This week Germany’s national spy agency formally declared the youth wing of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party an extremist group – a decision with significant consequences for its young members.
Germany, a country that has seen a rise in extremism in recent years and is particularly wary of such movements due to its history, said Alternative Youth poses a threat to democracy.
In response to the decision, Young Alternatives said the country’s spy agency “is simply doing its job, which is essentially to crack down on the opposition.”
The classification will not affect the AfD in general. The party, founded in 2013, is currently the country’s most successful far-right party since World War II.
He is only a few percentage points behind the Greens and the Social Democrats (SPD) in the polls.
Just last year the German authorities successfully foiled it a coup by a far-right group that he planned to overthrow the government and install a relatively unknown aristocrat with ties to Russia as leader.
More European countries should take the threat of extremism as seriously as Germany does, pundit Lorenzo Vidino, director of the extremism program at George Washington University, told RockedBuzz via Euronews.
Germany “has this double categorization of the groups they monitor,” he said. “There are terrorist groups and extremist groups.”
Terrorist groups “are obviously forbidden, they’re not allowed, they’re illegal – and then there’s the second category… extremist groups, which are groups that aren’t illegal per se, but are monitored by the authorities,” he continued.
What impact does the “extremist” label have?
While being labeled an extremist group does not make an organization illegal or make membership a crime, it does lead to a variety of consequences for the participants.
“It allows authorities to have certain powers to monitor these groups,” Vidino explained.
“There are also consequences for specific individuals who are members of extremist groups. So if you’re a member of a terrorist group like ISIS, for example, it’s a crime and that’s it,” he continued.
“If you are a member of an extremist group, it is not a crime, but there are a number of other consequences, mostly administrative. In some cases, for example, you may be barred from holding public office; if you are not a German citizen then you may have your immigration permit removed.
This week’s decision to ban the AfD’s youth wing could impact members’ employment chances in civil service and other public roles and their ability to obtain a license to bear arms.
Alternative youth have recently complained that Germans would be “right at the bottom of the hierarchy of victims in our society” and have consistently warned against what they call the destruction of “biologically grown European peoples” due to the influx of migrants in the country.
Why is the label important?
“Germany is probably the country in Europe that makes this qualification extremely specific, and that leads to very precise consequences,” Vidino said.
“For example, in Italy it would be very different. One can say that a group is extremist, but from a legal point of view it does not automatically have the legal consequences that derive from this categorisation”.
Vidino said the German system is very good at capturing a “gray area of groups” that cannot be classified as terrorist organizations, but still pose a threat to a country’s democracy and could easily turn violent.
“It’s a perfect gray area of groups that it would be wrong to call terrorists, but at the same time, there’s no alternative to that label,” Vidino said.
“When the alternative is that you’re a terrorist or nothing at all, it’s problematic. And this categorization captures the gray area of groups that are not terrorists, that do not systematically employ violence, but that are obviously problematic.”
From a German point of view, the AfD and its youth wing “embrace values that are contrary to the German constitution and can lead to further radicalization and terrorism,” Vidino said.
“I think it’s a great way for a democratic society to deal with extremist groups but not engage in violence systematically.”
What can other countries learn from Germany?
Vidino gives the example of the USA, which does not identify extremist groups but only terrorists.
The Ku Klux Klan, despite its history of racism, discrimination and violence, is legally tolerated in the country because it is not a terrorist organization, without consequences for its members.
National definitions and legal frameworks relating to terrorist and extremist groups vary significantly across Europe, but Vidino believes that other countries have something to learn from Germany’s approach to extremist groups.
“I find the German system very accurate and captures this gray area of which it is increasingly common to find examples within right-wing groups, but also with Islamist groups, left-wing groups and a variety of other ideologies,” he said .
None of the other European countries, “at least the big ones,” have a specific way of dealing with such extremist groups, according to Vidino.
“Although some countries may have the power to monitor extremist groups, they often lack the power to impose consequences on members of these groups,” he explained.
“There’s this kind of dynamic where the state finds it difficult to deal with extremist organizations if they’re not designated as terrorists,” Vidino said.
“And to some extent, even if Germany isn’t perfect, I think Germany has sort of dealt with that problem.”