HALLE, Germany (Reuters) – A leading member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party appeared in court on Thursday charged with using a banned slogan used by the Nazi party’s paramilitary wing.

Bjoern Hoecke, head of the AfD in the eastern state of Thuringia which holds an election in September, is part of the nationalist wing of the AfD, officially designated by the domestic intelligence agency as ‘rightwing extremist’.

A few dozen protesters gathered outside the court room in the eastern city of Halle holding placards with the words: “Bjoern Hoecke is a Nazi” before he arrived in the court room dressed in a dark suit and white shirt.

Prosecutors say Hoecke ended a campaign speech in the eastern town of Merseburg in May 2021 with the words “Everything for Germany!”. This phrase is banned in Germany as it was a slogan used by Hitler’s SA stormtroopers.

His lawyers argue he did not know the words were banned and Hoecke himself, a history teacher, said last week in a television debate he was unaware of the origin of the phrase.

He has also been charged with using the term at a party event in Dec. 2023 in Gera.

If convicted, Hoecke would face a fine or possibly a prison sentence. The trial is set to continue until at least mid-May.

The AfD, second in most national polls behind the opposition conservative bloc, has faced scrutiny since reports in January that some senior party figures had discussed the deportation of people with non-ethnic German backgrounds at a meeting.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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