Höcke, boss of the AfD in the eastern state of Thuringia, and his press spokesman had asked to restart the awkward interview because Höcke had allegedly been surprised by the questions on his use of language.
The ZDF journalist refused to do this. Höcke and his spokesman then broke off the interview after a short discussion.
At the beginning of the conversation, which was broadcast on Sunday evening during the programme “Berlin direkt”, the interviewer had shown the AfD politician short videos in which his party colleagues were confronted with excerpts from Höcke's book.
They were then asked to say whether the quotes came from Höcke – or from “Mein Kampf”, Adolf Hitler's 1925 autobiographical manifesto.
None of the politicians wanted to answer the question. AfD Member of Parliament Martin Reichardt said: “Well, I won't be able to answer the question because I didn't read “Mein Kampf”. And I don't know if that is from Mr. Höcke either.”
Another AfD MP, Jens Maier, said: “If (I had to guess) then more from “Mein Kampf”, I would say, but not from Mr Höcke”.
After watching the videos, Höcke said: “That says above all that most people have not read my book at all.”
— Berlin direkt (@berlindirekt) September 16, 2019
When confronted with overlaps in his language and the terminology of Nazism, the AfD's top candidate for the upcoming state elections in Thuringia said it was “absurd” to continually reference the Nazi regime.
According to Höcke, there is no universal definition of what Nazi language is. The ZDF journalist continued to ask Höcke whether the terms he used – such as “degenerate”– were also well-known Nazi vocabulary.
Höcke defended himself, saying these terms “can’t be boiled down to any period in time,” adding that the terms he used were mentioned before and after Nazism.
High emotional effect
The interview then got even more awkward, with Höcke appearing rattled.
The spokesman then intervened. He said: “This is not possible.” He went on to say the questions had had a high emotional effect on Höcke and asked that the interview be restarted from the beginning.
“We certainly won't do that again, but you know that too,” replied the ZDF journalist, who added that it raises issues of freedom of the press when politicians are allowed to be satisfied with their answers.
Höcke and his spokesman claimed not to have been prepared in advance for the questions. However, the ZDF journalist stressed that he had mentioned the questions about Höcke's language before the interview.
When the journalist refused to restart the conversation, Höcke said that politicians and journalists could no longer talk to each other in a spirit of trust.
It was clear that “there would be no more interviews with me for you,” said Höcke. He then hinted that the journalist might regret this in the future. “We don't know what's coming,” he said, adding that maybe he would become an “interesting individual, political person in this country.”
The interview was conducted last Wednesday in Erfurt. ZDF has published the interview and the dispute over the new beginning of the interview both as a full-length video and in written form.
The Federal Chairman of the German Journalists' Association, Frank Überall, said it was absolutely right that the ZDF journalist did not engage in “softening” the interview for Höcke.
“Björn Höcke opened another dark chapter of the AfD's disturbing dealings with freedom of the press in general, and critical journalists in particular,” said Überall.
'Monument of shame'
Höcke belongs to the extremist wing of the party and has stirred controvesy since he entered German politics.
There was national outrage when he described Berlin's Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame in the heart of the capital” in 2017.
“We need nothing less than a 180-degree shift in the politics of remembrance,” he added during the speech in Dresden.
State elections will be held in Thuringia, in the former communist East Germany, on October 27th. In the recent Brandenburg and Saxony elections, the AfD made huge gains.