German Anti-Immigrant Party Helped By U.S. GOP Strategist

Sep 9, 2017
Originally published on September 9, 2017 3:06 pm
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The election campaign in Germany has taken a nasty tone before the vote on September 24, although Chancellor Angela Merkel remains popular with many voters. At some public events she has been pelted with tomatoes, and her speeches have been drowned out by chants and whistles from supporters of the Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD. It is a populist and anti-immigrant party that could gain its first seats in the German Parliament, with help from a Republican political strategist. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel is shouted down at most of her campaign rallies these days.

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CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking in German).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Shouting in German).

NELSON: The protesters carry Alternative for Germany signs and whistle, boo, or chant hau ab, or get lost, as they did at this event last month in the eastern German town of Bitterfeld. The protests, which the populace say are impromptu but which feel orchestrated, are raising eyebrows in a country where decorum is an important cultural norm. Michael Kretschmer is deputy chairman of Merkel's conservative faction in Parliament.

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MICHAEL KRETSCHMER: (Speaking in German).

NELSON: He dismisses the effect of the protests and says, those who aren't capable of a sensible conversation and who hate and heckle will ultimately be rejected by the German population.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Shouting in German).

NELSON: Opinion polls say differently. Founded in 2013 by a Euroskeptic economist, Alternative for Germany - which has evolved into an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim party - is well on its way to becoming the third-highest vote getter in parliamentary elections later this month. Political scientist Gero Neugebauer says the party has built its success on manipulating German fears and blaming refugees for societal problems.

GERO NEUGEBAUER: This party tries to convince the people that the more refugees come, the less money can be spent for the Germans. And they are rather successful to get not only access to middle-class people but also to people who have low wages, who have fears that they couldn't get cheap housing, for instance, or that they would lose their jobs.

NELSON: But Alternative for Germany co-chair Frauke Petry denies the protests are a campaign tactic by her AfD party.

FRAUKE PETRY: (Speaking in German).

NELSON: She says her party's candidates are also victimized, especially by political rivals and the press. Petry points to a talk show, aired by public broadcaster ZDF earlier this week.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking German).

NELSON: During the program, a Bavarian ally of Merkel derided AfD candidate Alice Weidel and implied she was a right-wing radical. She stormed off the stage as the audience applauded her departure. Petry says her party hopes to gain more voters in the final weeks before the election with the help of Harris Media of Texas. Founded in 2008, the American digital ad agency's past clients have included Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and the populist British UKIP party.

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PETRY: (Speaking in German).

NELSON: Petry says the American agency is coordinating her party's online efforts to help shape German public opinion on the internet. Der Spiegel magazine reports Harris Media is behind a recent Facebook post attacking Merkel. It features bloody tire tracks and a list of ISIS terror attacks in Europe with the slogan, the track left by the world chancellor in Europe. Harris Media did not respond to NPR requests for comment. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

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