BERLIN (AP) — German police arrested dozens of people on Wednesday, including a self-proclaimed prince, a retired paratrooper and a former judge. She accused the suspects of discussing the violent overthrow of the government, but left unclear how concrete the plans were.
A German official and lawmaker said investigators may have uncovered a real conspiracy, drunken fantasies, or both. Regardless, Germany takes any right-wing threat seriously and thousands of police officers carried out pre-dawn raids across much of the country.
“We are talking about a group that, as far as we know, has planned the violent abolition of our democratic constitutional state and an armed attack,” said government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit in the Bundestag.
Sara Nanni, a Greens MP who is part of the German government, suggested the group might not have been able to.
“More and more details are coming to light that cast doubt on whether these people were smart enough to plan and carry out such a coup,” Nanni said in a post on the Mastodon social network. “The fact is: No matter how crude your ideas and how hopeless your plans are, even the attempt is dangerous!”
According to the federal prosecutor’s office, the group is said to have believed in a “conglomerate of conspiracy theories consisting of stories from the so-called Reich citizens and the QAnon ideology”. “Supporters of the Reich Citizens’ Movement reject Germany’s post-war constitution and call for the overthrow of the government, while QAnon is a global conspiracy theory with US roots.
The scene of the Reich citizens has been observed by the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution since 2016. According to estimates by the authorities, the loose movement has around 21,000 followers.
Prosecutors said the suspects also believe Germany is ruled by a so-called “deep state.”
One of the suspected ringleaders arrested on Wednesday is Henry XIII. Prince Reuss, a 71-year-old member of the House of Reuss, who continues to use the title despite Germany abolishing any formal role for royalty more than a century ago.
Federal prosecutors said Reuss, whom the group wanted to install as Germany’s new leader, contacted Russian officials to impose a new order in the country after the German government fell. There is no indication that the Russians responded positively.
Police also arrested Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a judge and former MP for the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
The alternative for Germany, known by its acronym AfD, is increasingly being targeted by the security services due to its links to extremists.
AfD co-chairs Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel said they only found out about the alleged coup plans from the media and condemned them.
“We have full confidence in the authorities involved and call for a prompt and comprehensive investigation,” it said in a statement.
Around 3,000 officers were involved in the raids at 150 locations in eleven of the 16 federal states, said Attorney General Peter Frank.
Officials arrested 22 German citizens on suspicion of “membership of a terrorist organization,” prosecutors said. Three other people, including a Russian national, were being held on suspicion of supporting the organization, they said. Against 27 other people were determined.
One of those arrested was a soldier serving in the support staff of the German special forces KSK in the southwestern city of Calw. The unit came under scrutiny for what officials described as far-right beliefs of some soldiers.
In addition to arrests in Germany, prosecutors said one person was arrested in the Austrian town of Kitzbuhel and another in Italy.
The latter suspect, a 64-year-old German citizen and former Bundeswehr special forces officer, is accused of being part of a criminal organization aimed at “undermining the German democratic order by any means, including criminal ones, and through a replace other unidentified forms of government,” police said in a statement, adding that extradition proceedings are ongoing.
“Of course there are many people who come on stage after drinking alcohol and tell confused stories,” said Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann. “In this case, however, there was such a strong suspicion that the group wanted to use violence that the investigating judge at the Federal Court of Justice ordered the investigative measures.”
According to the public prosecutor’s office, some members of the group had made “concrete preparations” to storm the Bundestag with a small armed group.
Wednesday’s raids showed that “we know how to fight back with all our might against the enemies of democracy,” said Home Secretary Nancy Faeser.
“The investigations give an insight into the depth of the terrorist threat in the Reich bourgeois milieu,” said Faeser. “Only the further investigations will provide a clear picture of how far the coup plans had progressed.”
Officials have repeatedly warned that right-wing extremists pose the greatest threat to Germany’s internal security. This threat was illustrated by the killing of a regional politician and the deadly attack on a synagogue in 2019. A year later, far-right extremists taking part in a protest against the country’s pandemic restrictions tried to storm the Bundestag building in Berlin but failed.
Faeser announced earlier this year that the government plans to disarm about 1,500 suspected extremists and tighten background checks on those who seek to acquire weapons as part of a broader crackdown on the far right.
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