Bernd Lucke led the party, known by its acronym AfD, between 2013 and 2015, when he quit after losing an internal power struggle. Founded by Germans opposed to the country's use of the euro currency, the party has drifted steadily to the right on an anti-migrant, anti-Muslim platform.
Lucke, a member of the European Parliament, told Die Zeit newspaper in an interview that "there are people and organizations in the AfD whose faithfulness to the constitution could be doubted." Germany's domestic intelligence agency announced recently that it was stepping up surveillance of the party, especially of its youth arm and a faction known as "The Wing" that's particularly strong in the east. Its leader, Bjoern Hoecke, has suggested it's time for Germany to end its post-war practice of acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past.
"Better the (domestic intelligence agency) should observe parts of AfD, than that they perhaps cause trouble," said Lucke. In the interview, extracts of which were published a day ahead of the newspaper's publication, Lucke called AfD a "a latent xenophobic German nationalist party with extreme-right elements" that were impossible to keep out.
Referring to comments from the party's current co-leader Alexander Gauland, Lucke said new members would never admit at the outset that "they consider the Holocaust a speck of bird poop" in Germany's history.
Gauland later said he "regrets" the impression created by his remarks, and that he had meant the words "bird poop" to express his "deepest contempt for Nazism." Gauland recently acknowledged that Hoecke's faction, The Wing, has the support of up to 40 percent of delegates at party congresses. This gives The Wing a strong say over the party's candidates and political direction.
AfD is expected to get a strong result in three upcoming state elections in eastern Germany this year.