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Prominent AfD figure stands trial for using Nazi slogan

German far-right Alternative for Germany party politician Bjoern Hoecke, Halle, Germany, Thursday, April
German far-right Alternative for Germany party politician Bjoern Hoecke, Halle, Germany, Thursday, April Copyright Ebrahim Noroozi/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Ebrahim Noroozi/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Tamsin Paternoster with AP
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Björn Höcke, 52, claims the banned phrase he used was simply an English translation of Donald Trump's 'America First' mantra.

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An official from the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has begun his trial for using a banned Nazi slogan.

AfD regional branch manager Björn Höcke has been accused of using a banned Nazi slogan twice in the run- up to a regional election in which he is running to become the state governor of the eastern state of Thuringia.

He is accused of ending a speech in Merseburg in May 2021 with the words "Alles für Deutschland", or "Everything for Germany".

The phrase is banned in Germany as it was once a motto of the Sturmabteilung, the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi party that played a key role in Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s.

Such slogans are outlawed along with the Nazi salute and numerous symbols from the Third Reich era.

Prosecutors in the courtroom in the central German city of Halle are arguing that Höcke repeated the offence at an AfD event in Thuringia on December 12 of last year. allegedly shouting "Everything for..." inciting the audience to reply with "Germany."

Lawyers maintain that he was fully aware of the slogan's banned nature and its origins, a claim that Höcke denies. 

Posted on X, formerly Twitter, Höcke invited his followers to come to Halle and witness the trial. 

Höcke's lawyers are set to argue that his words did not have "criminal relevance" and that the slogan is a common saying. In a television duel with a conservative rival that aired prior to the trial, he said it was a common phrase and that he had ultimately translated US President Donald Trump's slogan "America First" into German. 

Höcke has led the regional branch of the AfD in Thuringia since its inception in 2013. While not a national leader of the AfD, Höcke has maintained his relevance in the party as it has moved further to the right. 

The former high school history teacher is a controversial figure in Germany and abroad. In 2018 he called Berlin's Holocaust monument a "memorial of shame" and has criticised the country's culture of remembering the Second World War. 

The AfD is especially strong in the former communist east and routinely takes first place in polls in the state of Thuringia.

The far-right party is battling several controversies ahead of the European elections in June and regional elections in the states of Thuringia, Brandenburg and Saxony. 

In January the party faced criticism from right-wing Marine Le Pen, leader of France's Identity and Democracy group, for playing a role in organising a secret meeting in Potsdam where they discussed a plan to expel certain German citizens with non-German ethnicity.

Höcke faces three years in prison if convicted.

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