s national election, recently urged members not to associate with extremists after authorities said they were putting two youth branches under observation.

Similar to other far-right parties in Europe, the AfD formally rejects anti-Semitism and professes to strongly support Israel, seeing a common enemy in radical Islamism. However, the party is largely rejected by the local Jewish community, which argues that it promotes xenophobia and fails to adequately distance itself from anti-Semites within its ranks.

Speaking with reporters after his party’s third-place election finish a year ago, which took it into parliament, co-leader Alexander Gauland told reporters “there is nothing in our party, in our program, that could disturb the Jewish people who live here in Germany.” He added that he had not met with Jewish leaders, but was “ready at any time” to do so. The comments from Gauland came after several major Jewish groups expressed dismay and concern about the strong showing of the AfD.

The Anti-Defamation League called the AfD result a “disturbing milestone,” saying “its leaders have made anti-Semitic statements and played down the evil of the Nazi regime.”

In June, Gauland dismissed the Nazi era as a “speck of bird poop in more than 1,000 years of successful German history,” triggering an uproar on social media.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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