In the early morning hours of the 7th of December 2022, 3.000 police officers conducted 130 house searches and arrested 25 individuals. All of this took place in 11 Federal States including Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, as well as Kitzbühl (Austria) and Perugia (Italy). Out of the 25 individuals, 22 are accused of being members of a right-wing terrorist organization, and three suspected to be supporters of this organization. Additionally, there are 27 further suspects.
This nation and cross-nationwide action has been the largest raid against the extreme right in Germany since recent decades. This action was targeted against ‘Reichsbürger’ group “Patriotische Union” or “Der Ratl”, which was founded no later than November 2021. According to the German Office of the Attorney General 50 men and women are accused of having formed this terrorist organization with the aim of eliminating the constitutional order of the Federal Republic of Germany and establishing a state modeled on the German Reich of 1871.
What are ‘Reichsbürger’ (Imperial Citizens)?
Reichsbürger is a label for several revisionist groups and individuals who reject the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany, its elected government, and by extension any law enforced by it are seen as not binding. They believe that the German Empire or the German Reich continues to exist. Some in the Reichsbürger movement are convinced that the Federal Republic is instead a corporation, often called the ‘BRD GmbH’ (Federal Republic of Germany Limited Liability Company). The scene is fractious and fragmented, splintered into many competing groups, yet unified under their central belief. According to authorities, there are said to be 21.000 Reichsbürger across Germany. Most of them do not accept today’s borders either and demand a larger Germany within the pre-1945 borders. Likewise, almost all Reichsbürger groups have an anti-Semitic ideology or sentiment. The COVID-19 pandemic and crisis fears have boosted the scene in the last two and a half years.
Who is the Reichsbürger group behind the planned Putsch?
The Reichsbürger group targeted by the raids is said to have planned the overthrow of the government and its replacement by an authoritarian regime. According to the public prosecutor’s office, it had “set itself the goal of overthrowing the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with its own form of government, the outlines of which had already been worked out. The members of the association are aware that this intention can only be realized through the use of military means and violence against state representatives. This includes the commission of homicides.” Since a significant part of the group consists of former soldiers of the Bundeswehr and the NVA (National People’s Army of the GDR) and among them are men with special military training, the group is considered particularly dangerous. This again has started conversations on more in-depth vetting processes for future law enforcement and military personnel. The following key figures of this putsch attempt have been identified :
Heinrich XIII P.R., identified as the central figure of the group, had already been identified as the future head of state. He had already to contacted representatives of the Russian Federation in Germany. Yet, according to the investigation there is no evidence that these representatives responded positively to his request.
Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a judge and former member of parliament for the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), was also arrested during the raids. The AfD has distanced itself from its former MP. In fact, the party does not officially represent any Reichsbürger ideology. On the other hand, the party has a rallying character for various right-wing currents, which also attracts Reichsbürger.
Malsack-Winkemann herself has ties to the Irish Freedom Party, where she was invited as a guest speaker in 2020. Hermann Kelly, the president of the Irish Freedom Party, also appeared in a livestream with her and Norbert Kleinwächter, a German MP and vice-spokesperson of the AfD group on European Affairs. Euroscepticism was a dominant narrative throughout the conversation.
Maximilian Eder, a former armed forces (Bundeswehr) colonel, had prior to this gained attention through his engagement in conspiracy theories. He had been directly linked to the Queerdenker movement and due to this, the Bundeswehr had already initiated disciplinary proceedings against him. He has been arrested in Perugia (Italy).
Peter W. was the key actor through which investigators were able to track down the network after conducting a house search mid-May 2022. He is an urban-survival trainer and connected to the Neo-Nazi doomsday prepper scene. Investigators found firearms, ammunition, etc. at his apartment.
Rüdger von P. has been identified as the head of the military flank of the group, who was tasked with the violent enforcement of the putsch. He is a former lieutenant colonel and was Peter W. superior. During his time in the military he had been suspected of stealing weapons. According to the Office of the Attorney General he headed a team of eight which was responsible for further recruitment, securing weapons, and developing a surveillance proof communication system.
Christian W., a former AfD city council, was responsible for the procurement of weapons and is in the possession of a firearms license.
Michael F., a former chief inspector (Kriminalhauptkommissar), is a prominent figure withint the Queerdenker movement in Lower Saxony. Due to a court decision in April 2022, he was removed from his position, as he compared COVID measures with the ‘Third Reich’ during a public rally. Especially concerning in this case, is that during his time with the police he had temporarily been responsible for the security concept for Jewish institutions in Lower Saxony.
Andreas M. is currently still part of the German armed forces (Bundeswehr). In his case again the question of far-right tendencies within military structures comes up, as his openly expressed dislike for the current democratic system was known to the Bundeswehr. As for the raids, officials feared that M. may be armed and might resist his arrest, the special unit of the Federal Police GSG9 took over his arrest.
Altogether, the group, is a diverse bunch of people from many walks of lives. Yet, the former mentioned individuals have been identified as key actors within this network. Within this group, we can also clearly observe a connection toward “conspirituality”, a mixture of conspiracy and spirituality.
The coup planned by the group is not likely to have been realistic, but is rathe a megalomaniacal fantasy. According to press reports, the group apparently also expected – with reference to the QAnon ideology – the support of a non-existent, powerful secret organization. Nevertheless, they could have caused damage, especially due to their military capabilities, possession of fire arms, and their access to the German parliament through Malsack-Winkelmann, a former member of parliament .