What are the accusations of the Reichsburg movement of trying to overthrow the German government? | Pro IQRA News

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Police have arrested 25 people accused of plotting to overthrow the German government in a series of raids across the country.

The group is accused of trying to install Henry XIII – a scion of the German royal family – as its leader. Among those arrested were members of the Reichsbürger (which translates as citizens of the Reich), a movement of disparate groups and individuals, including some with far-right views.

Reichsbürger followers had been forbidden to attempt violent actions before, but this latest incident and its alleged members have caused greater concern.

Among the group’s members was a former member of the German Parliament, who was also a judge until shortly after her arrest. Birgit Malczak-Winkmann was an MP for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, but left the party in 2021.

A number of former soldiers were also arrested in connection with the coup plot. This is a cause of great concern for law enforcement, since such relationships give dangerous extremists access to weapons and trained personnel.

Earlier in 2022, Heinrich XIII was reported in the German press as close to the Reichsbürger scene and a believer in conspiracy theories, leading his family, the House of Reuss, to publicly distance themselves from him.

However, he does not have a high profile, except for a 2019 speech at the WorldWebForum conference in Switzerland, which included an anti-Semitic message and historical revision. The participation of the aristocrat speaks of the monarchist impulses of some Reichsburgs, who wish to reinstate the Kaiser as head of state.

What does the Reichsburg think?

The Reichsbürger does not have a centralized structure but is estimated to have at least 21,000 supporters. Their main belief is that the current German state (Bundesrepublik or Federal Republic) and its democratically elected institutions and representatives are not legitimate.

Supporters of the movement refuse to abide by state authority, such as the payment of taxes. They were notorious in the early years of the pandemic for their refusal to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

Some followers of the movement consider passports and official German identity cards illegitimate. While some prefer to use an official citizenship certificate (called a Gelber Schein or yellow certificate), others manufacture their own passports and illegal driver’s licenses. These often include the former German states as birthplaces, such as the kingdoms of Bavaria or Prussia. In 2021, a German civil servant was removed from his position after he applied for a passport with the Kingdom of Bavaria listed as his country of birth.

Members of the group generally believe that some earlier version of the German state is in fact the legitimate form – although there is some ambivalence as to which one.

Some supporters believe that the true form of Germany existed between 1871 and 1918, when the German Reich was established after unification and before World War I. Others cite the constitution of the interwar Weimar Republic as the constitution of the real Germany. And still others focus on 1937 to establish what they see as the rightful borders of German territory, which later included the former Kingdom of Prussia, and now Poland and Russia, but not Austria, which was annexed in 1938.

Map of the German Reich 1871-1918
One vision of a “real” Germany among this radical group predates World War I.
Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

The unifying belief among the Reichsburgs is that the current German state lacks sovereignty. They believe that the Western Allies (France, the United Kingdom, and the United States) retained control after their occupation of West Germany ended in 1955. Therefore, some believe that the current German state is a puppet regime that does not support the interests of the German people.

It is sometimes referred to as Deutschland GmbH (Limited), which means that it has no power over itself and exists only to enrich its controllers. The name BRD GmbH is also used, referring to the post-war acronym for West Germany.

Revisionist history and antisemitism

Focusing on historical revisionism and erasing German sovereignty can encourage the perception of Germany as a blameless country with uncomplicated pride. By focusing on pre-war borders and ignoring post-war history, Reichsbürger can ignore Germany’s defeat in World War II, as well as the process of coming to terms with its Nazi and colonial past, particularly the Holocaust and the 1904 Herero and Nama massacre in Namibia. Dismissing these dark moments in German history enables the movement’s supporters to focus on being victims of a German state they do not recognize.

A similar review is common on the broader German far right, particularly some members of the populist AfD. Dismissing the significance of the Holocaust and emphasizing “positive” moments in German history encourages Holocaust relativism and anti-Semitism.

However, unlike the AfD, which has adapted its rhetoric to fit the political mainstream, some Reichsburgers completely ignore existing German laws prohibiting Holocaust denial and spreading Nazi propaganda. The group is associated with overt antisemitism and the proliferation of antisemitic conspiracy theories about the power of “high finance” as well as outright denial of the Holocaust. In March 2020, German police seized neo-Nazi propaganda during raids on the homes of some Reichsburg members.

However, historical revisionism can confuse the picture. Although many of its followers are anti-Semitic and glorify the colonial past, the Reichsburgs are not specifically defined as a group of right-wing extremists. In truth, only a small part of the movement can be defined as such.

Birgit Malsac-Winkmann sits at a table in court.
Birgit Malczak-Winkmann, pictured in court after a previous arrest in October 2022.
Alamy / dpa picture alliance.

At its core, right-wing extremism is largely defined as anti-democratic. While many Reichsburgs refuse to endorse the legitimacy of Germany’s current democratic state, the lack of a unified vision within the movement makes it unclear which system would be preferred, the constitutional monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the democratic experiment of Weimar Germany or the dictatorship of Nazism. Germany. However, in the case of the latter conspiracy, the main role of Henry XIII indicates that the aim was to restore a constitutional monarchy in the style of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s regime.

A growing threat?

It is clear that some of the Reichsburg adherents began to engage in political violence. The latest arrests follow several other incidents. In 2016, a police officer was killed during a raid on a member of the illegal gun-collection movement. In August 2020, Reichsburger members attempted to enter the German parliament as part of a protest against COVID-19 restrictions.

The presence of ex-military figures and an ex-parliamentarian among the most recent groups to be arrested indicates that the Reichsburg is not without potential influence. The AfD has long denied any links to the movement, but has shifted more and more to the right in recent years. In 2019, the German Interior Ministry stated that it had identified some isolated links between the Reichsburg and the AfD.

The Reichsburgs can be seen as a fringe group, but their ideas appeal to some clearly enough to convince them that the putsch is a worthwhile undertaking. And being associated with more influential organizations would make them more dangerous – which is why the authorities took this very seriously.


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