On December 7, a strange incident occurred in Germany. A coup plot had been uncovered in advance.
The plan uncovered was of a rather large scale. As a diversionary tactic, a group of armed men attacked the Bundestag, destroying the power grid and bringing chaos to society in the meantime. They would take the members of parliament into custody and execute the prime minister.
The new head of state was to be Prince Heinrich XIII Reuss, and former Bundestag member Birgit Marsack-Winkemann of the far-right party AfD (Alternative for Germany) was to become justice minister and purge the opposition. Twenty-five people, including these central figures, have been arrested in a series of investigations, but the authorities say they will proceed with more seizures.
In a democratic country like Germany, it is surprising to hear of a coup d’etat nowadays. The group was led by the aforementioned Heinrich XIII, a 71-year-old descendant of a former German Reichsführer and an aristocrat, who is currently a member of the royal family. He is a descendant of a noble family and still calls himself a prince.
20,000 oddballs aiming to revive the German Reich
The Reichsbürger, however, is not a well-regulated organization.
It is merely a loosely coordinated “movement” of people who do not recognize the authority of the democratic system “formed under foreign duress” after the defeat in World War II, and who have a wildly right-wing ideology that aims to revive the German Reich or to achieve self-government. Some members have refused to pay taxes, have caused disturbances, and have created their own “Reich” passports and driver’s licenses. The Reich has been active in Germany since the 1980s, but it has been treated as a “nut group,” in other words, because of its tons of demos.
Dangerously, however, many of its members talk about taking power by force, and they own guns; in 2016, one police officer was killed in a shootout with police forces at a member’s home. In the latest coup plot bust, weapons were also seized in about 50 of the 150 locations searched by police across the country.
Reichsbürger itself is a loose-knit group that crosses a variety of far-right organizations and individuals, so it does not take the form of official members, but the entire far-right network linked to this group has a strength of more than 20,000 people. About 5% of the group, or about 1,000 core members, are said to be violent extremist connections. Although only a small fraction of these members were involved in this incident, the reality that there are 1,000 radical contacts behind it cannot be underestimated.
Pandemic and Conspiracy Theories Expanding Power
Reichsbürger’s claims and behavioral patterns are very similar to those ofQAnon supporters in the United States.
Since the new corona pandemic, they have denied the existence of corona itself, advocated anti-vaccine measures, and criticized the German government’s corona countermeasures. The “conspiracy theory” is that the government’s measures, which it calls “anti-corona measures,” are a conspiracy of great evil to destroy Germany.
In fact, many members of Reichsbürger resonate with Q-Anon, which claims the conspiracy theory that ” there is anevil power group of pedophiles in the U.S., mainly in the upper echelons of the Democratic Party, the ‘ Deep State,’ and that former President Trump is a hero fighting them. And in Germany, he claims the same conspiracy theory that “the German nation is in dire straits because of a conspiracy by a megalomaniacal group of Jews and liberals”.
This is not the first time that these conspiracy theorists have made a ton of falsehoods, but the momentum of the Reichsbürger seems to have expanded considerably since the pandemic. This is likely due to the influence of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that have spread in part on social networking sites due to the sense of entrapment that has restricted freedom of action in order to combat the infection.
Judges and those from the military’s Special Forces also participated.
What is alarming is that in addition to the aforementioned former federal legislator, judges, police officers, and military personnel participated in the group.
Particularly noteworthy is the head of the group’s military section, former Army Lieutenant Colonel Rudiger von Pescatore. He was originally a military officer who served as a staff officer and commander of a special forces unit, and retired from the military in 1996 when he was commander of the 251st Airborne Battalion after being caught illegally taking weapons out of the unit. He was also a member of the KSK.
M has long been considered dangerous for his far-right views and was the target of surveillance by the Military Security Service (MAD), the military’s counterintelligence agency. In recent years, his criticism of the Deep State and anti-vaccine language and behavior had also become prominent.
Incidentally, the KSK was also in trouble in 2017 when 50 members of the unit were accused of Nazi worship; another incident of missing weapons occurred in 2020, and the then defense minister disbanded part of the unit and even ordered an overall improvement in transparency and reform of its structure. The German military had been actively engaged in anti-communist and patriotic leadership during the Cold War, and it may be that some of the special forces units maintained their far-right nature even after the Cold War.
They were taken in by Russian intelligence operations.
By the way, many Reichsbürger members have said and done things that support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There is a marked tendency to delusionally believe the propaganda critical of the U.S. spread by Russia. In other words, they are being taken in by Russia’s information operations.
This is a global trend, not just in this case. Russian intelligence agencies are spreading exclusive and discriminatory ethnic and religious hatred in order to divide Western societies, and the sympathies of the far-right in Europe have become increasingly pronounced, especially in the past decade or so. In the past, during the Cold War, left-wing forces were the target of Soviet intelligence operations, but now the targets of such operations have completely shifted to the far-right, and among the far-right in Europe today, there are a great many Putin supporters who have come from the anti-liberal movement.
This trend is also true in the U.S., where Russian disinformation operations are deeply entrenched in the Trump-supporting base of Q-Anon followers. In the early days of Q Anon , social networking accounts affiliated with Russian agents played a major role in its proliferation.
Thus, as a global trend, “support for Putin,” “Q Anon,” “anti-vaccine,” and “far-right ideology” are now deeply connected through the common language of conspiracy theories, under the influence of Russian information operations. This can often be seen in Japan’s online discourse space as well.
However, this is not so much a matter of personal beliefs as it is the fact that the proliferation of conspiracy-theory information has become extremely powerful with the advent of social networking services. And behind this is the calculated guidance of Russian intelligence operations.
In the recent coup attempt in Germany, a Russian citizen named Vitalia B. was arrested as the only non-German foreigner. Heinrich XIII, the mastermind of the attempt, has been trying to contact representatives of the Putin regime through the Russian Embassy in Berlin, and Vitalia B. has been acting as an intermediary.
Although there is no evidence that Russian agents were involved in the “coup plot,” it is easy for the Russians to play into the hands of this group of conspiracy theorists.
Interview and text by： Fumitaro Kuroi Photo： Reuters/Afro