Challenging far-right politics by restricting free speech, Germany is throwing fuel on the fire it wants to put out.
The last week has proved as much.
It began on New Year's Eve, when two politicians from the Alternative for Germany party posted controversial messages on social media.
First, deputy AfD leader Beatrix von Storch tweeted out a condemnation of Cologne police after they tweeted in Arabic. This language, von Storch said, was an act of appeasement towards "barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes of men." Another AfD member of parliament then chimed in on Facebook stating that Germany had "imported, marauding, groping, abusive, knife-stabbing migrant mobs."
Both politicians are now, likely to their great satisfaction, being investigated for incitement to hatred.
Next, on Jan. 1, a new law came into force that will introduce up to $60 million fines on social media companies that do not remove hateful content within 24 hours of notification. The law is designed to turn the public forum into a sanitized safe space that caters only to the great center of German society.
Then, on Thursday, former tennis star Boris Becker's son pledged to take criminal and civil legal action against another AfD politician, Jens Maier, who described him as a "little half-negro."
Now don't get me wrong, each of the above messages is unpleasant and unbecoming of politicians who are supposed to be serving their citizens with respect. Nevertheless, it's not hard to see what's going on here: The AfD is using Germany's speech law as a means to increase its own support.
After all, during last year's parliamentary elections, the AfD scored big by portraying themselves as the last redoubt of German independence and freedom. Labeled as irredeemable racists and kooks by the mainstream German political parties and threatened with prosecution, the AfD actually ended up securing 92 seats in the Bundestag. The typecasting against them, and the legal pushback, clearly did not work as intended.
But now having entered parliament, AfD politicians clearly believe they can use their greater publicity to provoke the authorities into further overreactions.
It's a clever ploy but one with a clever counterpart. Balancing the harder-edged language it uses in public, the AfD presents itself as a big tent movement that welcomes new voices. Content aside, the party's website, for example, looks like it has been designed for a liberal millennial organization!
The AfD is betting that for those voters most predisposed to supporting them, those deeply concerned with Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy, the sight of AfD MPs being repeatedly prosecuted will mobilize them into the AfD's ranks.
The German authorities seem utterly deluded to this strategic gambit. Instead, propelled by their utter arrogance, they push forward with new efforts to strike down offending speech.
Ultimately, this is just another reminder of why the U.S. has the world's most exceptional free speech laws. Trusting the public dialogue to cool extremist speech and vent extremist anger, we balance individual freedom with a sustaining undercurrent of social respect.