BERLIN (AP) — The German-born father of Chilean presidential frontrunner José Antonio Kast was a member of Adolf Hitler's Nazi party, according to a recently unearthed document obtained by The Associated Press, revelations that appear at odds with the far-right candidate's own statements about his father's military service during World War II.
German officials confirmed this week that an ID card in the country's Federal Archive shows that an 18-year-old named Michael Kast joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or NSDAP, on Sept. 1, 1942, at the height of Hitler's war on the Soviet Union.
While the Federal Archive couldn’t confirm whether Kast was the presidential contender's father, the date and place of birth listed on the card matches that of Kast's father, who died in 2014. A copy of the ID card, identified with the membership number 9271831, was previously posted on social media on Dec. 1 by Chilean journalist Mauricio Weibel.
The ID card's emergence adds a new twist to a highly charged presidential runoff billed on both sides as a battle of extremes — between communism and right-wing authoritarianism — and marked by a steady flow of disinformation that has distorted the record and campaign pledges of Kast's opponent.
Kast, 55, from the newly formed Republican Party, led the first round of Chile’s presidential election last month, two points ahead of leftist lawmaker Gabriel Boric, who he now will face in the Dec. 19 runoff.
A fervent Roman Catholic and father of nine, Kast's family has deep ties to the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet that came to power following a coup in 1973. His brother, Miguel Kast, served as the dictator's central bank president.
“If he were alive, he would have voted for me,” Kast said of Pinochet during the 2017 campaign, in which he won just 8% of the vote. “We would have had tea together” in the presidential palace.
On the campaign trail this year, he has emphasized conservative family values, attacked migrants from Haiti and Venezuela he blames for crime and blasted Boric as a puppet of Chile's communists.
He's made inroads with middle class voters concerned that Boric — a millennial former student protest leader — would disrupt three decades of economic and political stability that has made Chile the envy of many in Latin America. To underscore those concerns, Kast traveled last week to Washington and met with American investors as well as Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the subcommittee overseeing U.S. relations with Latin America.
Some of his more radical supporters have also launched an online scare campaign involving a fake tweet from leftist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, false allegations that migrants are manning voting booths and a made-up medical report after Kast in a debate urged Boric to take a drug test.
The latest opinion polls give a slight edge in the runoff to Boric, who has pivoted to the center to galvanize support from voters fearful of a return to the country's tumultuous past.
“This backs up Boric’s framing of the race as a dichotomy between fascism and democracy,” Jennifer Pribble, a Chile expert at the University of Richmond, said of the older Kast’s wartime record. “To the extent Kast seems to be hiding some element of his family’s history, it plays into that narrative.”
It's unclear if Kast was aware of his father's NSDAP membership card. Carolina Araya, a spokeswoman for Kast's campaign, wouldn't comment when asked repeatedly by the AP.
But in the past Kast has angrily rejected claims that his father was a supporter of the Nazi movement, describing him instead as a forced conscript in the German army.