Germany on Wednesday detained 25 members and supporters of a far-right group that the prosecutor’s office said was preparing a violent overthrow of the state to install as national leader a prince who had sought support from Russia.
Prosecutors said the group was inspired by the deep state conspiracy theories of Germany’s Reichsbuerger and QAnon, whose advocates were among those arrested after the storming of the US Capitol in January 2021.
Members of the Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) do not recognise modern-day Germany as a legitimate state. Some of them are devoted to the German empire under monarchy, while some are adherents of Nazi ideas and others believe Germany is still under military occupation.
The plot envisaged a former member of a German royal family, identified as Heinrich XIII P. R. under Germany’s privacy law, as leader in a future state while another suspect, Ruediger v. P., was the head of the military arm, the prosecutors’ office said.
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It said Heinrich, who uses the title prince and comes from the royal House of Reuss, which had ruled over parts of eastern Germany, had reached out to representatives of Russia, whom the group saw as its central contact for establishing its new order. It said there was no evidence the representatives had reacted positively to the request.
The Kremlin said there could be no question of any Russian involvement in an alleged far-right plot to overthrow the German state, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that it “appears to be a German internal problem”.
The German government will respond with the full force of the law, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.
“The investigations provide a glimpse into the abyss of a terrorist threat from the Reichsbuerger milieu,” said Faeser in a statement, adding that the constitutional state knew how to defend itself against “the enemies of democracy”.
One active soldier and several reservists were also among those being investigated, a spokesperson for the military intelligence service told Reuters. The active soldier is a member of the Bundeswehr’s KSK elite force, which has been overhauled in recent years due to a number of far-right incidents.
Investigators suspect individual members of the group had concrete plans to storm the Bundestag lower house of parliament in Berlin with a small armed group, the prosecutor’s office said.
The vice president of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Kubicki, told the Rheinische Post newspaper that the parliamentary building was equipped for attacks from the outside and aware of potential threat situations, so “the group’s plans were already doomed to fail when they were forged”.
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The revelations of the plot evoke memories of the storming of the steps of Germany’s Reichstag parliament building by protesters in August 2020 during mass marches against coronavirus curbs, as well as the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency attributes some 21,000 people to the Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) movement, with around 5% of them seen as far-right extremists.
The House of Reuss had previously distanced itself from Heinrich, calling him a confused man who pursued conspiracy theories, according to local media. Neither the House of Reuss nor Prince Reuss’ Office responded to requests for comment.
Germany’s monarchy was abolished a century ago. When the Weimar Constitution entered into force on Aug. 14, 1919, the legal privileges and titles of German nobility were abolished. Officially, there are no princes and princesses in Germany.
Prosecutors said the raids were conducted by more than 3,000 police officials and security forces across 11 German federal states. Suspects were also arrested in Austria and Italy, said the office.
The suspects are accused of preparing, since the end of November 2021 at the latest, to carry out actions based on their ideology, according to the prosecutors’ office. These actions include procuring equipment, recruiting new members and holding shooting lessons, it added.
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The focus of the recruitment efforts were primarily members of the military and police officers, the office said.
The group was aware its plan would involve deaths, the office said, adding that its members considered this scenario to be a “necessary intermediate step” towards overarching system change.
The military intelligence service said it had worked with the prosecutors on their investigation and shared information with the domestic intelligence service and federal criminal investigators in the run up to Wednesday’s raids.