Brandenburg’s head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Jörg Müller, considers the protests by the corona relativists to be “dangerous”. The AfD also clicks in.
Right-wing extremist and video blogger Nikolai Nerling interviews an AfD supporter in Stuttgart Photo: Björn Kietzmann
taz: Mr. Müller, there are currently demos against the corona restrictions nationwide. In some places there is talk of dictatorship and lies, you hear conspiracy narratives – also in Brandenburg. Is this an issue for the protection of the constitution?
Jörg Müller: Of course, we look at how extremists deal with the corona crisis. The NPD and the III. Weg discovered this very early on as a topic for himself, linked it with conspiracy theories and conducted a debate about restrictions. And now these rallies are added. We see a dangerous mix there: conspiracy theorists, extremists, imperial citizens, preppers, but also ordinary citizens – that is difficult to determine.
What makes the rallies so dangerous?
We had a rally in Cottbus, organized by the Islamophobic association “Zukunft Heimat”, and a speaker spoke the word empowerment law in the first few minutes. This is forgotten in history, stupid and a border crossing.
The empowerment laws abolished democracy in Weimar, they led to the Holocaust and the World War. The corona regulations, however, have the clear goal of protecting health. At the same time, the Cottbus rally is called Covid-1984 – as if we were in an Orwellian surveillance system. You can see where the trend is going.
Is the protest at risk of radicalization?
A lot depends on how the situation develops. Many of the population are fed up with sitting at home. But surveys say that there is still great trust in the government. And there are now loosenings. That’s why I don’t see masses coming onto the street or even a second pegida emerging.
Not even with you in Cottbus, where right-wing extremists recently wanted to build a second Pegida stronghold?
The protests in Cottbus were almost dead. With the corona crisis, the organizers now sense a new opportunity. And indeed there could be an influx again. Extremists and others have been working closely together in Cottbus for a long time: Pegida, the identities, the AfD, the Institute for State Policy, Future Home, one percent – a toxic entity.
Recently AfD politicians also clicked into the corona rallies. What role does the party play?
In fact, the AfD is now promoting the rallies in some places. And in Cottbus the organizer, Christoph Berndt from “Zukunft Heimat”, is also a member of the AfD’s state parliament. I cannot yet see a nationwide strategy. The AfD still has no clear position on the pandemic: some say the virus should be taken seriously, others consider it a fictitious or at least greatly exaggerated story that the state is now allegedly using for repression. In Brandenburg the party follows, as always, its chairman Andreas Kalbitz, who serves the last story.
Jörg Müller, 46, is a non-partisan administrator and has been head of the Brandenburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution since February. Previously, he worked in the management department of the Interior Ministry there.
Most recently, the AfD was primarily concerned with itself: the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution classified the “wing” as clearly right-wing extremist, which then dissolved formally at the end of April. Party leader Jörg Meuthen started a split debate. Where does the AfD stand today?
There is still some unrest. Basically, not much has changed. The dissolution of the “wing” is an apparent dissolution, its protagonists are all still in the party and very dominant. It’s like aspirin: first the tablet lay next to the glass, now it dissolves in the glass. And of course the active ingredient continues to work. The ethnical-nationalistic attitude of Björn Höcke and the others has not disappeared. And there is no apparent opposition to a democratic center of the AfD.
Are the “wing” people already reorganizing?
I am sure that we will soon see something that will accommodate this group. Then maybe there is a national conservative attitude community. They will keep their feet still for a while, but then there will be substitute events, also for the Kyffhauser meeting. And Höcke finally said clearly that the “wing” would be dissolved because it had achieved its goal. He did not distance himself from the nationalist ideas and neither did any of the protagonists.
In Brandenburg you are dealing with Andreas Kalbitz with the second central “wing” leader next to Höcke. How is Kalbitz doing now?
Kalbitz has by no means distanced himself from the “wing” either, on the contrary. He is a right-wing extremist and continues on his course. His Brandenburg State Association is thoroughly winged and has clear extremist references, there is no relevant counter-current here.
But, to my surprise, Kalbitz is now under pressure from the Federal Executive Board: With the decision to declare his membership in various right-wing extremist organizations, including the HDJ, the home-loyal German youth who wanted to bring in a new National Socialist elite in their camps.
Her constitutional protection accuses Kalbitz of “being rooted in organized right-wing extremism for decades”. Will he be able to talk himself out of it?
So far he has always tried. In western associations he would probably have been excluded long ago, but in Brandenburg he is firmly in the saddle. Now it will be difficult for him. Because the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has proof of membership, for example an HDJ membership entry of a “Andreas Kalbitz family” from 2007 with the number 01330. It will be the decisive yardstick here of how the AfD federal board deals with Kalbitz.
With all of this, would your Brandenburg constitutional protection not only have to classify the “wing” but also the entire AfD state association as right-wing extremist?
Observing a party in democracy is tied to the exact rule of law and is a serious interference. If you do such a classification, everything must be stable. But if the wing continues to consolidate, this question will come up more and more.
Thuringia has already reacted and classified Höcke’s AfD state association as an extreme right-wing suspected case. Can’t you?
Of course we can if the conditions are there. Things are a little different in every country. There are high hurdles to overcome before an observation. And no constitutional protectionist likes to lose in court. The process is therefore very complex. But one thing is clear: if an effort works against the free democratic basic order, then it becomes our object of observation. There’s no way around it. We will see how things develop at the AfD in Brandenburg.
If the “wing” supporters remain so dominant in the AfD, doesn’t the constitutional protection have to watch the whole party at some point?
Of course, this question arises if the dominance of the previous “wing” continues and if country associations are gradually declared as objects of observation. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution then makes this decision. But as long as the AfD still has a democratic part, and this still exists in the western associations, this threshold has not yet been exceeded. But you can be sure that we will examine this question intensively.
On the other hand: do the classifications bring anything at all? Doesn’t the AfD continue to radicalize anyway – and is it still voted by the voters?
Counter question: Do you think there would have been a dissolution of the “wing” without the classification?
Then the classification was useful. That Kalbitz now has to explain itself – that would not have happened a quarter of a year ago. And if only one AfD MP now says that I no longer share these right-wing extremist views, it has been useful. And the Brandenburgers should know that if they choose the AfD, they are voting for a party led by right-wing extremists.
Most recently, that too CompactMagazine classified by Jürgen Elsässer. That too is based in Brandenburg. What makes the magazine so dangerous?
The magazine is the intellectual supplier of fuel for the right-wing extremist scene and perfects border crossings. And it offers extremists a platform. That is why we have now classified the Compact magazine in Brandenburg as a suspected case.
And Jürgen Elsässer is a right-wing extremist for you?
For me, Alsatian is a right-wing extremist.
How closely are you watching Compact now?
If there is a suspicion, we can use intelligence, including covert information or observations, the entire repertoire – but only within narrow limits. But Mr. Elsasser has hardly any inhibitions about making public what he thinks.
You have only been the Brandenburg constitutional protection chief for three months. Your predecessor was considered rather hesitant to deal with the AfD …
I don’t know if that was the case.
Some had this impression. Are you taking a different course now?
I already said on the first day that I want a constitutional protection agency that takes care of all areas of extremism. According to my analysis, the biggest threat right now is right-wing extremism. We cannot just watch an ever-increasing delimitation and we have to face it clearly. My concern is not that society is fraying on the fringes, but that extremism is reaching the center. That is why we have to clearly identify extremists and border crossings. I do that with Mr. Kalbitz and with others too.
Added on May 13, 2020 at 11:00 am