An aging scion of a medieval German principality aspired to reestablish the throne of Kaiser Wilhelm II — only to have the ambition thwarted in a massive raid by Germany‘s security services.
“We know how to defend ourselves with full force against the enemies of democracy,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said. “The investigation offers an insight into the depths of the terrorist threat within the Reich Citizens milieu.”
The identification of the 71-year-old prince, Heinrich XIII, as an arch coup plotter gave the strange conspiracy an aura of baroque comedy for international observers. Yet he was just one of 25 people arrested across Germany in a coordinated raid that underscores the government’s misgivings about a far-right organization with links to German military and security services.
“According to our findings, the association has set itself the goal of eliminating the existing state order in Germany, the free democratic basic order,” German federal prosecutor Peter Frank said Wednesday after the raid. “It combines the rejection of the state institutions in Germany with conspiracy myths consisting of various narratives of the Reichsbürger ideology and the QAnon ideology.”
The so-called Reichsburgers have attracted increasing attention from German security services in recent years, as they “reject the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and its legal system” and profess allegiance instead to the imperial order founded through the unification of Germany in 1871 and dissolved with the abdication of Wilhelm at the end of the First World War.
“Their denial of the legitimacy and sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany and their fundamental rejection of its legal order and its representatives lead to a hostile stance that has the potential to manifest itself in the most severe acts of violence,” Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution, has said in an earlier overview of such ideologues.
The raid on Wednesday marked at least the third high-profile government action against the group in recent years and the second in as many months. Police arrested a 75-year-old woman in Saxony in connection to a plot to kidnap Health Minister Karl Lauterbach.
“This is a small minority in our society, but they are highly dangerous,” Lauterbach said in October.
The German Defense Ministry disbanded a company of the German military’s Special Forces Command, or KSK, in 2020 after finding that the unit had “become partially independent” from their leadership. The dissolution of that company followed an investigation into “the disappearance of 48,000 rounds of ammunition and 62kg (137lb) of explosives,” as the Financial Times noted at the time.
“Anyone who turns out to be a right-wing extremist has no place in the Bundeswehr and must leave it,” then-Defense Minister Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer said.
The detection of the threat to Lauterbach led to the uncovering of the wider coup plot, which is suspected to include yet another member of the KSK.
“The ideology of the so-called Reichsbürger may seem ludicrous and absurd, but their very concrete plans to violently overthrow the government by storming the Bundestag to establish a ‘new state order’ should be taken dead seriously,” the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation’s Nicholas Potter told the Times of London. “Testament to the threat they pose is the involvement of a number of former and active soldiers, including from elite Bundeswehr units such as the special forces KSK.”