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Former German spy chief investigated for rightwing extremism

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Germany’s former head of domestic intelligence is under investigation as a suspected rightwing extremist — by the agency he once led.

Hans-Georg Maassen has been designated an “observation case” by Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), correspondence between the agency and Maassen’s lawyer has revealed.

Maassen, who entered politics after being forced out as president of the BfV in 2018 in a scandal over his perceived softness on rightwing extremism, published the 20-page letter on his website.

The BfV said that because of personal rights protections, it could not comment on individual cases.

The probe was first reported by Tagesschau, a news programme on public service broadcaster ARD.

Under its current chief, Thomas Haldenwang, the BfV classes rightwing extremism in Germany as the single greatest domestic threat to the country’s way of life. The agency, the equivalent of Britain’s MI5, or the FBI in the USA, is tasked with identifying threats to the German democratic order.

The agency is now investigating three state branches of the far-right Alternative for Germany party for extremism amid burgeoning support for radical politics. Just over one in five Germans say they will vote for the party, according to polls.

During his tenure at the BfV, Maassen refused to place the AfD under surveillance and drew criticism for appearing to play down the threat posed by rightwing extremism.

He has become an increasingly vocal anti-immigration figure. Last week the 61-year-old resigned his membership of the mainstream conservative Christian Democratic Union in order to concentrate on building his own political movement, the Values Union.

In its letter to Maassen’s lawyer, the BfV outlined how numerous figures on the extremist scene appeared to respect and praise him. The document also cites Maassen’s apparent sympathy for the Reichsbürger movement, whose attempt to mount a coup d’état in Berlin was thwarted by the BfV in late 2022.

Maassen did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement given to a sympathetic right-wing blog, the former spy chief said the BfV’s investigation against him was “insubstantial and unjustified” and amounted to “an attack on the free democratic order”.

The CDU had been trying to expel Maassen for nearly a year, accusing him of trafficking in conspiracy theories and antisemitic tropes.

Maassen raised eyebrows in November — and drew praise from extremist bloggers — for saying in an interview with a Swiss newspaper that Germany needed “chemotherapy” to treat the “cancer” of too many immigrants.

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Maassen was also praised at a controversial meeting at a villa in Potsdam last November between figures on the rightwing fringe and the Austrian ethno-nationalist ideologue Martin Sellner. Discussions at the meeting about the mass deportation of immigrants, which came to light last month, have scandalised Germany’s political leaders and drawn hundreds of thousands of Germans on to the streets in protest over the past fortnight.

In the state of Thuringia, they also fuelled a backlash against the AfD, which lost a regional administrative election it had been comfortably expected to win.

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan

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