Certain actions should never be taboo in a modern Western democracy.  These include public criticism and protest of government policies, as well as presenting alternatives to those policies.  Yet in present-day Germany, citizens are slandered, censored, and persecuted by their own government and media for doing just that.

In early 2013, an economist, a former major-newspaper editor, and a disaffected politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU founded a political party—the Alternative for Germany (AfD)—in opposition to years of Merkel’s money-draining attempts to salvage the euro.  Calling for the dissolution of the “eurozone,” the AfD maintained that the currency had failed and was pushing economically uncompetitive eurozone members into poverty, burdening future generations.  Arguing that the CDU and other establishment parties had become unaccountable, the AfD called for direct-democracy citizen involvement along the Swiss model.

Initially ignored as pesky euroskeptics, the AfD has since made a splash on the national scene by broadening its agenda to include an adamant rejection of the relentless Islamization of German society—especially since the so-called refugee crisis, which last fall alone flooded the small country with roughly one million unvetted, mostly male and Muslim, migrants from northern Africa and the Middle East.  Refugees, migrants, and aslyum-seekers from these regions continue to enter Germany—bringing with them increases in crime, terrorism, and civil unrest—yet Merkel has not budged from her “no upper limit” policy.

The AfD’s new party platform supports freedom of worship, the exercise of which must conform to German law and human rights.  Integrated and law-abiding Muslims are to be full and accepted members of German society.  In Western Europe, Islamic headscarves, and especially burkas and niqabs—much more widespread than in the U.S.—are increasingly recognized as subjugation of women, incompatible with Western notions of human rights.  Burkas and niqabs, of course, also present a security concern.  Hence, the platform calls for a ban on full-face veils in public spaces (as has recently been implemented in southern Switzerland), as well as a ban on headscarves for those in public office, like the one in France.

Similarly, given the aggressiveness with which Muslim communities usurp their surroundings and non-Muslim neighbors, as well as the anti-Western messages preached in many mosques, the AfD demands that the nearly 3,000 mosques across Germany be prohibited from including minarets and broadcasting the call to prayer, similar to Swiss initiatives.  Groups with anticonstitutional views would be banned from building or running mosques entirely; foreign financing, whether from Islamic states or private donors, would be illegal.

Decades of mass Muslim immigration have made their mark on Germany: ever-increasing attacks on non-Muslims in broad daylight; widespread harassment of German schoolchildren by Muslim classmates; continuous building of mosques and Islamic centers, often with taxpayer money; even no-go areas in the formerly ultrasafe country.  Given that Germany today is unrecognizable from the peaceful and democratic country she was just 20 years ago, the AfD’s countermeasures hardly seem extreme.

The German government and the media, much of which is state-funded, have wasted no time, however, in declaring the AfD and its growing number of supporters to be xenophobic “right-wingers” (read: “Nazis”).  Just as how, in the United States, any criticism of President Obama can earn one the label of “racist,” in Germany, regime critics are called Nazis—a term that has a very particular meaning in the country that perpetrated the holocaust.  Be it the AfD’s opposition to the euro and E.U. power grabs, or its measures to protect Germany’s laws and culture, most politicians and media assign vile and perfidious motivations to those things.

The stain of the Third Reich is often named as the reason for Germans’ unwillingness to curtail mass immigration, or their fear of being seen as resurgent Nazis if they do not act as if Muslims fit easily into German life.  Certainly, that is plausible, though accusations of racism over immigration and Islam are part of the public discourse in the United States and other Western countries as well.  The prevailing culture in Germany today, though, is obsessed with presenting itself as weltoffen (literally, open to the world), a vague yet endlessly repeated concept that not only means “open-minded” but connotes a sophisticated and cosmopolitan mindset that the stupid and uneducated critics of the E.U. and opponents of mass immigration can never hope to achieve.  (Brexit proponents, for instance, are seen as the antithesis of weltoffen.)

Various hotels have refused to host AfD talks and conventions; others have canceled standing reservations, such as the Congress Hotel am Stadtpark in the northern city of Hannover.  The Bavarian city of Augsburg placed a “house ban” on AfD party head Frauke Petry to prevent her from speaking at the city’s town hall.  Even the head of Germany’s police union, Rainer Wendt—one of the few outspoken critics of the immigration levels, who speaks damningly about the criminal Arab clans that rule entire city districts, as well as the male Muslim migrants who molest German women and children—remains a member of the CDU, stating: “I have no sympathies whatsoever for the so-called Alternative for Germany.”  There are, however, some officeholding CDU politicians who are jumping ship to join the AfD, such as Maximilian Krah, who recently left his party in protest over Merkel’s refugee policy.

Starting out with less than five percent of votes in state elections, the AfD is now in the double digits in some states, even at 24.2 percent in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, where it has become the second-largest party after the CDU (29.8 percent).  The government has been fighting back.  Last year, Justice Minister Heiko Maas set up a task force to censor online antimigrant comments and raided the homes of Germans making such comments.  More recently, he chastised Facebook in Germany for still deleting alleged hate speech “too little and too slowly.”

Without any apparent sense of irony (or justice), Maas has declared the AfD to be authoritarian and, since most AfD politicians are male, antiwoman—writing in an op-ed that the AfD consists of the “spiritual brothers of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”  (This, from the man who has dragged his feet on cracking down on Muslim child marriages in Germany, while calling the imagined AfD position of “the woman in the kitchen, while the man goes hunting,” an “attack on the freedom of women to decide how they want to live.”)  Of course he also calls the AfD nationalistic, which, in Germany more or less means . . . Nazi.

In October 2014, a grassroots group appeared on the scene.  For at least a decade, there had been growing numbers of Muslims who reject integration into German society, including many who were born in the country.  These developments came to a head in the summer of 2014, when throngs of Turks and Arabs shouted Hamas slogans and literal Nazi chants against Jews (illegal since the end of the war, and not heard on German streets since then) during anti-Israel demonstrations in cities around Germany.  Video footage posted online shows the police systematically turning away.  (The Frankfurt police even let a protestor use a police megaphone to shout anti-Israel slogans—the only way to get the mob to clear the area, goes the feeble defense.)  The only times the police finally intervened were when members of the crowds began to chase after the tiny numbers of Jewish counterprotestors, trying to run them down in the streets.

Then, in October, Kurds and Salafists battled in the streets of Hamburg, turning Germany’s second-largest city into a Middle East war zone.  That is when a small group of Germans formed PEGIDA—the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.  Channeling the East Germans’ Monday-evening protests against the communist regime in 1989 that ended with the opening of the border to West Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall, PEGIDA began Monday-evening rallies in various cities.

PEGIDA quickly gained participants, with the largest rallies—in the thousands—taking place in its hometown, the eastern city of Dresden.  The German government and media pounced on organizers and demonstrators, denouncing them as xenophobes, racists, neo-Nazis, and—as usual, with no sense of irony—a threat to societal cohesion.  Chancellor Merkel, all political parties in parliament, and mainstream TV channels, daily papers, and magazines identify PEGIDA in a tone of unquestioned fact as “right-wing,” “anti-Islam,” “anti-immigrant,” or “hostile to foreigners”—either denying, or not bothering to learn about, what the speakers and participants (some of whom are immigrants) actually say and do at the Monday-night gatherings.

So pervasive is this propaganda that much of the German public accepts it unquestioningly—or at least will not admit otherwise.  Germans who grumble to family and friends about the E.U. or Merkel’s refugee policy will not say so publicly.  They vent their frustrations on blogs and other online forums, describing an East Germany 2.0, where colleagues and neighbors keep quiet around each other on certain topics, for fear of losing their jobs or becoming societal pariahs.  Both groups have been threatened with state surveillance, and the huge leftist-militant movement in the country has started petitions to have the groups banned on the grounds of Volksverhetzung (incitement of the people).

Whether in the U.S. or the U.K., the English-language media carelessly describe both PEGIDA and the AfD as “right-wing,” “anti-Islam,” and “anti-immigrant.”  Author Sebastian Hennig, who participated in the 1989 demonstrations in East Germany, is today a PEGIDA participant and has written a book detailing his experiences.  He utterly rejects the accusations leveled against Germans who, like him, see their homeland as more than a “consumer item,” who want to preserve their culture, and who believe mass immigration needs to stop.  Hennig is a convert to Islam, of all things.

While the AfD has been gaining ground, it has far to go to reach its goal of unseating Angela Merkel in the national elections next fall.  PEGIDA is dealing with continued censorship on Facebook, attempts by government and citizens alike to ban the rallies, and, now, organizational infighting.  The uphill battle is enough to leave some supporters questioning the value of continued resistance.  Is the—obviously necessary—resistance to the prevailing powers ultimately futile?  No, says Hennig: “The necessary always appears in the form of the impossible.”