Suspected coup plot spawns dozens of arrests
German police seized dozens of people including a self-styled prince, a retired paratrooper and a former judge on Wednesday, accusing the suspects of discussing the violent overthrow of the government but leaving unclear how concrete the plans were.
A German official and a lawmaker said that investigators may have detected real plotting, drunken fantasising, 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’re talking about a group that, according to what we know so far, planned to violently abolish our democratic state of law and an armed attack,” on the German parliament building, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.
Sara Nanni, a lawmaker with the Green party, part of the German government, suggested the group may not have been capable.
“More details keep coming to light that raise doubts about whether these people were even clever enough to plan and carry out such a coup,” Nanni said in a post on the social network Mastodon. “The fact is: no matter how crude their ideas are and how hopeless their plans, even the attempt is dangerous!”
Federal prosecutors said the group is alleged to have believed in a “conglomerate of conspiracy theories consisting of narratives from the so-called Reich Citizens as well as QAnon ideology”. Adherents of the Reich Citizens movement reject Germany’s postwar constitution and have called for bringing down the government, while QAnon is a global conspiracy theory with roots in the United States.
The Reich Citizens scene has been under observation by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency since 2016. Authorities estimate that the loose-knit movement has about 21,000 adherents.
Prosecutors said the suspects also believe Germany is ruled by a so-called “deep state”.
One of the alleged ringleaders arrested Wednesday is Heinrich 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 planned to install as Germany’s new leader, had contacted Russian officials with the aim of imposing a new order in the country once the German government was overthrown. There is no indication that the Russians responded positively.