Police today foiled an alleged plot to storm the German parliament and overthrow the government in what was the latest effort by the authorities to combat a rising tide of far-right extremism in the country.
The hare-brained scheme was concocted by a dozens of individuals prosecutors said were linked to the the ‘Reichsbürger’ or ‘Citizens of the Reich’ movement.
Reichsbürger adherents seek to bring down modern democratic Germany and create a new state akin to the pre-war monarchical Reich which existed from 1871 to 1918.
Prosecutors claimed that members of the group were associated with various far-right extremist groups and in believed in a ‘conglomerate of conspiracy theories as well as QAnon ideology.’
But the arrest of 25 people – including German aristocrat and ringleader Prince Heinrich XIII of Reuss – is just another step in an ongoing battle to contain extremism in a nation still haunted by the spectre of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.
Henrich XIII, Prince of Reuss, is thought to have been arrested at his home in the state of Thuringia where his family own lands, with police raiding a ‘forest palace’
German security forces raid a house as part of sweeping operation to foil a plot to overthrow the parliament
German special police forces patrol and search the area in Bad Lobenstein, Thuringia, after anti-terror raids across the country today
Henrich XIII, Prince of Reuss, has been identified as one of 25 people arrested and accused of plotting a far-right coup against the German government
Germany has experienced somewhat of a far-right resurgence in recent years, motivated in part by the European migrant crisis.
Since former Chancellor Angela Merkel opened borders to migrants in 2015, there has been a boom in support for fringe political parties and a rise in hate crimes, characterised by a string of high-profile terror attacks and murders.
In February 2020, a man named Tobias Rathjen shot dead eleven people at two shisha bars in the town of Hanau in a targeted attack motivated by his hatred for migrants.
The massacre came nine months after pro-migrant politician Walter Luebcke was shot dead outside his home by a man with far-right sympathies, and four months after another far-right gunman attacked a synagogue in the city of Halle.
Germany’s government recognised the problem in May of last year, revealing figures that showed a considerable rise in hate crimes and announcing that political extremists are ‘the biggest threat to our country.’
The interior ministry reported a dramatic annual increase in anti-Semitic crimes which had jumped up 15.7 per cent in 2020, with 2,351 total incidents – 94.6 per cent of which were committed by individuals with ties to far-right political groups.
Of the total, 62 were acts of violence while the majority were anti-Semitic hate speech and other related crimes, frequently on social media.
A car with dead bodies stands in front of a bar in Hanau, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Several people were shot to death in Hanau by an extremist gunman
Far-right gunman Stephan Balliet opened fire on a German synagogue in October 2019 during Yom Kippur – trying and failing to get inside and massacre worshippers – before shooting two people dead and injuring two others outside
A protester with an Iron Cross draped over his back outside the Reichstag at a demonstration in August 2022
Former interior minister Horst Seehofer last year warned that the rise of far-right extremism posed ‘the biggest threat’ for Germany
Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister at the time, said: ‘This development in Germany is not only troubling, but in view of our history, deeply shameful.
‘This shows again that right-wing extremism is the biggest threat for our country.’
There have also been a number of near misses in which German authorities narrowly managed to prevent a tragedy instigated by extremists.
In May of this year, German investigators foiled a ‘Nazi terror attack’, arresting a 16-year-old who had planned to detonate 16 home-made pipe bombs in his former school.
Police in the city of Essen stormed the teen’s room, uncovering the explosives as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material and other weapons.
The same month, a bombshell report published by Germany’s interior ministry revealed that the growth in popularity of far-right ideals had permeated the public sector.
An investigation conducted over three years from July 2018 – 2021 by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – Germany’s domestic intelligence service – found that a total of 327 employees of Germany’s federal and state security authorities had ties to ‘right-wing extremist’ organisations.
Among these employees were 83 people in military counterintelligence, 18 in the federal police, and one each in the German domestic intelligence services, the foreign intelligence service and the Reichstag police.
Up to 30 were suspected or proven members of the Reichsbürger movement behind the supposed plot to carry out an armed attack on the Reichstag foiled by German police this morning.
Memorial graffiti in memory of those killed in a terror attack in Hanau is pictured
A member of far-right group Nordkreuz is seen wielding an assault rifle amid military drills in photos leaked last yaer
Leaked images obtained by a German investigative reporter showed Nordkreuz members conducting military drills in preparation for ‘Day X’ – the day they believe the far-right must seize control of Germany
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser wants to table new legislation which would make it easier to remove civil service employees with links to extremist groups
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency attributes some 21,000 people to the Reichsbürger movement, with around five per cent of them seen as far-right extremists and ten per cent of them thought to be potentially violent.
Since 2016, German authorities have revoked more than a thousand gun licences of people they believe to subscribe to the Reichsbürger ideology after one member shot and killed a policeman.
But in light of today’s events, the German government is preparing to crack down further on extremism, according to Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.
The Bundestag, Germany’s federal legislature, already has regulations in place designed to prevent extremist groups from disseminating their views and recruiting new members.
Germany’s penal code prohibits publicly denying the Holocaust and publication of any material linked to the Nazi party, and forces social media companies to adhere to strict regulations to limit spread of hate-speech and extremist political ideologies.
Now, Faeser plans to present a new bill to parliament in the next few days that would make it easier to remove civil service employees and public sector officials who were deemed to be enemies of the constitution – a move geared towards limiting the influence of individuals with extremist views in the public sector.
‘The investigations provide a glimpse into the abyss of a terrorist threat from the Reichsbürgermilieu,’ Faeser said this morning in a statement following the arrests of Reichsbürger members on suspicion of creating a terrorist organisation.
The legislation may also enhance the power of German authorities to tackle groups like the the ‘Nordkreuz’ or Northern Cross – a particularly well-armed and prepared extremist faction started by a German special forces operator which is made up primarily of current or former military, intelligence and police officers.
In 2021, leaked images obtained by a German investigative reporter showed Nordkreuz members conducting military drills in preparation for ‘Day X’ – the day they believe the far-right must seize control of Germany.