Frank Magnitz AfD sees itself as victim of incitement after attack on lawmaker

The far-right Alternative for Germany party, often accused of fomenting hatred, is seizing on sympathy for the assault. Bremen police say it wasn't as brutal as the party claims.
The crime scene in Bremen.

(Source: REUTERS)

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has found itself in the uncommon position of being on the receiving end of sympathy from all of Germany’s other parties following a brutal assault on one of its members of parliament in Bremen.

Politicians across the spectrum condemned the Monday evening attack that left Frank Magnitz with a serious head injury. Police Wednesday said Magnitz was pursued by three men as he left a theater but disputed his party's account that he was knocked unconscious with a piece of wood.

The AfD posted a statement with a graphic photo of his injury: a wide, bloody gash in his head and a badly bruised and swollen right eye. It said the men kicked him in the head as he lay on the ground and only stopped when nearby workers intervened and called an ambulance.

“It’s bordering on a miracle that my skull took it,” Magnitz told Handelsblatt from his hospital bed. “This was attempted murder. If the workers hadn’t been there, I would be dead now.”

Police are now investigating the attack as an assault and hinted that the head injury came after he was pushed by one of the three men. It follows a spate of attacks on AfD offices in various cities including an explosion last week in the eastern town of Döbeln that damaged windows and doors.

The party’s leadership, frequently accused of fomenting hatred and inciting violence with its fierce anti-immigrant rhetoric, seized the opportunity to turn the tables on Tuesday. 

“The cowardly, life-threatening violence against our party colleague Frank Magnitz is the result of the incitement against us by politicians and the media,” said AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland. “Will the fight against us only succeed if people die?”

Björn Höcke, the AfD’s regional leader in Thuringia, responded to the attack by comparing Germany’s political situation today to that of the Weimar Republic. Höcke is known for criticizing Germany's commemoration of its Holocaust crimes and saying "these stupid politics of coming to grips with the past cripple us.”

The co-leader of the AfD’s parliamentary group, Alice Weidel, voiced outrage at a tweet from Greens politician Cem Özdemir that likened the AfD to Nazis. He had written: “Those who fight hatred with hatred will always let hatred win in the end. #nazisout but with the methods of our constitutional state.”

In a video statement posted on Twitter, Weidel said: “The stupidity and brutalization spreading in our party system is incredible.” The AfD suspects that leftist militants committed the attack in Bremen.

The political atmosphere has become increasingly charged since the refugee crisis in 2015 and deteriorated further with neo-Nazi rioting in Chemnitz at the end of August.

The AfD tapped into public opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-border policy and became the third-strongest force in the Bundestag in the September 2018 election with 12.6 percent of the vote.

Muslim and Jewish leaders voiced alarm at its election gains, reached after a campaign of fierce rhetoric with AfD campaigns pledging to stop the “invasion of foreigners.” That kind of violent language spawns violence, say politicians and anti-racism activists.

The assault on Magnitz could allow the party to defuse such criticism. The AfD can now portray itself as a victim and will likely refer to the attack in campaigning for a series of regional elections this year in Bremen and the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia — not to mention the European Parliament elections in May.

Dietmar Neuerer covers domestic politics for Handelsblatt from Berlin. David Crossland is an editor for Handelsblatt Today. To contact the author: [email protected]