The Federal Prosecutor’s Office has confirmed that a shot was fired at police officers during a search of an apartment in Reutlingen in Baden-Württemberg. The ARD had previously reported about it. Apparently, the apartment search was part of a raid in the so-called Reichsbürger milieu.
As early as December last year, there was a major raid against a group of so-called Reich citizens and lateral thinkers who are said to have been preparing for a “Day X” for months, on which, according to the findings of federal prosecutor Peter Frank, they wanted to eliminate state order. At that time there were arrest warrants against 22 suspected members of a terrorist group in the Reichsbürger milieu and three supporters of the group, including a Russian citizen. The group was led by Henry XIII. Prince Reuss. The renewed raids are related to this group around Henry XIII.
Who are the “Reichsbürger”?
In recent years, the growing scene of so-called Reich citizens has alarmed the security authorities. In a report from June 2022, the domestic secret service counts around 21,000 people at this scene.
The high potential for violence among the “Reich citizens” is particularly worrying: “Around 500 people still have at least one gun license,” warns the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
What is the ideological breeding ground?
“Reichsbürger” reject the Federal Republic of Germany and its democratic structures, some of them propagate the reestablishment of a German empire or believe that the Allies of the Second World War, who defeated Nazi Germany in 1945, are still ruling in secret.
It is often abbreviated from the “Reich citizens” spoken. The ““Reichsbürger” does not exist, however, as a study by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation from 2018 emphasizes. Accordingly, the “large, very different milieu of the Reich ideology” can be divided into four sub-milieus: sovereignists, self-governors, “Reich citizens” and right-wing extremists. The borders are partly fluid.
The groups have different levels of violence, but they all share the belief that Germany is not a sovereign state.
Within the Reich ideology milieu, around 1,150 people, i.e. a little more than five percent, belonged to the group of right-wing extremists in 2021. However, the rest of the group also uses right-wing extremist ideology fragments. Among them are anti-Semitic conspiracy myths or the idea that German territory should be extended back to former borders in the east.
How dangerous is the scene?
In recent years, some serious crimes from the “Reichsbürger” milieu have become known. Again and again, his followers stand trial for murder or attempted murder. The crimes registered by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution increased sharply between 2020 and 2021, including violent crimes.
Timo Reinfrank is Managing Director of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which aims to strengthen civil society against right-wing extremism. For Reinfrank, militancy is rooted in the group’s ideology. “Because ‘Reichsbürger’ do not recognize the constitution and the legitimacy of the security authorities, their ideology legitimizes them to act with violence.” You’ve seen that in past house searches or when individual members come into contact with bailiffs. “There is considerable militancy and a willingness to use violence,” says Reinfrank. And: “These are not people who carry out arbitrary attacks. They want to specifically attack the basic state order, like elected local politicians.”
The protests against the measures of the corona pandemic would have brought radicalization with them again – and brought new supporters to the milieu. According to Reinfrank, it can increasingly be observed how an anti-democratic milieu is developing from selective protests against corona measures. In his eyes, one example is a demonstration by the “Freie Geister” group, which carried a banner reading “Sovereignty. For the freedom of our country.”
“The scene has become radicalized. People are becoming more receptive to the core idea of the Reichsbürger milieu that Germany and the elected government are not sovereign,” says Reinfrank.
How well connected are “Reich citizens”?
Particularly worrying: In December, the investigations of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office were also directed against a soldier from the Bundeswehr’s Special Forces Command (KSK) and several reservists. A former member of the Bundestag for the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany was also among the suspects. Also a former police officer who was responsible for the security of the Jewish communities in Lower Saxony before his suspension.
Experts have been warning of right-wing networks in security agencies and the German armed forces for years. In July 2020, then Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer dissolved an entire company of the KSK. The forbidden Hitler salute is said to have been shown among members of the troops, and right-wing rock, popular among extremists, was played at parties. The police in Saxony had unearthed a weapon cache with ammunition and explosives from a soldier in the company.
After the large-scale raid in December, Thuringia’s head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Stephan Kramer, also pointed out the dangers of fantasies of violence and revolution, which also affect the New Right as a whole. He told the German Press Agency: “The scene is dangerous and we would do well not to downplay it.”
Assistance: Anne Höhn and Hans Pfeifer
This text was first published on December 7th, 2022 and updated on March 22nd, 2023.