Court convicts German far-right politician of using Nazi slogan

Headshot of German far-right AfD politician Björn Höcke
A German court has fined Björn Höcke of the far-right AfD party €13,000 for using the phrase "Alles für Deutschland" ("Everything for Germany") during a 2021 campaign rally (image: Ronny Hartmann/dpa/picture alliance)

A German court on Tuesday convicted one of the country's most controversial far-right politicians, Björn Höcke, of deliberately using a banned Nazi slogan at a rally.

The court fined Höcke, 52, of the far-right AfD party, €13,000 ($14,000) for using the phrase "Alles für Deutschland" ("Everything for Germany") during a 2021 campaign rally.

Once a motto of the so-called Sturmabteilung paramilitary group that played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power, the phrase is illegal in modern-day Germany, along with the Nazi salute and other slogans and symbols from that era.

The former high school history teacher claimed not to have been aware that the phrase had been used by the Nazis, telling the court he was "completely not guilty".

Höcke said he thought the phrase was an "everyday saying".

But prosecutors argued that Höcke used the phrase in full knowledge of its "origin and meaning".

They had sought a six-month suspended sentence plus two years' probation, and a payment of €10,000 to a charitable organisation.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, after the trial, Höcke said the "ability to dissent is in jeopardy".

"If this verdict stands, free speech will be dead in Germany," he added.

Höcke, the leader of the AfD in Thuringia, is gunning to become Germany's first far-right state premier when the state holds regional elections in September.

With the court ordering only a fine rather than a jail term, the verdict is not thought to threaten his candidacy at the elections.

The trial is one of several controversies the AfD is battling ahead of European Parliament elections in June and regional elections in the autumn in Thuringia, Brandenburg and Saxony.

Founded in 2013, the anti-Islam and anti-immigration AfD saw a surge in popularity last year – its 10th anniversary – seizing on concerns over rising migration, high inflation and a stumbling economy.

But its support has wavered since the start of 2024, as it contends with scandals including allegations that senior party members were paid to spread pro-Russian views on a Moscow-financed news website.

Considered an extremist by German intelligence services, Höcke is one of the AfD's most controversial personalities.

He has called Berlin's Holocaust monument a "memorial of shame" and urged a "180-degree shift" in the country's culture of remembrance.

Höcke was convicted of using the banned slogan at an election rally in Merseburg in the state of Saxony-Anhalt in the run-up to Germany's 2021 federal election.

He had also been due to stand trial on a second charge of shouting "Everything for..." and inciting the audience to reply "Germany" at an AfD meeting in Thuringia in December.

However, the court decided to separate the proceedings for the second charge, announced earlier this month, because the defence had not had enough time to prepare.

Prosecutor Benedikt Bernzen on Friday underlined the reach of Höcke's statement, saying that a video of it had been clicked on 21,000 times on the Facebook page of AfD Saxony-Anhalt alone.

Höcke's defence lawyer Philip Müller argued the rally was an "insignificant campaign event" and that the offending statement was only brought to the public's notice by the trial.

Germany's domestic security agency has labelled the AfD in Thuringia a "confirmed" extremist organisation, along with the party's regional branches in Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. (AFP)