In the heated evening hours of election night in 2017, Alexander Gauland issued an ominous promise — indeed a threat.
"We will hunt them," the senior Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician said of his political opponents.
The night was September 24, 2017, when the AfD was catapulted onto the national stage, becoming Germany's third-largest party and eventually the leading opposition party in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. Gauland would go on to co-chair the AfD's parliamentary group.
Three years later, it's clear that his pledge wasn't meant as a metaphor.
Ex-press officer Christian Lüth had already faced demotion for past contentious comments before being caught on camera talking to a right-wing YouTube video blogger. "The worse things get for Germany, the better they are for the AfD," Lüth allegedly said, before turning his focus to migrants. "We can always shoot them later, that's not an issue. Or gas them, as you wish. It doesn't matter to me."
Co-chairman Alexander Gauland said the German national soccer team's defender Jerome Boateng might be appreciated for his performance on the pitch — but people would not want "someone like Boateng as a neighbor." He also argued Germany should close its borders and said of an image showing a drowned refugee child: "We can't be blackmailed by children's eyes."
Alice Weidel generally plays the role of "voice of reason" for the far-right populists, but she, too, is hardly immune to verbal miscues. Welt newspaper, for instance, published a 2013 memo allegedly from Weidel in which she called German politicians "pigs" and "puppets of the victorious powers in World War II." Weidel initially claimed the mail was fake, but now admits its authenticity.
German border police should shoot at refugees entering the country illegally, the former co-chair of the AfD told a regional newspaper in 2016. Officers must "use firearms if necessary" to "prevent illegal border crossings." Communist East German leader Erich Honecker was the last German politician who condoned shooting at the border.
The head of the AfD in the state of Thuringia made headlines for referring to Berlin's Holocaust memorial as a "monument of shame" and calling on the country to stop atoning for its Nazi past. The comments came just as Germany enters an important election year — leading AfD members moved to expel Höcke for his remarks.
Initially, the AfD campaigned against the euro and bailouts — but that quickly turned into anti-immigrant rhetoric. "People who won't accept STOP at our borders are attackers," the European lawmaker said in 2016. "And we have to defend ourselves against attackers," she said — even if this meant shooting at women and children.
Pretzell, former chairman of the AfD in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and husband to Frauke Petry, wrote, "These are Merkel's dead," shortly after news broke of the deadly attack on the Berlin Christmas market in December 2016.
The member of parliament in Germany's eastern state of Saxony made waves in early 2016 with an inquiry into how far the state covers the cost of sterilizing unaccompanied refugee minors. Thousands of unaccompanied minors have sought asylum in Germany, according to the Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (BumF) — the vast majority of them young men.
Poggenburg, former head of the AfD in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, has also raised eyebrows with extreme remarks. In February 2017, he urged other lawmakers in the state parliament to join measures against the extreme left-wing in order to "get rid of, once and for all, this rank growth on the German racial corpus" — the latter term clearly derived from Nazi terminology.
During a campaign speech in Eichsfeld in August 2017, AfD election co-candidate Alexander Gauland said that Social Democrat parliamentarian Aydan Özoguz should be "disposed of" back to Anatolia. The German term, "entsorgen," raised obvious parallels to the imprisonment and killings of Jews and prisoners of war under the Nazis.
Gauland was roundly criticized for a speech he made to the AfD's youth wing in June 2018. Acknowledging Germany's responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi era, he went on to say Germany had a "glorious history and one that lasted a lot longer than those damned 12 years. Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history."
Author: Dagmar Breitenbach, Mark Hallam
Fast forward to November 2020, as right-wing activists filmed themselves in the Bundestag as they blocked and insulted lawmakers from various parties. They were part of major protests against planned national coronavirus restrictions being debated in the chamber. The men and women were properly registered — as guests of individual members of the AfD. They appeared to have been allowed in on purpose, to confront other politicians and then later to upload their videos to social media platforms.
The footage wasn't pleasant. The stunt, with AfD fingerprints all over it, prompted outrage in Germany. After all, parliament is considered a protected space dedicated to the debate of political issues.
Green Party MP Britta Hasselmann deplores the crude tone of right-wing rhetoric in parliament and beyond
"The method and strategy is evident. On one hand they're working to defame parliament but beyond that videos of such actions are made to be uploaded to YouTube and then shared with others," Green Party politician Britta Hasselmann told DW after the incident.
The anti-racism Amadeu-Antonio Foundation, a Berlin-based non-governmental organization (NGO), is among the AfD's sterner critics. It sees the action as part of an AfD media strategy to sow mistrust and undermine opponents. In a recent study, the organization wrote: "Right-wing activists have the goal of delegitimizing democracy, political opponents and democratic institutions."
The study looked at the behavior of so-called "alternative right" groups including the AfD. These groups can reach audiences in the millions via YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, with the AfD's YouTube channels among the most influential in the scene.
"Alternative-right actors seek to spread their ideology, which is not (yet) a majority opinion and which often exists outside the bounds of democratic norms," the foundation wrote. "Therefore, they try to move the accepted boundaries of public discourse by way of repeated breaches of taboos. This is happening strategically, step-by-step, and continually."
Green Party parliamentarian Hasselmann agrees, saying "any and every parliamentarian can sense" that the tone of the rhetoric in parliament and beyond has deteriorated.
"Of course, I will not allow myself to be intimidated. But I do not want to acclimatize myself to hate and agitation. I don't want to get used to the anti-feminism of the AfD either — to the laughter from their benches when women take to the speaker's podium. I, along with many others, will never come to terms with that. The democratic parties will stand against it together," Hasslemann vows.
The AfD's media strategy bears a few of the hallmarks seen in outgoing US President Donald Trump's approach to politics. In both, the truth is of no consequence, the main objective is to provoke and to grab attention. Activists close to the AfD also maintain contacts with the same alt-right groups Trump has courted and bolstered in the US.
Disinformation is a core pillar of their strategy, according to the Amadeu-Antonio Foundation, "The more exposure a user has to disinformation, the more likely they are to believe it, the more likely it is to take root."
Experts also note that this strategy is often marked by a progressive radicalization. To stay in the headlines by stoking outrage, the level of outrage must be constantly turned up. Again, Trump's presidency provides a pretty good case study.
Still, this radicalization carries risks for the AfD. First of all, it's largely devoid of content — focussing instead on simple messaging aimed at targeted audiences — hardly enabling a culture of rigorous debate.
For Britta Hasselmann, that is the gaping hole in the AfD's flank. Yet it remains a weakness that other parties can't seem to exploit: "We must learn to make it clear that the AfD has no content whatsoever and no answers to the big questions facing us down the road: Neither to the coronavirus pandemic, nor climate change, nor social issues. We must learn to expose this lack of vision."
The other potential danger for the AfD could prove to be law enforcement. Germany's domestic intelligence agency already classes parts of the party as extreme right-wing and is monitoring their activity. Should the entire party fall under formal observation by domestic security services, that could bring huge practical drawbacks, as well as perhaps scaring away party members and voters. That's one more reason stunts like last week's Bundestag disruption are controversial — even inside the AfD.
This article was translated from German.
As the cannabis industry continues to take root state by state, the House of Representatives voted in favor of removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act.
The House voted Friday on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, which decriminalizes cannabis and clears the way to erase nonviolent federal marijuana convictions. The Senate is unlikely to approve the bill.
The MORE Act also creates pathways for ownership opportunities in the emerging industry, allows veterans to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from Veteran Affairs doctors, and establishes funding sources to reinvest in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
Friday's vote was the first time a full chamber of Congress has taken up the issue of federally decriminalizing cannabis. Of the vote count, 222 Democrats were in favor of passing the MORE Act and six were against it. Five Republicans voted in favor of it and 158 voted against passing it.
"It is the right thing to do," said co-sponsor of the MORE Act, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus prior to Friday's vote. "For too long, the war on drugs has targeted young people, especially Black people, and rejected the advice of experts."
Blumenauer, whose congressional district includes parts of Portland, has been working to end cannabis prohibition since the 1970s, when he was in the state Legislature. He said that the drug war "never made any sense" to him and that it was instead born out of President Richard Nixon's "cynical" view on cannabis and other controlled substances.
Nixon declared a "war on drugs" in the early 1970s, calling drug abuse "public enemy number one" following the rise of recreational drugs in the 1960s. He aimed to reduce use, distribution and trade with tough enforcement and prison sentences.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
Blumenaer said that unlike heroin and ecstasy, both of which are also Schedule 1 drugs, cannabis is not addictive, and it has been found to have therapeutic properties for managing pain. (Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations indicates that marijuana can, indeed, be addictive.)
"Public acceptance is at an all-time high," he said. "This is an idea whose time has come."
Cannabis won big on Election Day last month. Voters in five states — Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi — approved measures to legalize some form of marijuana use. Now, 15 states, two territories and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational cannabis, while 34 states and two territories allow medical marijuana.
"For decades, discriminatory cannabis policies have perpetuated yet another form of systemic racism in America, and this legislation will begin the process of restorative justice for those most harmed," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who co-sponsored the bill with Blumenauer.
In a joint letter to Congress, Lee and Blumenauer said their reform efforts underscore the "critical issue of racial justice, and the failed war on drugs that has devastated communities of color, especially Black and Brown communities."
"We can no longer ignore our duty to repair the damage that this harmful form of systemic racism has done," the letter read.
The trend toward normalizing cannabis is not specific to the United States; it is part of a global movement to end prohibition. The U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted this week to remove marijuana and marijuana resin from the category of the world's most dangerous drugs, paving the way for additional research opportunities.
Despite the recent success of reform efforts, many lawmakers remain opposed to federally decriminalizing cannabis. Among them is Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., who said on Thursday that she intended to vote against the MORE Act.
In an emailed statement, Lesko said Democrats have "chosen to waste the House's time" with a bill that "will never be signed into law."
"Not only is this a dereliction of duty, the bill is simply bad policy," she said. "It does nothing to deter the use of marijuana by children, fails to require a warning label on the health risks posed by marijuana, and disregards science that shows marijuana directly affects parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning."
Supporters of the bill counter that the MORE Act would reconcile legal tensions between states and the federal government. Since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, dozens of states have launched recreational and medicinal cannabis programs in open defiance of federal law, creating confusion when it comes to taxing, transporting and even traveling with marijuana.
The unspoken truce between states and the federal government was codified in 2013 when Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo updating guidelines to federal prosecutors about marijuana enforcement under the Controlled Substances Act.
The so-called Cole Memo was issued after voters in Colorado and Washington state legalized cannabis for adult use even though marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug. With state laws at odds with federal laws, prosecutors were instructed to focus on only the highest level of cannabis-related offenses, including distributing to minors, conspiring with drug cartels and engaging in violence.
If cannabis is descheduled through the MORE Act, large banks and institutions would be more likely to enter the marijuana industry once a legal framework is established, said Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.
"It is bad statecraft when you have states completely defying the federal government," he said. "It engenders disrespect for the law."
While advocates expect the MORE Act to pass in the Democratic-controlled House, the Senate presents another obstacle altogether. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has slammed Democratic efforts to include diversity studies as part of cannabis reform, saying this year that lawmakers should instead focus on providing relief from the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, McConnell, who supports the hemp industry, met with cannabis industry insiders last year in California, signaling to some experts that perhaps cannabis reform is much closer to becoming reality.
"More and more this is becoming a bipartisan issue," said J. "Smoke" Wallin, CEO of Vertical Wellness, a California-based hemp and CBD company. "When you look at states that just passed cannabis laws, you have blue, red and purple. It's more a question of when it happens and how."
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released new footage of the collapse of the Arecibo telescope platform in Puerto Rico.
The 57-year-old radio telescope suffered major damage in August when one of the cables supporting the platform snapped. Another cable snapped in early November.
Then, on Tuesday, the entire platform came crashing 122 metres onto the dish below.
"We are saddened by this situation but thankful that no one was hurt," NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement. "When engineers advised NSF that the structure was unstable and presented a danger to work teams and Arecibo staff, we took their warnings seriously."
The telescope has been used to track asteroids on a path to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize and determine if a planet is potentially habitable. It also served as a training ground for graduate students and drew about 90,000 visitors a year.
"I am one of those students who visited it when young and got inspired," said Abel Mendez, a physics and astrobiology professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo who has used the telescope for research. "The world without the observatory loses, but Puerto Rico loses even more."
Arecibo has also been featured in movies such as Contact and the James Bond film GoldenEye.
Diarrheal epidemics in Dhaka, Bangladesh, during … - Schwartz - Cited by 203
… diarrhoea epidemics in the 1998 Bangladesh floods - Kunii - Cited by 179
… seeking hospital care during floods in 1998, 2004, and … - Harris - Cited by 110