From our correspondent
They are only five in the dock but their projects are chilling. A woman and four men have been appearing since Wednesday May 17 before a court in Koblenz (south-west), to be founders or members of a terrorist organization called “United Patriots”. Close to the Citizens of the Reich (Reichsbürger), a movement that does not recognize the Federal Republic of Germany but advocates the return of the Empire, these people wanted to create chaos in the country, according to a three-step plan.
After having caused a vast power outage with the help of explosives, they planned to kidnap the Federal Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach – symbol of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and pet peeve of the anti-vax movement –, leaves to injure or kill his bodyguards. Then, the group would have tried to bring down the federal government and place personalities at the head of the state. Confused by the police during a purchase of weapons, the defendants were arrested in April and October 2022 and face up to ten years in prison.
Mixing ideas close to the far right with conspiracy theories linked to the pandemic, the defendants, aged 44 to 75, are astonishing with their profile. Their leader is a qualified theologian, retired college professor and known for her writings in favor of a return to the German Empire. “Conspiracy theories fascinate many more people than we think and participate in a classic process of radicalization,” notes Kai Arzheimer, professor of political science at the University of Mainz.
This case is far from being the first of its kind in Germany. Last fall, another terrorist group was dismantled. Constituted around a representative of the nobility of Thuringia, Henry XIII, Prince of Prussia, it counted about sixty people including a judge, a doctor, policemen and soldiers and would have planned a coup d’etat. In addition, in March, a police officer was injured during a raid carried out in these same circles, in several regions of the country.
“The Citizens of the Reich have long been underestimated by the authorities who considered them harmless ‘crazy’”, recalls Kai Arzheimer. “Over the past six or seven years, that has changed. The police have discovered weapons, coup plans, and with the pandemic the movement has gained in attractiveness. Many of these people are armed and some are close to the extreme right. This scene is quite broad, ideologically fragmented and poorly connected. It is a chance. Imagine if it was well organized! “, adds this expert.
These recent high-profile cases are in any case only the tip of the iceberg. Estimated at 21,000 in 2021, the Citizens of the Reich still gained more than 2,000 members last year, according to German authorities. The number of crimes and acts of violence is also exploding, with an increase of 40% in one year. The authorities are therefore on the alert. They withdrew a thousand gun licenses from Citizens of the Reich in five years.