German authorities arrested more than two dozen suspects last week over an alleged plot to overthrow the state by violence and military means.
The group, which included far-right figures and ex-military officers, had procured weapons and developed concrete plans in recent months to create nationwide chaos and to storm the Bundestag with violence, according to the prosecutors.
Heinrich Reuss – a descendant of a noble family, also known as Prince Heinrich XIII – was the leading figure in the group.
When did the coup discussions start in Germany?
The Reichsbürger (Reich Citizens) movement in Germany, which aims not to recognize the existing constitutional order, overthrow it by carrying out a coup, and re-establishing the empire, has been known since the 1980s.
From the 2000s onwards, this movement split into many small organizations and "kingdoms" and began to come to the fore more frequently. For example, it is known that in 2012, a member of the movement named Peter Fitzek founded a kingdom in Wittenberg, where anyone who wishes to become a citizen for a fee receives an identity card signed by "King Peter I" (Fitzek).
Apart from these marginal attempts, it has been widely covered in the media for a long time that the Reichsbürger and far-right organizations infiltrated other state institutions, especially the army and the police. It was suggested that they were organized to overthrow the constitutional order. It was declared that since 2010 dozens of pistols, tens of thousands of ammunition and explosives belonging to the German army have been lost and could not be found. For example, in 2017, it was revealed that First Lieutenant Franko A. was organized within the German army Bundeswehr to stage a coup and assassinate politicians. Following these, Reichsbürger members were banned from obtaining gun licenses in 2018; Until the end of 2021, the gun licenses of 1,050 Reichsbürger members were revoked. However, it is known that 500 Reichsbürger members still own guns.
Members' Telegram messages plotting a coup on the morning of the raid were also widely reported on the media.
What is the identity of the alleged coup plotters?
The members caught in the raid belong to the Reichsbürger movement. The Reichsbürger ideology is a structure that includes many segments and groups. It is known that this structure is supported by the anti-vaccine "Querdenker" movement. According to the reports of the German domestic intelligence organization Verfassungschutz, the number of Reichsbürgers is 21,000. Among them, the number of extreme rightists is around 1,000. The movement is not homogeneous and ranges from anti-vaccine to AfD members and far-right extremists.
Members of the organization arrested on charges of plotting an armed coup attempt with the Schatten (Shadow) operation on Wednesday morning include a German noble dynasty Prince, an active-duty judge who is also a former AfD lawmaker, an active-duty soldier and former members of the German army. All of the detainees are German citizens except for one member, who is a Russian citizen. They were members of the Reichsbürger movement and were arrested on charges of plotting to overthrow the constitutional order, launch an armed raid on the German Parliament, and seize power. According to the claims of the official authorities, the members of the organization planned and took the risk that there would be deaths in a possible armed coup and an attempt to raid the parliament. As a matter of fact, it was also shared with the public that the arrested people formed a council after the possible coup attempt and shared their ministries among themselves.
The ideology of Reichsbürger does not recognize the state of the Federal Republic of Germany and rejects all official institutions and organizations. According to this movement, post-World War II Germany is still under occupation and current politicians and state officials should be tried in a second Nuremberg court for treason. Believing that Germany is currently ruled by a deep state, the organization also denies the Holocaust. The supporters of the organization recognized the borders of the German Empire in 1871. The members of the organization, who do not recognize any official documents, create their own identities, driver's licenses and title deeds. Since they do not recognize the police and judicial powers, they are often inclined to commit crimes.
The members of the organization, who communicate with each other through digital channels, especially telegram, and use the colors black and white as the symbols of the Imperial flag, are mostly organized in rural areas of Germany. According to German authorities, its ability to infiltrate the German judicial system, army, police force and parliament through the AfD makes the organization even more dangerous.
What are the hesitations and criticisms about the operation in Germany?
The anti-terror operation Schatten, in which 54 people were accused and 25 people were arrested, is described as the largest anti-terrorist operation in Germany's history after the RAF terrorist organization. At the same time, 150 houses, flats, warehouses and barracks are raided by 3,000 officers. It seems that a long preparation has been made for such an extensive operation. As a matter of fact, the Federal Attorney General's Office stated that the organization has been followed since Nov. 2021 and that the raid was finally carried out.
The biggest criticism expressed regarding the operation is that it was accompanied by the media and the details were shared with various media organs days ago. As a matter of fact, Left Party lawmaker Martina Renner claimed that it had been known by some media for two weeks that the operation will be organized and that this situation would pose a security risk for such a serious and large-scale security operation. Expressing that she also knew that the operation would be carried out as of the middle of last week, Renner criticized this information sharing that may cause Reichsbürger members to take precautions by being warned in advance.
While all politicians, especially President Steinmeier, describe the alleged coup plan as a serious threat against German democracy and constitutional order, there are also opposing voices. Former German Interior Minister Otto Schily claimed that the allegations of the coup plan were exaggerated and that this group did not pose a real threat or danger to the state. Similarly, active far-right media in Germany claim that it is a government-controlled so-called theatrical operation to curtail freedom of expression and increase repression of far-right movements and anti-vaccine groups and a PR effort accompanied by the media. The allegations that the government will use it to increase the pressure on the AfD and turn it into a new witch hunt are also expressed in the same channels. It is seen that the German public has started to discuss the way the operation was carried out, the media-police cooperation and the possible risks it creates.