Germany on Wednesday detained 25 members and supporters of a far-right group that prosecutors said were preparing a violent overthrow of the state, with some members suspected of plotting an armed attack on the parliament.
Prosecutors said the group was inspired by the deep state conspiracy theories of QAnon and the Reichsbuerger, who do not recognise the legitimacy of modern Germany, insisting the far larger “Deutsche Reich” still existed despite the Nazis’ defeat in World War Two.
The plot envisaged a former member of a German royal family, identified as Heinrich XIII P. R. under Germany’s privacy law, as the leader in a future state while another suspect, Ruediger v. P., was the head of the military arm, the prosecutors’ office said.
It said Heinrich, who uses the title prince and comes from the royal House of Reuss, which had ruled over parts of eastern Germany, had reached out to representatives of Russia, whom the group saw as its central contact for establishing its new order. It said there was no evidence the representatives had reacted positively to the request.
Russia’s embassy in Germany was quoted by RIA news agency as saying Russian diplomatic and consular institutions in Germany do not maintain contacts with representatives of terrorist groups and other illegal groups.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the government would respond with the full force of the law against such endeavours against the state and said further investigations would reveal how far the group’s coup plans had progressed.
“The investigations provide a glimpse into the abyss of a terrorist threat from the Reichsbuerger milieu,” said Faeser in a statement, adding that the constitutional state knew how to defend itself against “the enemies of democracy”.
One active soldier and several reservists were also among those being investigated, a spokesperson for the military intelligence service told Reuters. The active soldier is a member of the Bundeswehr’s KSK elite force, which has been overhauled in recent years due to a number of far-right incidents.
Investigators suspect individual members of the group had concrete plans to storm the Bundestag lower house of parliament in Berlin with a small armed group, the prosecutor’s office said.
In August 2020, protesters stormed the steps of Germany’s Reichstag parliament building, some of them holding far-right flags, during mass marches against coronavirus curbs.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency attributes some 21,000 people to the Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) movement, with around 5% of them seen as far-right extremists.
Some 2,100 Reichsbuerger are prepared to use violence to reach their goals, according to the 2021 annual report of the agency.
The House of Reuss had previously distanced itself from Heinrich, calling him a confused man who pursued conspiracy theories, according to local media. The house did not immediately respond to request for comment.
In a speech in 2019 denouncing modern political structures, Heinrich Reuss said his family dynasty could be traced back to 900 AD. He said that in the former principality of Reuss, people led “happy lives” because the administrative structures were “straightforward and transparent”.
“If things didn’t work well you just went to the prince,” he said. “Who are you supposed to turn to today?”
Germany had been a vassal state since World War Two, he said, governed by the Western allies.
Germany’s monarchy was abolished a century ago. When the Weimar Constitution entered into force on Aug. 14, 1919, the legal privileges and titles of German nobility were abolished. Therefore, officially, there are no princes and princesses in Germany.
Prosecutors said the raids were conducted by more than 3,000 police officials and security forces across 11 German federal states. Suspects were arrested in the German states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Saxony, Thuringia as well as in Austria and Italy, said the office.
The suspects are accused of preparing, since the end of November 2021 at the latest, to carry out actions based on their ideology, according to the office. These actions include procuring equipment, recruiting new members and holding shooting lessons, it added.
The focus of the recruitment efforts were primarily members of the military and police officers, the office said.
The group was aware its plan would involve deaths, the office said, adding that its members considered this scenario to be a “necessary intermediate step” towards overarching system change.
The military intelligence service said it had worked with the prosecutors on their investigation and shared information with the domestic intelligence service and federal criminal investigators in the run up to Wednesday’s raids.
The detained suspects will appear before a judge at the Federal Court of Justice on Wednesday and Thursday who will issue the arrest warrants and decide on their pre-trial detention.