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Germany's far-right AfD is using TikTok to vie for the immigrant vote

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to Germany where several million people who have been residents for decades will finally be able to apply for citizenship in June. That will add new voters, and, perhaps unexpectedly, the country's anti-immigrant party appears to be working hard to gain their support. Esme Nicholson has more.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: President Erdogan (non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: President Erdogan (non-English language spoken).

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: In an unlikely charm offensive on TikTok, the far-right populist Alternative for Deutschland Party, or AFD, targets Germany's Turkish diaspora and Muslim population. For years, the AFD has railed against them. Now the party is appealing to potential voters who are patriotic, conservative and want to protect traditional family values. This video lashes out against the wokerati (ph) and stokes fear of new immigrants.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) Turks in Germany should vote for the AFD. Turks in Germany should vote for a party that says no to further immigration because those coming into the country now affect you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) Turks in Germany should vote for the AFD. Turks in Germany should vote for a party that says no to further immigration because those coming into the country now affect you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

NICHOLSON: In the prosperous city of Stuttgart, worry dominates a town hall. Local members of the Social Democrats, which leads the German coalition government, organized it for the city's Turkish German community. Outside in the cool evening air, Ibrahim Arslan says he's concerned about the influence the tech-savvy AFD has on his kids.

IBRAHIM ARSLAN: (Through interpreter) The party knows how to win over younger voters online with snappy-sounding populism. It's up to my generation to show the AFD for what it is, an anti-democratic racist party.

NICHOLSON: Arslan, who works for a major automaker, admits the AFD's promise to keep Germany's auto industry afloat is enticing but adds it's not enough to win his vote.

ARSLAN: (Through interpreter) I'm shocked when friends of mine, whose parents also came here as so-called guest workers, say they're thinking of voting for the AFD.

NICHOLSON: Arslan says all the talk of traditional family values distracts from the AFD's true colors, regularly on display in parliament, like AFD co-chair Alice Weidel's diatribe against Muslim women.

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ALICE WEIDEL: (Through interpreter) Burqas, headscarf girls and other good-for-nothings will do nothing for our prosperity, economic growth and welfare state.

NICHOLSON: TikTok has helped change the AFD's fortunes. It has a much stronger presence there than any other party, and it's able to tailor its messages according to the recipient, telling each one what they want to hear, says Naika Foroutan, a migration expert at Humboldt University.

NAIKA FOROUTAN: If the white nationalist voter who hates immigrants and Black people and Jews is catered by typically racist, anti-immigrant and sexist narratives of the AFD, he will not notice that at the very same time, the AFD is sending out other narratives to other part of the community.

NICHOLSON: Foroutan says the AFD, currently second place in national polls, has exhausted its traditional voter potential, but winning over some immigrant voters could give them the seats they need to attempt to enter a coalition and actually govern in Germany.

FOROUTAN: Obviously, there are racist immigrants too, and they cater towards their needs. And then what we call the kind of protesters, they say Germany doesn't like us, so we vote for a party that will bring Germany to hell. And this is the AFD.

NICHOLSON: Back in Stuttgart, Ibrahim Arslan says that this is the first time he's attended a political event specifically for the Turkish German community. He laments the need for it.

ARSLAN: (Through interpreter) I'm fed up with being called an immigrant or a person with a migration story. I've been here 45 years. I grew up here. I'm a part of this country, and yet I'm still treated differently.

NICHOLSON: He says if Germany's traditional parties, like the SPD, connected better with people like him, the AFD would be in trouble.

For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Stuttgart. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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