Who is the group suspected of planning a coup in Germany – DW – 07/12/2022

Members of the Reichsburger movement, like those arrested this Wednesday (07/12) in a series of police operations in Germany, deny the existence of post-war Germany and believe that the current state is nothing more than an administrative construction still occupied by the western powers — USA, United Kingdom and France. For them, the 1937 borders of the German Empire still exist.

These are the self-proclaimed “Reichsbürger”, which translates as “Citizens of the German Empire”, which was founded in 1871 – and they are not averse to violence. The Reichsbürger movement is made up of various small groups and individuals, located mainly in the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Bavaria.

They do not accept the legality of the government authorities in Germany. They refuse to pay taxes and have declared their own small “national territories”, which they christen with names like “Second German Empire”, “Free State of Prussia” or “Principality of Germania”.

Members of these groups print their own passports and driver’s licenses. They even produce t-shirts and flags for advertising purposes. Those in the Reichsbürger movement disregard the fact that such activity is illegal and not recognized by any German authorities. On their websites they proudly announce their intention to “continue the fight against the Federal Republic of Germany”.

Just freaks?

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), estimates that there are around 21,000 members of the Reichsbürger in Germany, with 5% of them classified as right-wing extremists.

Most are male. On average, they are over 50 and adhere to right-wing populist, anti-Semitic and Nazi ideologies and are spread across the country. A district court judge in the state of Saxony-Anhalt described them as “conspiracy theorists” and “disaffected”.

The movement underwent a radicalization during the covid-19 pandemic, when it gained strength in the wake of the “Querdenker” movement and refused to adhere to any restrictions imposed by authorities they do not recognize.

Despite its rejection of the system, the Reichsbürger floods German courts with a barrage of motions and objections filed against court orders and payment demands issued by local authorities. Regardless of content, authorities are required to process all duly filed formal requests they receive.

Mayors of several localities protested that, in addition to having to deal with so much meaningless work, they were also attacked by members of the Reichsburger, verbally and even physically. Activists often film these attacks and then post them online.

Extreme acts of violence

The group’s affinity for firearms and stockpiling has left authorities concerned. The BfV’s latest report on the Reichsbürger movement said they were ready and willing to commit “serious acts of violence”.

Police found large caches of weapons and ammunition during searches – and Reichsbürger members continue to arm themselves.

As a significant part of the group is made up of former Bundeswehr and NVA (East German National People’s Army) soldiers, including men with special military training, the group is considered particularly dangerous.

In recent years, German authorities have revoked gun permits for hundreds of the movement’s followers.

People with a flag in front of the Reichstag in Berlin
Several supporters of the Reichsburger were among protesters who tried to storm the German Parliament building in 2020Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Sommer

In recent years, Reichsbürger supporters have carried out attacks on police officers during raids – often arguing that they have the right to defend “their property”.

In Höxter, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, a group from the “Free State of Prussia” tried to form its own militia by importing weapons from outside the country in 2014.

In 2016, a police officer was shot and killed by a member of the Reichsbürger movement during a police operation to seize the criminal’s arsenal, containing more than 30 illegally accumulated firearms.

Several supporters of the Reichsbürger were among the protesters against the restrictions of the covid-19 pandemic who in 2020 tried to invade the Reichstag, the building that houses the Bundestag, the German Parliament.

In 2022, investigators discovered that a group planned, among other things, to storm the parliament in Berlin, attack the country’s energy supply and overthrow the German government and then take power. There were even plans for certain individuals to assume key ministerial positions at the time of the “takeover”.

According to the German Public Prosecutor’s Office, there were plans to form a transitional government that would negotiate the new state order in Germany with the victorious Allied powers of the Second World War – in the first place, with the Russian Federation.

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