Russian influence on a pivotal national election. The far-right gaining ground, moderates on the back foot. Immigration and identity front and center in the political debate. Sound familiar?
In the past, German elections have always been a byword for moderation, where certain political norms — such as its lead role in Europe and close bond with the United States — were taken for granted. But this campaign has been different.
As Angela Merkel battles for a fourth term as German chancellor, she has been facing an onslaught of fake news and populist, often hate-filled, rhetoric - much of it disseminated through shadowy online channels that seem to lead back to Russia. The stakes are higher than ever, with Europe’s cohesion in doubt and many Germans wondering if they can still rely on a United States under President Donald Trump. Some now look to Merkel as the new “leader of the free world.”
In Coda Story’s second collaboration with Reveal, a program of The Center for Investigative Reporting, we look at how to identify this digital disinformation and where it comes from. Coda’s Ilan Greenberg meets with expert Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council at its conference in Warsaw to discuss Russia’s election meddling, as President Trump delivers his first major foreign policy speech a couple blocks away. And he visits Boris Reitschuster, a German journalist who had to leave his posting in Russia because of death threats.
In Berlin, Reischuster leads an effort to resist the Kremlin’s influence on the more than four million German citizens with Russian origins. Meanwhile, German cyber-experts and the media are concerned about a hack on the German Parliament. Many believe Russian agents are holding the stolen files and will spring a Fall surprise to undermine Merkel just as the nation goes to the polls.
But first, reporter Luisa Beck finds Beatrix von Storch, the leading candidate of Alternative für Deutschland (the AfD), a far-right political party that is on the cusp of entering the German parliament - something right-wing parties have tried and failed at many time since the end of World War II. The show also examines the story of Anas Modamani, one of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who took refuge in Germany. But he became the center of a political maelstrom when he took a selfie with Merkel as she visited his shelter. Thanks to disinformation and fake news Modamami was falsely accused of being a terrorist.
“The Rise of the German Right” will be broadcast on public radio stations across the United States. The full episode is available on The Center for Investigative Reporting’s website or as a download from iTunes.
Reveal is a weekly radio program produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. For more, check out their website.