Member's dismissal for extremist activity jars German far-right party

Berlin/Potsdam, Germany - The right-wing of Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is rallying behind a state leader thrown out of the party for membership in an extremist group, prompting a dispute between the leadership and the grass roots.

Andreas Kalbitz, who ran the party's outfit in the eastern state of Brandenburg, was forced out on Friday because he had failed to disclose his past membership in far-right groups like Heimattreuen Deutschen Jugend (HDJ, German Youth Faithful to the Homeland) and the Republicans in the 1990s.
The AfD - which started as a eurosceptic party but has metamorphasized into a more right-wing, anti-immigrant party - has been at pains in recent years to show that it is not a party for neo-Nazis and the extreme right.
However, that has forced the party to make tough choices at times, since various leading members have been known to take far-right stances, from questioning whether the Holocaust really happened to forming groups within the party that were labelled as extremist by the government.
But Kalbitz's departure prompted an outcry from the ranks.
"I will not allow the division and destruction of our party - and I know that our members and our voters see this just like I do," Thuringia state party boss Bjoern Hoecke said in a statement posted on Facebook on Saturday.
But party co-chairman Joerg Meuthen quickly fired back at Hoecke, who has attracted significant attention to the party in recent months for leading The Fluegel (Wing), the group within the party that has come to the attention of domestic intelligence.
"A state boss who said just a few weeks ago that he was prepared to 'sweat' members he doesn't like out of the party," should ponder his own behaviour, not the decisions of the national leadership, he argued.
And Beatrix von Storch, party deputy leader, argued back that the decision to oust Kalbitz did not stray at all from party policy.
"Anyone who is a member of a militant neo-Nazi organization like the HDJ cannot be a member of the AfD. That is nothing new," she said on Sunday. She said there was no way to make an exception for Kalbitz just because he was on the party's federal board.
Kalbitz also weighed in at the weekend, urging his former AfD colleagues to stay true to the party, despite his fate.
"I beg you: Don't leave. We'll keep going. The responsibility for our country is greater than one individual," he said in a Facebook message he released after Friday's decision.
Kalbitz was a key member of the party and, even after his ejection, retains support.
Members of the Brandenburg state wing have already asked the national party if it would be possible for Kalbitz to stay on as the head of the state party.
State members are working to change by-laws on Monday that would let him continue to sit with party members in the state legislature, clearing the way for him to then stay on as state party leader.
Meuthen said he could not see how that would work.
"I find it hard to understand how you can have a non-aligned person as the party leader, but that's something for the party in Brandenburg to decide."
Kalbitz told the tabloid Bild this weekend that he would like to continue to lead the state party. He has filed a lawsuit disputing his removal from the party. Regarding the HDJ, he has only said that he attended a party event, which could have landed him on a government watch list.
Based on member comments like that of Saxony party boss Joerg Urban, he will have support. Urban wrote on Facebook that Meuthen and other leaders have trampled the law of order "to shut out a valued party friend." 
Political analysts note that this could be the start of a power struggle within the AfD that Meuthen is not assured of winning.

Sunday, May 17th 2020
By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann und Oliver von Riegen, dpa

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