In just a few days, Germans will go to the polls to vote for a new government in an election that feels strangely familiar. For decades, Germany’s elections have been subdued and predictable, but this campaign cycle has seen a rise of fake news, hate groups and right-wing politicians with a nationalist agenda. There also are allegations of Russian meddling. This week on Reveal, we team up with Coda Story to look at the rise of right-wing populism in Germany’s election.
First, reporter Luisa Beck introduces us to Beatrix von Storch, the leading candidate of Alternative für Deutschland, or the AfD. It’s a new party running on an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim platform that credits the Tea Party with teaching its candidates some of the strategies they’re using in this election. Since World War II, more than a dozen right-wing groups have tried to enter Germany’s national parliament, and they’ve all failed. But this year, if the polls are right, the AfD has a chance to win seats, which will give it a say in writing national legislation.
Next, we look at the role fake news is playing in spreading the far right’s anti-Muslim message. Beck brings us the story of Anas Modamani, a 20-year-old Syrian refugee. When Modamani arrived in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel visited his shelter, and they took a selfie together. The photo made headlines and helped Modamani find a host family. But over the next year, fake news outlets used it to spread lies about Modamani, including allegations of being a terrorist in the attacks in Brussels and at the Christmas market in Berlin.
Fake news and disinformation aren’t coming just from Germany’s far-right political parties. Reporter Ilan Greenberg looks at how Russian media is trying to influence Germany’s election by spreading stories that vilify immigrants and undermine confidence in Germany’s political system. Some Germans also are worried that Russian hackers will spring a last-minute surprise to discredit Merkel right before the election.
Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.
Special thanks to Angelika Fey, Nicolas Semak, Dörte Fiedler, Alaa Khalil, Viertausendhertz, Timo Lochocki, Hans-Gerd Jaschke, Heidi Tworek, Alexandr Burilkov, Nikolai Mitrokhin, for their voices, recording studio and expertise.