July 20, 2024

Le Pen’s shocking betrayal of the AfD is a disaster for Germany and a disaster for Europe.

Marine Le Pen’s catastrophically damaging move against Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) right before the EU parliamentary elections in June is one of the greatest betrayals in the history of the modern right. While Le Pen may never face any real consequences for this betrayal, Europe and Germany most certainly will. The whole fake scandal is a case study in why the right always loses, but it is also much more than that. It may also be one of the final chapters in the story of Europe.

Ostensibly, this was all precipitated after the AfD’s lead candidate, Maximilian Krah, made comments that he would not automatically label someone a war criminal simply because that person served in the Waffen-SS during the Second World War. Notably, the full interview with Krah has not been published in any English-language news reports, so it is important to note what Krah specifically said and what the newspaper La Repubblica actually asked him. Remix News is providing the specific portion of the interview in its full context. Notably, this was also the first question La Repubblica asked Krah:

La Repubblica: “Krah, you said that Germans should be proud of their ancestors. Even if they were SS officers?”

Krah: “It depends on what they did.”

La Repubblica: “The SS were war criminals.”

Krah: “It depends. The faults must be assessed individually. At the end of the war, there were almost a million SS men. (German author) Günter Grass was also in the Waffen-SS. Many Germans abroad were recruited at the last moment, the SS functioned on an ethnic principle. My wife’s relatives were Germans living in Hungary, they had the choice of joining the Hungarian army or the SS. If they had joined the Hungarian army as Germans, they had known since World War I, it would have been a death sentence. Then, they joined the SS. Unfortunately, 20th-century German history is dark and complicated. And 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.”

Reading the full exchange, it was clear La Repubblica was walking Krah into making a statement about the SS, and it was not Krah casually dredging up the topic of the SS for no apparent reason or because he enjoys chatting about Nazi-related topics. More importantly, Krah notes that the SS had a high percentage of criminals. In other words, he did not attempt to downplay the crimes of the SS, but he simply stated that not every single man among the 900,000 who served in the SS was a war criminal. This is also a pure statement of fact, as hundreds of thousands of these men were never charged with any crime. One of the main reasons is that a fair share of these men were conscripts and teenage boys who were forced to serve in the SS towards the end of the war.

Le Pen reacted as if Krah was openly praising the SS, but she is not a stupid woman, so at the very least, she knew the full context of Krah’s remarks and knew he was not praising the SS. Still, she went through with this charade. Now, she has effectively smeared Krah and the AfD across Europe.

It is worth noting that the German government itself took a nuanced view on the issue of the SS and its veterans. At first, SS soldiers were denied pensions by the German state for years following the Second World War, as the allies had labeled the group a criminal organization. However, exceptions were made even at that time for conscripts, and decades later, the German government reinstated pensions for SS veterans so long as they were not convicted of war crimes or served under other specific circumstances, such as in specific units or served longer than 10 years.

Krah’s statements were simply addressing a sensitive and complex issue without venerating or glorifying the SS in any manner, nor did he excuse the war crimes that were committed by the group. Nevertheless, Le Pen reacted with full force against the AfD, telling French radio: “It was urgent to establish a cordon sanitaire. The AfD goes from provocation to provocation. Now, it’s no longer time to distance ourselves – it’s time to make a clean break with this movement.”

She further claimed the AfD was captured by its most “radical” elements. 

It is hard to imagine more damaging statements coming from what at least on paper was a political ally. Le Pen’s reaction to the interview defies reason, and despite what she may believe, it will do little to help her standing with the press and political establishment, who will continue to hate her and work against her. Case in point, Politico did not miss a beat even after her move against the AfD, describing her as the “far-right leader” of the National Rally.

It is hard to imagine a woman who once called the EU Migration Pact the “suicide of Europe,” now actively participating in the “murder” of one of the parties that was trying to save it.

Does she believe the French press is suddenly going to line up behind her? If it was a matter of principle, well, the AfD has been quite clear about its program for years, and Krah is a known entity who has years of speeches and controversial comments behind him.

Furthermore, it is safe to say that Krah’s interview probably would not have gotten much attention at all if Le Pen and National Rally had not gotten involved. In essence, National Rally did more damage to a coalition partner than any left-wing outlet or political party could have dreamed of. This all comes after Le Pen’s party has dealt with such attacks from the left for years — if not decades — including misconstruing what the party’s politicians said during interviews. Le Pen herself has faced trial over so-called hate speech in the past. Although Le Pen has done much to “de-radicalize” National Rally’s image over the years, it is still labeled “far right,” “fascist,” and “racist” by the dominant left-liberal press. Now, Le Pen’s party has taken that same animus and bias and aimed it at the AfD at a critical time.

Le Pen’s offensive against the AfD began months ago

If anything, it looks like Le Pen was looking for an excuse to do what she had already made up her mind to do months ago. Le Pen already came out against the AfD earlier over “remigration” claims allegedly discussed at a meeting involving AfD staff near Potsdam earlier this year, even though that entire report was based on a very shady NGO funded by the German government that used sophisticated spying techniques. In addition, no one particularly notable from the AfD was even present at the meeting, and perhaps most notably, the central allegation against the AfD remains in sharp dispute — namely that plans were discussed to deport German citizens.

After a meeting with AfD co-leader Alice Weidel over these “remigration” plans, Le Pen still continued to play hardball with the AfD, claiming she was not happy with how the discussion went.

In short, this split with the AfD did not appear out of the blue, but has been building for months, with Le Pen seemingly basing her opinion on whatever left-wing hit piece against the AfD was trending at the time.

The question is, ultimately, why did Le Pen do this? It seems implausible that she truly believes her attacks on the AfD will boost her political fortunes domestically. National Rally ultimately has little to do with the AfD in general, besides their involvement together in the Identity and Democracy (ID) faction in the EU parliament. Most French people do not particularly care about the AfD, and certainly, there are not going to be millions of French people suddenly swinging to National Rally over this issue. While Le Pen’s potential motives may never be revealed, it is still essential that she be held accountable through reasoned criticism, otherwise such betrayals may become more and more commonplace among the right.

To compound the tragedy, Le Pen’s allies, notably Matteo Salvini, jumped on board with this campaign against the AfD, with five out of the eight parties in ID voting to expel the German party. Notably, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) backed the AfD staying in ID, but this was not enough to avert disaster.

Does Krah bear some blame? 

There is no doubt legitimate frustration with Krah that the Waffen-SS came up in an interview right before the elections. However, as noted, he was clearly walked into this question, and his answer was not nearly as controversial as it was made out to be by Le Pen and others.

Krah is known to be a prolific interviewer and will usually give interviews to nearly any outlet, including hostile outlets. While he wins few points with the left or moderates for his willingness to speak with outlets that are clearly working against him, he likely believes there are benefits to be had, including reaching as many people as possible. So, while he may have shown a lack of judgment in speaking to La Repubblica in the first place, Le Pen’s response of spearheading a campaign that resulted in the entire AfD being kicked out of the ID group is ludicrous.

As for the spying allegations around Krah, they are aimed at Krah’s aide, and at least so far, they are only allegations. Most importantly, Krah himself has not been charged with anything. Notably, the political nature of these charges cannot be overlooked, including their timing, even though it was well-known for years within the Office of the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) that Krah’s aide may have been a potential spy for China.

In response, Krah has promised AfD leadership that he would no longer campaign for the lead position in the EU parliament. He also already said he would no longer stand in the party’s federal executive board.

Man kann nie tiefer fallen als in Gottes Hand. Ich nehme zur Kenntnis, dass sachliche und differenzierte Aussagen von mir als Vorwand missbraucht werden, um unserer Partei zu schaden. Das Letzte, was wir derzeit brauchen, ist eine Debatte um mich. Die AfD muss ihre Einigkeit…

— Dr. Maximilian Krah MdEP (@KrahMax) May 22, 2024

Nevertheless, Krah is wildly popular with the AfD’s base, as are many in the party who are associated more with the far right, such as Björn Höcke. Krah is a highly effective speaker, and the German establishment has taken note, which is why Krah’s wildly popular TikTok page was finally shadowbanned just months ago in the run-up to the EU parliamentary elections. TikTok likely came under serious pressure and acted accordingly, as Krah’s message was reaching millions of Germans, including the country’s youth population, which may explain why the AfD is the most popular party among young German voters.

There are many who want the AfD to be a classic conservative party, which means tax cuts, a willingness for some performative culture war antics, and some messages about “values” sprinkled in— more or less a toothless controlled opposition party not so far off from what the Christian Democrats (CDU) have become. There are also a fair number of politicians in the AfD who want this same outcome.

However, it would be unwise for the AfD to bend to pressure here and jettison Krah. His message remains extremely popular with the people who will show up to vote for the AfD in June. Certainly, the AfD should not toss Krah based on what was a clear betrayal from Le Pen. That bridge has now been burned, and it is time for the AfD to trudge on against all odds, as it always has.

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