On Wednesday, December 7, 25 people were arrested across 11 German states, Austria, and Italy in the biggest anti-terrorist raid in German history. They are suspected of having planned a coup to overthrow the German government. Through their plan, they attempted to violate the structure of the modern German state and its democratic values.
According to federal prosecutors, those arrested include members of the extremist Reichsbürger (Citizens of the Reich) group. Composed of far-right and ex-military individuals, this group has been on the radar of the German authorities due to violent police attacks, anti-Semitic rhetoric, and supporting conspiracy theories. According to The Guardian, among those arrested are a “prince, a retired military commander, and an acting judge and former MP for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).”
3,000 police officers conducted searches and raids occurred in 137 different locations. Authorities found weapons and ammunition. Various members are suspected of illegally taking weapons from the army, while others hold hunting and arms licenses. The armed attack on the Reichstag parliament and seizure of power was supposed to happen on what they termed “Day X”. The terrorist organization seems to have taken inspiration from the storming of the United States capitol on January 6, 2021.
Authorities suspect that the group planned to install 71-year-old Prince Heinrich XIII of Reuss, a German aristocrat, as the new leader of Germany. Although Germany has been a republic for over a century and royalty no longer exists, aristocrats may still choose to use their royal titles inherited through their bloodline. As such, the Reichsbürger intended to re-establish a regime under Heinrich XIII that would imitate pre-1918 Germany – a time when the Kaiser reigned under authoritarian rule. On Wednesday morning, Heinrich XIII was arrested at his home in Frankfurt.
According to the German newspaper Die Zeit, the members had already begun allocating different governmental and judicial roles in the new intended regime. The establishment of various departments, including health, justice, and foreign affairs, had already been planned.
The group gained the attention of German investigators in April 2021, when a gang called the “United Patriots” planned to abduct Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach. They too had connections to the Reichsbürger organization. Similarly, the terrorist group was also responsible for a failed attempt at storming the German capitol during anti-vaccination protests two years ago. According to a 2018 study conducted by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, one of Germany’s leading NGOs fighting far-right extremism, the Reichsbürger group is not homogenous. It is important to note that among its estimated 21,000 members, the tendency towards violence and military aggression varies significantly.
In response to the arrests, German Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, stated “the suspected terrorist group uncovered today is – according to the current status of inquiry – driven by fantasies of violent overthrow and conspiracy ideologies.” Nonetheless, authorities are reporting that the number of arrests within the Reichsbürger group is expected to rise.
In a press conference on Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addressed the raids, stating that the most important consequence to be taken from the events is that “everyone knows that [Germany] is a state that is able to defend itself and is a democracy that is able to defend itself.”
Featured image by: Boris Roessler/Deutsche Presse-Agentur, via Associated Press