Maximilian Krah, AfD top candidate for the European elections, sparked outrage by saying he didn’t see all Nazi SS members as criminals. 
Michael Kappeler/picture alliance/Getty Images

Berlin — A right-wing German lawmaker made comments seen as so explosively outside the mainstream of acceptable political discourse, that his party was disowned by other far-right leaders, breaking a major coalition in the European Parliament.

Maximilian Krah, of the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party, told an Italian newspaper that he didn’t view all members of a notorious Nazi paramilitary group automatically as criminals. He claimed that some in the SS, whose primary role was guarding concentration camps during World War II, were in fact just farmers.

“Before I declare someone a criminal, I want to know what he did. Among the 900,000 SS men there were also many farmers: there was certainly a high percentage of criminals, but not all of them were. I will never say that anyone who wore an SS uniform was automatically a criminal,” Krah told La Repubblica last weekend.

The AfD have since banned the 47-year-old Krah, their leading candidate in next month’s European elections, from making public appearances. Experts say his remarks have also caused reverberations across Europe’s far-right, shining a light on how the continent’s far-right parties view themselves and their associations.

After Krah’s interview was published on Saturday, his party suspended him on Wednesday, and said that he had taken ”full responsibility” for his actions and agreed to step down from its federal executive board with immediate effect.

Support for the AfD is on the rise and the party is hoping for gains in the European elections. 
Maja Hitij/Getty Images

In a scathing statement, the AfD accused Krah of having caused “massive damage to the party in the current election campaign, for which the candidate had provided the pretext.”

It is not immediately clear if Krah remains the AfD’s official lead candidate for the upcoming European election.

Lorenz Blumenthaler, a political analyst at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin – which runs educational projects and researches right-wing extremism, racism and antisemitism – told CNN that the AfD only takes action like this in certain circumstances.

“The only time when there exists this red line is when they feel like it’s hurting their voting result. And that’s the only time when they will act or whether they fear that it will basically change the way German security forces perceive them as the AfD.”

Blumenthaler added that reprimanding Krah this close to a major election is a pretty drastic step politically. It “delegitimizes you as a political party and hurts you much more than just running with a lazy dog (or deadweight candidate),” he told CNN.

Jordan Bardella of France’s National Rally party, which has distanced itself from the AfD. 
Manon Cruz/Reuters

Kicked out of a far-right coalition

On Thursday, a far-right coalition of parties in the European Parliament expelled the AfD from the group.

The Identity and Democracy (ID) bloc said in a statement, they had decided to exclude the AfD, “with immediate effect,” adding that “the ID Group no longer wants to be associated with the incidents involving Maximilian Krah, head of the AfD list for the European elections.”

In Paris, the leaders of French right-wing party National Rally (RN) – the successor to the Front National led by Marine Le Pen, and part of the ID alliance – also dissociated themselves from the AfD.

RN President Jordan Bardella said in a French TV debate on Tuesday that the AfD had “crossed red lines.”

“We will have new allies after the European elections and will no longer be in the same group as the AfD,” Bardella added.

Joe Düker, a researcher at the extremism monitoring think tank the Center for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy (CeMAS), told CNN that European far-right parties, and RN in particular, have been trying to present themselves as more moderate.

“Far-right populists are always trying to appeal to a broad voter base and they are always trying to give themselves an image that seems cleaner than they actually are. We know that Le Pen’s party has been trying to clean up their image in the past couple of years. She broke with her father, the founder of that party, because of that.”

Blumenthaler described this image cleansing as the “most absurd dynamic that we have, a new far-right self-consciousness all over Europe.”

The AfD’s co-leader Bjoern Hoecke was fined for using banned Nazi slogans. 
Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

That sense of self-awareness doesn’t seem to extend to the AfD, though.

There have been a series of incidents where AfD members have expressed far-right ideologies openly in Germany. Recently scandals have also seen members accused of spying for China and accepting bribes from Russia.

Björn Höcke, a regional leader for AfD in the eastern state of Thuringia, was fined €13,000 ($14,000) by a German court earlier in May for using banned Nazi slogans, according to CNN affiliate N-TV.

Höcke, a former history teacher, intends to run as the lead candidate for the AfD in the upcoming state elections in September, and is currently the clear favorite to win.

According to Blumenthaler, these incidents don’t appear to hurt the party, especially in Germany.

“After basically crashing the (far-right) European coalition, that really hurts the AfD on a European level, but I don’t really think that it will affect their electoral base here in Germany that much,” he added.

Expect more of the same

Düker told CNN that the trend of increased AfD extremism is likely to continue. “We can expect that things that are more radical, more extreme will become more acceptable,” he said.

The AfD’s open radicalism is an interesting phenomenon for Blumenthaler too, especially when compared to its European allies.

“It’s still the Austrians and the German far-right branches that are the craziest… you would think that the taboo due to the German and Austrian past would be far higher here. And that the far right would act far more strategically trying to whitewash what they say how they act, but instead they are becoming more and more radicalized,” he told CNN.

The AfD is under domestic surveillance for the threat it poses to Germany’s democracy and despite a recent dip is currently polling higher than each of the three parties in the coalition now governing the country.

Düker noted a similarity between the AfD and Donald Trump, adding that: “The more scandals and the more outrageous things the ex-President said, the more his followers seemed to commit to him even more. And something similar appears to be going on with the AfD.”

As reported by CNN