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Police investigate German coup plot fueled by conspiracy allegations

origin 1Masked police officers lead Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss to a police vehicle during a raid against so-called ‘citizens of the Reich’ in Frankfurt, Germany. © AP

An alleged plot to overthrow the German government, spearheaded by a self-styled prince, a retired paratrooper and a Berlin judge, had its roots in a murky mix of postwar grievances, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and anger over the recent pandemic restrictions. experts say.

Police arrested 25 people for being part of Germany’s Reichsbuerger, or Citizens of the Reich, movement. But according to Holger Münch, the president of the Federal Criminal Police Office, more suspects could soon be named.

“Perhaps this number will grow even more.

“We assume there are currently 54 members or supporters of this terrorist organization,” he said.

“Yesterday two more were added. And we’ve identified other individuals who we don’t know exactly how they are related to this group. Maybe this number will grow even more.”

Beliefs of the citizens of the Reich

While the group’s name might suggest a link to the Nazi era, it refers to the first modern pan-German nation formed when Prussia’s King William I and his chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, united numerous smaller states into one empire , or Reich, in 1871.

Citizens of the Reich consider the partition of Germany by the Allied Powers after World War II and the subsequent democratic states that followed illegal, arguing instead that the original Reich still exists.

“To some extent, they distance themselves from the Third Reich,” said Johannes Kiess of the Else-Frenkel-Brunswik Institute for Democracy Studies in Leipzig, referring to the German dictatorship under Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1945. “But [they] have very little trouble collaborating with any neo-Nazi group.”

Kiess said Thursday that the rise of the Reich Citizens’ Movement reflects changes that have taken place on the far right of the political spectrum in recent years. While outright opposition to the existing order was once a fringe stance, anger at the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic has proved fertile ground for antigovernment sentiment, she explained.

“Now we really have the middle classes open to all kinds of conspiracy theories,” Kiess said.

“Dangerous Mix of People”

Federal prosecutors said some arrested had concrete plans to enter the German parliament with guns. And one of the alleged conspirators, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, was a former MP for the Alternative for Germany party with intimate knowledge of the Bundestag building.

“We have a dangerous mix of people who hold irrational beliefs, some with lots of money. And others with guns… that’s why it was dangerous, and we intervened.”

“We have a dangerous mix of people who hold irrational beliefs, some with lots of money. And others in possession of weapons… that’s why it was dangerous, and we intervened,” explained Münch, on the public channel ARD.

He added that police had discovered weapons in 50 locations, ranging from “crossbows to rifles and ammunition that prove [the plot was] not harmless.

The group had been under surveillance since the spring, Thomas Haldenwang, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told RTL.

“This is the first time that a national movement has taken place with a concrete plan,” he added.

The Citizens of the Reich movement, he said, has about 21,000 supporters. “We estimate that 10% are violence-oriented.”