Weiter zum Inhalt Skip to table of contents

Anti-Americanism Hate Object: USA

(Quelle: Unsplash)

This article was originally published in German.

Anti-Americanism is all the rage again. Ever since Russia began its war of aggression against Ukraine, anti-American sentiment has been on the rise in Germany. What America haters have in common is an extreme rejection of the politics, culture, and lifestyle of the US, which they associate with negative attributes without any nuance. They regard the United States alternatively as imperialistic, aggressive, warlike, materialistic, capitalistic, lacking in culture, and decadent. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, more and more people in Germany have vehemently and contemptuously criticised the US, accusing it of being complicit in and profiting from Russia’s illegal war of aggression. Pro-Russian sentiment and anti-Americanism are two sides of the same coin. Anti-Americanism often functions as a fig leaf for antisemitism and overlaps with conspiracy theories.

One widespread anti-American narrative contends that Europe needs to position itself against the US in order to become economically, militarily, and politically independent. Amid talk of “European sovereignty”, the US stands accused of treating Europe as a sphere of influence in its alleged empire or else it is claimed that Germany is still under US military occupation. Anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism function as a pivot point between supposedly progressive and left-wing actors, conspiracy theorists, and the far right.

German celebrities against America

“I argue that the American controls everything in the background so that it will remain the lone global power”, the famous textile entrepreneur and Trigema CEO Wolfgang Grupp recently grumbled in an interview with German news outlet BW24. The 80-year-old believes the US is behind the increasing violence, claiming, without any empirical evidence, that “the only winners in this war are the Americans!”

Alice Schwarzer, a well-known German feminist and journalist who is the founder and editor of the feminist magazine EMMA, suspects that the US is behind the conflict in Ukraine. In late November, on the talk show Maischberger, she said that “the war isn’t just a defensive war by Ukraine against Russia. Of course, it’s also a proxy war between America and Russia on Ukrainian soil”. The implication is that the US is acting autonomously on its own behalf in the war. During her TV appearance, the 80-year-old ignored the fact that Ukraine, a sovereign and democratic state, has been under attack from Russia for eight years. Instead, she opted to reinforce her own position that Germany should not provide Ukraine with any weapons.

In the summer of 2022, cabaret artist Serdar Somuncu claimed on his podcast Boygroup der Hardcore-Katholiken that “anti-Americanism is taboo now, since the Ukrainian war started. If you criticise America, you’re immediately called a Putin supporter.” Interviewer Bent-Erik Scholz thinks that US President Joe Biden might use the war to “rally the country”, because his domestic policies aren’t working out. Elsewhere, Somuncu gripes about alleged “left-wing fascism”.

Anti-Americanism disguised as scholarship

Scholars can also spread anti-American ideas. Wolfgang Streeck, the Emeritus Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, has recently been particularly noteworthy in that respect. In a 2018 article published in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung (FAZ), he accused the German government of accepting refugees in order to prolong the war in Syria, which he interpreted as a US proxy war. He wrote that, “nonetheless, [Germany’s centre-right] Christian Democrats and [centre-left] Social Democrats continue to uncritically play along with the geopolitical foolishness of the disoriented, declining superpower. In Syria, that means using migration policy to ensure the prolongation of a war that cannot be won and therefore will not be allowed to end.”

The professor made headlines in 2017, when he complained in FAZ about Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, after which he was lauded as “the smartest leftist” in the notorious Islamophobic, far-right blog PI-News. In an interview published in Der Spiegel in 2021, he claimed that the EU was “doomed to fail”, sympathised with Viktor Orbán, wished for a renaissance of the national state, and praised Brexit.

That same year, in a book titled Zwischen Globalismus und Demokratie [“Between Globalism and Democracy”], Streeck pleaded for a “confederation of sovereign democracies”. He regards the EU as a project of “global elites”. The sociologist advocated developing closer relations with Russia in opposition to what he considers expansionist US geopolitics. When he was an advisor to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Streeck was once a trailblazer for the government’s series of neoliberal reforms known collectively as “Agenda 2010”. Later, in his 2013 book Buying Time (published in English in 2017), he became a prominent critic of neoliberalism. Since 2018, he has been affiliated with the aufstehen [“stand up”] coalition, which was co-founded by Sahra Wagenknecht, a prominent politician with the party Die Linke who has at times been applauded by far right groups for her views on immigration, the war in Ukraine, and the German government’s public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March 2022, Streeck published an essay on the New Left Review blog criticising Germany’s new €100 billion military fund and arguing that the arms build-up was enacted to serve the interests of NATO, which is actually run by the United States. The professor is convinced that “the entire German military is under the command of NATO, meaning the Pentagon”. The US, he claims, refused to take Russia’s security interests seriously in order to “shore up European countries’ unconditional allegiance to NATO”.

Streeck goes on to argue that the US seeks to use European states to help “encircle Russia on its Western flank”, thereby suggesting that Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is justified and merely a response to alleged US aggression. In the process, Streeck downplays the war that Russia started in violation of international law. He believes that the West’s unity against Russia is a product of American imperialism, which is using Europe for its own ends: “if you allow the US to protect you, geopolitics will trump all other politics, and that geopolitics is defined by Washington alone. This is how an empire works.”

In November 2022, Streeck published another essay on the New Left Review blog, in which he claimed that the US was pressuring Germany even before the war “to replace Russian natural gas with American liquid natural gas after the invention of fracking”. It is a goal that he says was achieved through the war in Ukraine and by forcing Germany “to pay the staggering price of American Liquid Natural Gas”. In that context, he sees one thing driving the US above all else: the greedy interests of capitalist profit.

Streeck goes on to claim that the German government is turning itself “into a transatlantic dependency of the Great American War Machines”, but he does not stop there: he also raises the possibility that the US could use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. It is an absurd proposition and an indication of his fixation on the vilified US.

The professor does not spare Germany’s Green Party either, stating the Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock represents a generation that grew up under the influence of “American soft power”, from pop music to film to fashion, and for which “cosmopolitanism” has taken the place of “nationalism”.

The cosmopolitan bogeyman he constructs often functions as an antisemitic cipher. For example, it was used by Alexander Gauland, a leading politician with the far right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), in a 2018 article published in FAZ. In it, he referred to the simplistic class theory developed by British author David Goodhart, which distinguishes between mobile “anywheres” and security-minded “somewheres”. Gauland evoked “urban elites” whose jobs took them “from Berlin to London or Singapore”, weakening their connection “to their respective homelands”. He contrasts these with the “settled” people, for whom “homeland means something”. The motif of a “rootless elite” is a central antisemitic prejudice against Jews. Shortly after Gauland’s text was published, historians noted parallels with a speech Adolf Hitler gave to a group of workers in 1933.

University professor on the wrong path

Ulrike Guérot, Professor of European Policy at the University of Bonn, also stokes anti-American resentment. In the course of the Covid pandemic, her ideas have made her a darling of Germany’s Querdenken movement, which has been loudly critical of public health measures to combat the coronavirus, is driven by conspiracy myths, and has been supported by an array of far-right actors. During a September 2020 interview on the Cologne-based radio station Deutschlandfunk Kultur, she described the German government’s anti-Covid steps as “semi-authoritarian”. In May 2021, during an appearance on Austrian television, she rejected the use of FFP2 masks (similar to the N95 standard in the US) and vaccination against the coronavirus. In her 2022 book Wer schweigt, stimmt zu (a title that could be roughly translated as “Silence Is Consent”), she wrote, “First we straighten up, everyone in their own country. We hand over the people responsible to the International Criminal Court, if it turns out that it wasn’t a bat, but rather a lab that gave us the virus. … We ask the US to deal with Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates. We close the World Health Organisation and go through its financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. We don’t let the dark figures from Pfizer and Co. get away with it.”

She is becoming an increasingly controversial figure for the University of Bonn, which publicly distanced itself from her in November 2022. In October 2022, she published the book Endspiel Europa (“Endgame Europe”), co-written by Hauke Ritz, a philosopher of history with a doctoral degree from the Freie Universität Berlin. In it, the authors describe Ukraine as a warmonger that is engaged in a proxy war on behalf of the US. They write that “America, Britain, and Canada made preparations for war against Russia” without any mention of a Russian war of aggression. Guérot and Ritz imply that Ukraine is a participant in a secret US biological weapons programme that is “tailored to the enemy’s genotype”. In doing so, they not only reproduce Russian disinformation about alleged chemical weapons labs in Ukraine – a narrative that is also popular among QAnon supporters – but they also add an element of racial pseudoscience: “If someone wanted to develop a biological weapon that specifically targets Russian, or the Slavic genotype, Ukraine would be the perfect testing ground, given the ethnic Russians living particularly in the south and east of Ukraine.”

In a YouTube interview, co-author Hauke Ritz makes a number of claims that correspond to Russian state propaganda, including that Ukraine is part of Russia’s cultural sphere. Ritz goes on to breathlessly claim that “We live in an American interpretation of European culture”. The online magazine Rubikon, which was founded by left-wing journalists, but has since taken to disseminating well known conspiracy narratives about September 11th and the Covid pandemic, published an excerpt of the book, in which Guérot and Ritz spin yarns about a “sublimated American subjugation of a politically unified Europe and a cooperative peaceful order with Russia”. The implication is that Europe is under covert American domination and the US is actively working to make peace between the EU and Russia impossible over the long term.

Left anti-Americanism

No discussion of left anti-Americanism can avoid looking at Sahra Wagenknecht and her partner Oskar Lafontaine, a retired politician who was at different times the party chairman of both the Social Democrats and Die Linke. In November 2022, for example, Wagenknecht published a video on her own YouTube channel with a title that translates as “Make America Great Again: How US Trade Wars and Sanctions Are Ruining Us”. In it, she claims that the US is attempting to make itself the world’s lone superpower again, while making Europe dependent on “US corporations”. She claims that the US has been trying to “torpedo German-Russian pipeline projects since the 1970s”.

Wagenknecht regards the US as the arch-enemy of the Germany economy. That is why she has been campaigning against the sanctions that Western and other states have imposed on Russia and pleading instead for closer economic cooperation with Russia. In a widely discussed September 2022 speech in the Bundestag, she implored the interest of “German industry, with its strong middle class,” to stand up to US companies. She raged against “American fracking gas providers, which currently make €200 million with every single tanker” and will ostensibly drive German companies to ruin. In the process, she spread the anti-American narrative that the United States’ profit motive is destroying the German economy.

The 79-year-old Lafontaine can be even more strident when he verbally attacks the US. He told the newspaper junge Welt that the German government is turning itself into a “faithful vassal of the USA” and that the US does not want peace. The US, he claimed, “is probably laughing at us, because the sanctions hardly affect it. It can now sell more of its liquid gas in Europe, and its weapons industry is a huge business”. He claimed that Germany’s Green Party is an “extension of the US” in the Bundestag. Last October, Wagenknecht similarly described the Greens in one of her videos as “the most dangerous party” in the German parliament, thereby downplaying the threat from AfD.

Lafontaine reiterated the narrative of a warmongering and profit-mad United States in his most recent book Ami, it’s time to go: Plädoyer für die Selbstbehauptung Europas (roughly: “Yankee, It’s Time to Go: A Plea for European Self-Assertion”). In a text that comes to no more than 64 pages, he claims that the new funding for the German military was passed “because the Americans wanted it”. He describes NATO as “nothing more than a geopolitical tool of the US”. In an article he published in August 2022 in the newspaper Berliner Zeitung, Lafontaine took up an actual Reichsbürger talking point when he claimed that “Germany is not a sovereign country”, adopting the conspiracy narrative that Germany is controlled by the US.

Lafontaine also pontificated on the role of the US in the war in Ukraine at an event hosted by NachDenkSeiten, a website noted for disseminating numerous conspiracy myths, antisemitic narratives, and anti-Americanism. The publishing company Westend-Verlag, which has brought out books by Lafontaine, Guérot and Ritz, and NachDenkSeiten founder Albrecht Müller, collaborates on the blog. Müller, a former Social Democratic politician who sees no problem interviewing the well-known German conspiracy theorist Ken Jebsen, praised Lafontaine’s book on the website, calling it “stimulating”. It is so important, he wrote, because the US “essentially determines public opinion in Germany”.

Another figure who maintains close contact with Jebsen is former Bundestag representative for Die Linke Diether Dehm, a confidant of Wagenknecht’s who posted a photo on Twitter in early December 2022 featuring himself and Jebsen sharing a table in a restaurant. Members of the party’s executive board called for Dehm to be expelled from the party. The 72-year-old recently wrote a song titled “Ami go home”, which includes lyrics like “We’re not Ami-land, but Deutschland” and “Your fracking gas – the CIA costs us too much and hurts us”.

Far-right anti-Americanism

The phrase “Ami go home”, which has been used by, among others, Germany’s left-wing “extra-parliamentary opposition” and peace movements in the 1960s-70s, is also applied by Jürgen Elsässer, editor of the far-right magazine Compact. In late November 2022, he invoked that motto at a large demonstration in Leipzig against an alleged “US occupation”. Elsässer’s supporters, which include many far-right actors, were driven by conspiracy theories about an occupied Germany to assemble near the US Consulate General and demand that the US withdraw its troops and nuclear weapons from Germany. However, they failed in their attempt to mobilise anti-Americanism for the “hot autumn” that the far-right was yearning for. Their goal was to use opposition to rising prices and Germany’s policies toward and sanctions against Russia to establish points of entry into their movement. They claimed to have 15,000 people present, however ultimately only about 1,000 showed and the antifascist counter-protest was significantly larger.

AfD has also been known for its support for Russia and its anti-Americanism. On German Unity Day, a holiday that commemorates Germany’s reunification in 1990, Björn Höcke, the leader of AfD’s radical faction, described the US as an “extra-territorial power”. In Höcke’s view, Russia is defending itself in Ukraine against the United States’ lust for power. He therefore believes that Putin has “responded appropriately to a foreign power’s offensive”. Höcke also blamed the US for “preventing German-Russian affiliation” and railed against liquefied natural gas from the US.

In November 2022, the research organisation Correctiv published the position papers of AfD’s foreign policy working group in the Bundestag. They embrace Höcke’s anti-Americanism in the broadest sense, describing the US as a “global hegemon” that “seeks to prevent the emergence of a dominant Eurasian market”. The modern far-right usage of the term “Eurasia” is meant to construct a new continent out of Europe and Asia, which is intended to fall under Russian leadership. That idea is a core element of Russian state ideology under Vladimir Putin. One of AfD’s internal position papers states that Germany was “largely Americanised through re-education after 1945”. The AfD parliamentarians also link “American consumer culture” with NGOs like the German Marshall Fund, the Aspen Institute, and the Atlantik-Brücke, which they believe should be cut off from state funding.

What is so dangerous about anti-Americanism?

Anti-American attitudes have a long history in Europe. There, the US has represented the Enlightenment, democracy, and liberalism since the American Revolution in 1776. That is why it has been rejected by the enemies of those ideals ever since. Anti-Americanism constructs the US as the antithesis of Europe and ascribes every negative manifestation of capitalism to it. It is a vision that presents America as a new world ruled by money that stands in opposition to old Europe and it therefore also reflects resentment toward an ostensibly soulless, technology-driven modernity.

Anti-Americanism was popular in early twentieth century Germany and it also became an important element of National Socialist ideology. After World War II, it was at the centre of East German state ideology as well as the new social movements in West Germany. Following the attack on 11 September 2001, anti-American resentment underwent a renaissance over the course of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, anti-Americanism flared up again in Germany. As study by sociologist Felix Knappertsbusch that same year showed that almost ten percent of the German population took a disparaging view of the US.

In far-right ideology, the US is regarded as a hotbed of evil. Far-right actors often link anti-Americanism with anti-globalisation and antisemitism. In their view, Jews control the US in order to achieve worldwide dominance by means of globalisation. Germany’s extreme right uses coded antisemitic language like “the American East Coast” and “Wall Street” as shorthand for New York as the hub of allegedly Jewish-dominated finance capital. The far right also vilifies the US for racist reasons: because it developed as a migration society, they view the United States as a Völkergemisch, or a “mixture of people” without a national identity. Reichsbürgers fantasise that Germany is still occupied by the US today and not a sovereign state. Anti-Americanism is currently a serious danger due to its combination of Russian propaganda and antisemitic conspiracy ideologies, which allow it to continuously bind an array of otherwise distinct reactionary movements together.


Eine Plattform der