Plotters prepared to kill for their endsAn estimated 50 men and women are alleged to have been part of the group, said to have plotted to overthrow the republic and replace it with a new state modelled on the Germany of 1871 – an empire called the Second Reich. “We don’t yet have a name for this group,” said a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office. The interior minister said it was apparently made up of an organisation “council” and a military arm. Wednesday’s dawn raids are being described as one of the biggest anti-extremism operations in modern German history. Three thousand officers took part in 150 operations in 11 of Germany’s 16 states, with two people arrested in Austria and Italy. Almost half of arrests took place in southern states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. More than one in five Reichsbürger are thought to be based in the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg alone. Justice Minister Marco Buschmann tweeted that a suspected “armed attack on constitutional bodies was planned”. Ms Faeser said later that the investigation would peer into the “abyss of a terrorist threat from the Reichsbürger scene”.
Who are the Reichsbürger?
- So-called Citizens of the Reich reject Germany’s modern democracy and refuse to pay taxes
- Once seen as harmless cranks, they are very active and pose a high level of danger, says BfV intelligence chief Thomas Haldenwang
- Last year they numbered some 21,000, but they have since grown significantly
- 10% are thought to be violent, and antisemitism and conspiracy theories are widespread
‘Fuelled by conspiracy theories’Heinrich XIII styles himself as a prince and comes from an old noble family known as the House of Reuss, which ruled over parts of the modern eastern state of Thuringia until 1918. All the male members of the family were given the name Heinrich as well as a number. Descendants still own a few castles and Heinrich himself is said to have a hunting lodge at Bad Lobenstein in Thuringia. The rest of the family have long distanced themselves from the minor aristocrat, with one spokesman telling local broadcaster MDR during the summer that Heinrich was an “at times confused” man who had fallen for “misconceptions fuelled by conspiracy theories”.
‘Crackpot’ movement turns radicalReichsbürger members have demonstrated alongside anti-vaxxers and Covid-deniers (indeed some share those positions) as well as QAnon supporters during mass street protests in the last few years. They were there when a mob from a Covid demonstration tried to storm the Bundestag in August 2020. Many have been surprised at the depth to which conspiracy theories in general have permeated German society – particularly during the pandemic. I’ve experienced it myself while reporting on various demonstrations over the last few years.
- Read more from Jenny here.