In Thuringia, several local politicians have thrown in their AfD party membership cards – partly in protest against the radical course of Björn Höcke. On FOCUS online, the renegade Andreas Spanjer speaks out – and ruthlessly takes the far-right leadership to task.

In its core state of Thuringia, the AfD is facing increasing opposition from within its own ranks. This week there was a veritable wave of resignations at the local level.

The reason is primarily the massive dissatisfaction with the leadership style and the increasingly radical orientation of Björn Höcke. The 52-year-old leads the regional association in the eastern German state and was recently convicted for shouting a banned SA slogan during a speech in Merseburg in 2021.

The centre of the uprising is the Saalfeld-Rudolstadt district in eastern Thuringia. Several AfD politicians have now resigned from the party there; on Tuesday alone, six members, some of them long-standing, sent their party membership cards back to the AfD leadership in Berlin.

One of the defectors is Andreas Spanjer. The 63-year-old, a vehicle mechanic, professional driver and mechanical engineer, lives in Lehesten (1,600 inhabitants) and sits on the city council there, as well as on the district council. In spring 2019, he joined the AfD, and earlier this week, on May 28, he wrote a letter to AfD leader Alice Weidel:

“I hereby declare my resignation from the party with immediate effect. I revoke your direct debit authorization and enclose my ID.”

In the letter available to FOCUS online, Spanjer goes into detail about the reasons for his decision. Among other things, he accuses regional leader Björn Höcke of being responsible for the “split” of the party in part of Thuringia. In addition, the regional association is “basically governed from top to bottom,” says Andreas Spanjer. “There is neither grassroots democracy here, nor are statutes adhered to.”

In an interview with FOCUS online, Spanjer mentions another and actually decisive motive: “My main reason for leaving the AfD is the increasing radicalization of the party with Björn Höcke at the helm.”

He was irritated that Höcke had proclaimed the banned slogan “Everything for Germany” in a 2021 election campaign speech. He was “horrified” when it became known that Höcke had spoken the first part of the Nazi slogan himself during a speech in Gera at the end of 2023 and then encouraged the audience to shout the second part with gestures.

At that time, Höcke already knew that he would be brought to court for the first accusation. He will soon have to answer for the Gera incident in another criminal trial.

“For me, that’s just stupid” and shows Höcke’s radicalism, says former AfD member Spanjer. “People who are loyal to him even think that’s a good thing,” he says, surprised. “I don’t think it’s a good thing at all.”

Höcke is surrounded by many people who “follow him blindly and don’t question anything”. Some followers are “downright blinded”. Andreas Spanjer: “Höcke is not a leader, he is a leader! And to be honest, I’m afraid of that. I think that you can’t just accept that.”

The assessments of Höcke are not remote diagnoses, but are based on personal encounters. Spanjer told FOCUS online that he used to organize private events to which “dear Björn” regularly appeared. At the meetings, he wanted to bring together mainly non-party members with the AfD top politician according to the motto “Don’t talk about people, talk with them.”

At first, there was a “reasonable atmosphere” and Höcke did not strike him as negative, Spanjer recalls. “Over time, I got to know him better and realized that he does not tolerate any contradiction. He is so convinced of himself and his views that he will not let anything or anyone dissuade him from them.”

The leadership style of Höcke and his closest confidants is reminiscent of “a hegemony”, i.e. a state in which the leader rules virtually without restriction and other actors in his system have little chance of asserting their own ideas and interests.

“There is no grassroots democracy. It only works from the top down,” says Spanjer. He was deeply opposed to this. “When I opened my mouth, I fell into disgrace.” Referring to the leadership around Höcke, he says: “For me, this is now the most undemocratic party there is.”

The 63-year-old says he has finally finished with the AfD and will “not join again”, even if he essentially shares its program. “There are a few points that I don’t agree with, other points I think are justified and completely fine.”

The wave of resignations of Thuringian AfD politicians comes against the backdrop of a bitter dispute over the right-wing party’s candidate line-up for the district council election in Saalfeld-Rudolstadt on May 26, 2024. Two groups engaged in an unprecedented power struggle that was even played out in court.

Weeks before the election, the AfD regional association around Björn Höcke wanted to ensure that the AfD list that had already been drawn up – and which the leadership did not approve of – was cancelled and a new one drawn up. However, the candidates who had been selected refused to delete the list. The regional court in Gera also ruled that the AfD could not re-elect its list of candidates.

In response, the AfD district association Saalfeld-Rudolstadt created its own competing list, which was supported by the party leadership around Höcke. It ran under the name “Alternative for the District” (AfL). At the same time, nine AfD party members from the district association were accused of behavior that was damaging to the party, including Andreas Spanjer. Expulsion proceedings were initiated against them.

During the election campaign, AfD regional leader Höcke promoted the AfD list and not the one with the official AfD name. This list received 18.6 percent of the votes in the election, while the AfD, which Höcke supports, only received 13.7 percent. Now the Höcke camp wants to contest the election.

Andreas Spanjer, who by resigning pre-empted being thrown out by the party leadership (“Nobody is going to throw me out”), wants to continue to work for his city and his region as an independent and to fulfil his mandates. He is “not a turncoat” who will now run to Sahra Wagenknecht, the Values ​​Union or the CDU.

“But I will continue to be politically active.”