German farmers’ protest risks far-right hijacking

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"A large majority of Germans support farmers' protests!" says an AfD poster.

Right-wing parties and organizations are trying to hijack German farmers’ protest as a way to rile up opposition to the current centre-left coalition government of Olaf Scholz.

Farmers took the street last Monday to protest against the proposed cuts in subsidies for agricultural diesel. In Germany there is a strong tradition of farmers’ protests and this one is just the most recent.

However, it is new to see far-right activists engaging so much with the protests. Far-right populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is riling up its supporters in favour of the protest, despite supporting the abolition of subsidies for farmers in its own party programme.

One of AfD’s leaders, Björn Höcke, used his social media profiles to launch an appeal to join protesters in the streets. The use of the farmers’ protest is typical of AfD’s strategy of hijacking any possible protest against the government as a way to gain support. The strategy seems successful, as AfD is currently ahead in most polls and may win state elections in three German states during 2024.

AfD is not the only actor that is using farmers’ protest for their own political agenda. The far-right movement Identitarian Movement is also following this playbook. Its leader Martin Sellner released a video on the Rechercheplattform zur Identitären Bewegung (Research Platform on the Identitarian Movement), explaining that activists should steer away from being on the front row, but should provide help and support: “If we take part — don’t push into the front row, don’t present your own ideas and slogans, but be there to help and, above all, bring our mobilization potential to the streets. Only then will there be no adverse reaction.”

These strategies are worrying several observers who are calling the farmers to be vigilant against possible infiltration of far-right activists who are there for their own personal agenda and are just exploiting the farmers’ movement. Extremism researcher Matthias Quent told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that “My impression is that the farmers’ association has long since lost control of the narrative on the social media. You can read the comments there: It’s not about agricultural diesel, it’s about the big picture. They want to paralyse Germany.” He also called farmers to distance themselves from far-right extremists.

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