After a very depressing night when 12.6 percent of Germans decided that voting for some racist people would get them better jobs and end the dictatorship of an arrogant urban elite, something a bit funny happened: Frauke Petry left the other AfD leaders hanging at the post-election press conference on Monday morning.
The leader of the party, who won a direct seat to the Bundestag in Saxony (I’ll try and feel sorry for her duped voters soon), came in, sat down, and said that she was leaving because she always wanted the AfD to be slightly less racist so that it could one day form part of a government (presumably in coalition with the CDU). Then the “moderate” AfD leader picked up her coat and stalked out while being told off by the man running the press conference.
The others – the two leading candidates Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel, and Petry’s co-party chairman Jörg Meuthen – sat there looking nonplussed, before Meuthen said Petry had just “set off a bomb”. Since then Petry has left the AfD completely, and been joined by her husband Marcus Pretzell, AfD leader in North Rhine-Westphalia. But that still leaves the AfD with 93 Bundestag members. 93!
It wasn’t really that much of a bomb, though. Ever since Petry failed to get the actual Nazi Björn Höcke out of the party a few months ago and suffered a humiliating defeat during the party conference where they decided their election manifesto in April, Petry had looked like an isolated figure. But the reports on Wednesday that she may be starting her own party – appropriately named “The Blues” – doesn’t really make things better, and doesn’t mean the AfD will be riven by in-fighting. Good luck. Bernd Lucke tried that, and started a party that no one can even name now. There’s just no mileage in the “rational, reasonable Nazi” image. That’s because A) your base supporters want you to be openly racist and soon abandon you and B) the papers don’t write about you anymore.
The problem with calling the AfD Nazis, of course, is that even though it’s true, it’s also what they feed on. The word Nazi triggers a secret hormone in our lizard brains, and every news outlet senses this weakness and gorges it, which is why the AfD barely had to do any electioneering.
We know that the modern far-right is created and organized by a massively effective short-circuit of social media hate whose only aim is to turn life into a nightmare for people with non-white skin and make everyone else depressed. But knowing it doesn’t make much difference.
So Petry’s defection is no cause for celebration, because like the olden days Nazis, the AfD know what they’re doing by exiling their moderates. They learned from Trump that it’s imperative to protect the purity of the white supremacy brand – they want total power or nothing. Compromise is death. Not only does the AfD have to be racist, it has to appear to be racist to survive. So you can go back to being depressed and angry.