Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has launched a provocative ad campaign in anticipation of the upcoming German elections, and the ads have turned some heads.
Featuring a delightful blend of Islamophobia and misogyny, the ads reveal the AfD’s decision to double down on its anti-immigrant stance heading into September’s federal elections.
One poster that showed up on the streets of Berlin earlier this summer shows two women, photographed from behind, dressed in skimpy two-piece bathing suits that barely cover their asses. The tagline reads, “Burkas? We prefer bikinis.”
Another reads, “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.” The accompanying image is a prostrate (white) woman, her swollen belly ripe with a (presumably) German child, her eyes and face mostly cut from the photo. There is only a Cheshire smile and a field of green and yellow below her, like a scene out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. All that’s missing are the red dresses.
The ad is also eerily reminiscent of Nazi-era propaganda encouraging German women to produce German children for the Fatherland, and celebrated (German) maternal domesticity, like the one below. The text, a quote, attributed to Adolf Hitler, says “Labour does credit to woman as well as to man, but a child ennobles his mother.” This particular image was used on the almanac issued by Hitler's “Winter Charity Organization,” a Nazi-era charitable organization for the poor.
Another AfD ad features a baby pig with the caption "Islam? It doesn't fit in with our cuisine" — a reference to the fact that observant Muslims don’t eat pork.
And this is just the beginning. The AfD is looking to spread their messages even further. “The party is planning a digital campaign that may well be more drastic and aggressive than anything German voters have ever seen,” the German magazine Der Spiegel reports.
AfD wants to raise their national profile — and stake a claim in the national government
In the wake of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door response to the refugee crisis of 2015, the AfD rode a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to pick up seats in nine out of 16 of Germany’s 2016 regional elections. They later picked up two more.
But in early 2017 the party’s popularity began to falter. In February, they crashed from 15 percent to 10 percent in favorability polls. This was partly due to dwindling interest in the migrant question after the initial enormous wave of refugees into Germany slowed, and partly due to a scandal within the AfD leadership.
In early spring, a local AfD official named Björn Höcke, lecturing to a group of young party supporters, began grousing about the politics and policies regarding memorializing the Holocaust in Germany. "These stupid politics of coming to grips with the past cripple us," he said. "We need nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance." He called Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe “a monument of shame in the heart of [the] capital."
Even for the far right, Holocaust minimizing is a no-go in Germany. The party was loudly chastised.
Then, losses for right-wing parties in the recent French and Dutch elections led some populism watchers to conclude that the far-right movements of Western Europe had reached the peak of their political popularity and were now likely to slowly but steadily lose further support.
But the AfD took stock, brought in a new leader — a PhD economist and lesbian mother named Alice Weidel — and hired a team to shake up its advertising presence.
The ad campaign is the love child of a German novelist and a Texan
The provocative ads were designed by a German public relations executive named Thor Kunkel.
Kunkel is perhaps best known for his 2004 novel Endstufe (“Final Stage”), which was a prurient look at Nazi porn habits — a project that apparently required deep research into previously unknown Nazi era smutty flicks. It caused a scandal in Germany.
The advertising campaign moved to a big digital rollout at the end of August with a new, bloody Facebook image: tire tracks criss-crossing European towns, each marked by the number of dead in terror attacks from Manchester to Barcelona. The headline reads "The tracks left by the world chancellor in Europe,” a reference to Merkel — suggesting that those recent terror attacks were produced by Merkel’s immigration policies. (They were not).
The original images may be German, but the digital rollout is being propelled by sheer American know-how. The AfD has now employed Vincent Harris, a 29-year-old Texan, to create a digital campaign for AfD incorporating Kunkel’s controversial images.
Harris’s company, Harris Media — which he started back in 2008 while still in college — has run ad campaigns for a who’s who of conservative politicians, including Donald Trump during the 2016 GOP primaries, Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign in 2012, and Mitch McConnell’s Senate campaign in 2014.
In 2014, Bloomberg News ran a grudgingly admiring profile of Harris headlined “The Man who Invented the Republican Internet.” It described a BMW-driving 26-year-old on a Paleo diet who was determined to bring the GOP into the digital era.
But as Der Spiegel notes, American right-wing sensibilities may be one step too far for Germans, who are a bit tetchy about anything that might smell too strongly of Germany’s dark past. Apparently the Harris Media staffers proposed a campaign of “Germany for Germans.” The AfD said no.
Correction: a previous version of this story had an editing error in the following sentence: In the wake of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door response to the refugee crisis of 2015, the AfD rode a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to pick up seats in nine out of 16 of Germany’s 2016 regional elections. — a previous version of this story indicated it was 9 out of 16 seats rather than regional elections.