German Authorities Bust Dozens Of Right-Wing Extremists In Coup Plot
The rise of right-wing extremism isn’t just an American phenomenon, of course: It’s been a mounting global issue, especially in Europe in recent years as a reaction both to growing nonwhite immigration and to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, it was apparent at the time of the January 6 Capitol insurrection that neofascist elements in Europe were watching those events unfold carefully, and drawing lessons from them: “We were following it like a soccer match,” a German far-right publisher told The New York Times.
That reality struck home in startling fashion Wednesday when German authorities arrested at least 25 people in a carefully coordinated sweep, all of them alleged participants in a conspiracy to overthrow the democratically elected government. Among those arrested were a minor member of the German aristocracy, and a former member of the German parliamentary body. And it was clear they drew their inspiration from their American counterparts.
"Since this morning a large anti-terror operation is taking place. The Federal Public Prosecutor General is investigating a suspected terror network from the Reichsbürger scene," German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said in a statement. "The suspicion exists that an armed attack on constitutional organs was planned."
The suspects are all members of the so-called Reichsbürger movement, a German version of the far-right sovereign-citizens movement that claims the existing government is illegitimate and that ordinary people can declare themselves free of its jurisdiction. Authorities said that 25 people have been arrested so far, but there are warrants for at least 50 participants in 11 states in the conspiracy.
The far-right terrorists, according to authorities, planned to eliminate Germany's basic democratic order "using violence and military means," including plans to "forcefully invade the Bundestag," the German parliamentary building. A "council" comprised of Reichsbürger movement followers was to take over government business, while a "military arm" was to set up a "new German army" and "homeland security companies."
That echoes the far-right chatter around the time of the Jan. 6 insurrection: “The storming of a parliament by protesters as the initiation of a revolution can work,” Jürgen Elsässer, editor/publisher of the far-right magazine Compact, wrote the day after the Capitol siege. “But a revolution can only be successful if it is organized.”
He added: “When it’s crunchtime, when you want to overthrow the regime, you need a plan and a sort of general staff.”
Nancy Faeser, Germany’s interior minister, called the group arrested Wednesday the “enemies of democracy,” adding: “The investigations provide a glimpse into the abyss of a terrorist threat from the Reichsbürger milieu.”
The group’s alleged ringleader is Heinrich XIII, Prince Reuß von Greiz, who claims descent from an aristocratic line that ruled Thuringia for 800 years before the German Empire was replaced in the early 20th century by the Weimar Republic after World War I. Prosecutors say Heinrich XIII had founded a “terrorist organization last year with the goal of overturning the existing state order in Germany.” Their plan was to replace it with a new kind of authoritarian monarchy.
Heinrich’s chief lieutenant was identified as Rüdiger von Pescatore, a 69-year-old former senior field officer at the German army’s paratrooper battalion who is also believed to have been a commander in Calw. Von Pescatore, who was among the arrestees, reportedly had been in charge of planning the military coup, while Heinrich XIII was charged with mapping out Germany’s future political order.
Those latter plans included ministers for a transitional post-coup government, one of whom was among the people arrested: Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, 58, a former member of the Bundestag elected under the banner of the far-right Alternativ Für Deutschland (AfD) party. Arrested at her home in the western Berlin district of Wannsee on Wednesday morning, Malsack-Winkemann reportedly was slated to be federal minister for justice.
“Those who have been arrested are supporters of conspiracy myths, from a conglomerate of narratives relating to the ideologies of the Reichsbürger and QAnon ideologies,” Peter Frank, Germany’s public prosecutor general, told reporters in Karlsruhe.
The group had been preparing for what they called “Day X”: At the appointed hour, about two dozen people were to storm the Reichstag building and handcuff and arrest both members of the Bundestag and their staff. The group envisioned subsequently renegotiating the treaties Germany signed after the end of World War II. “For now, the Russian Federation was exclusively to be the central contact for these negotiations,” prosecutors said.
Heinrich XIII reportedly had attempted to reach out to the Kremlin, but prosecutors said there was “no indication that the contacts reacted positively to his approach.”
The plotters were comprised of what one investigator described as a “motley crew,” ranging from a German airline pilot to an operatic tenor to a coronavirus-denying roofer to a gourmet cook, whose son-in-law is a professional footballer.
The Reichsbürger movement is closely affiliated with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy cult, and many of its tenets are based on QAnon conspiracy theories. It also resembles the sovereign citizens' movement in its core beliefs, which are that the German constitution prior to World War II was never properly nullified, and thus the formation of the former West Germany in 1949 was never valid. Therefore, its adherents do not accept the legality of the Federal Republic of Germany.
According to Interior Minister Faeser, the authorities are still investigating possible contacts between the AfD and the terrorist group, embodied by Malsack-Winkemann’s role within the conspiracy. "Of course we're looking now: What connections are there?" Faeser said. “You have to look very carefully."
Groups like the Reichsbürgers and similar European extremists—such as the Germasn-based group arrested in 2020 for making similar plans, which included an American soldier—are accelerationists, among the most dangerous domestic terrorists. Accelerationists, as SPLC analyst Cassie Miller explains, reject “political solutions” as inadequate for dealing with the threat of what they call “white genocide”—the hysterically fallacious belief that “white culture” faces an existential threat from multiculturalism and a demographic tide of nonwhite people: “the accelerationist set sees modern society as irredeemable and believe it should be pushed to collapse so a fascist society built on ethnonationalism can take its place.”
These far-right conspiracists all feed each other’s beliefs. The now-international QAnon movement spread conspiracy theories about how Trump—who the authoritarian cult sees as their ultimate savior—had been ostensibly cheated out of the election that played a role in the insurrection. German QAnon followers had eagerly promoted election disinformation claiming the vote had been manipulated from a server farm in Frankfurt secretly run by the CIA, which spread widely in American far-right circles and became one of the false claims about vote fraud touted by the insurrectionists.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.