A former police officer who was tasked with protecting Jewish communities from terror attacks was reportedly among the 25 people arrested in connection with an alleged far-right plan to violently topple the German government.
The Guardian reported Friday that Michael Fritsch was arrested near Hanover in northern Germany. The former police officer was detained along with his partner Melanie Ritter.
The coup plot was allegedly hatched by people linked to the so-called Reich Citizens movement, which rejects Germany’s postwar constitution and the legitimacy of the government. Prosecutors suspect those arrested of being either members or supporters of a terrorist organization.
The movement has its roots in a mixture of post-war grudges, antisemitic conspiracy theories and anger over recent pandemic restrictions, experts say.
According to The Guardian, 58-year-old Fritsch was suspended from duty as a police officer when he attended rallies connected to coronavirus denial in 2020. He was later sacked.
He then became a parliamentary candidate for DieBasis, a COVID-denying political party. The report said his appeal against his dismissal from the police force was still ongoing.
No details were given as to the nature of his responsibilities regarding the protection of Jewish communities.
Suspects detained so far have also included a self-styled prince, a retired paratrooper and a judge.
The Guardian said celebrity chef Frank Heppner, whose daughter is the girlfriend of the Real Madrid star and Austrian national soccer team captain David Alaba, was also arrested in the sweep of suspects.
The newspaper said Heppner “was allegedly a member of the command staff of the military arm of the terrorist group, responsible for recruiting new members, obtaining weapons and other equipment, as well as building a bug-proof communication and IT structure.”
The report said the renowned chef was also in charge of food logistics for the militia and that he was arrested in Austria.
German officials have said they expect more people to be detained in connection with the alleged far-right plan to bring down the government.
German authorities said Friday that judges have confirmed the arrest of 23 people detained earlier this week on suspicion of planning to topple the government, while the extradition of two others detained abroad is being sought.
Prosecutors said 22 German citizens and a Russian woman detained in a series of raids across Germany on Wednesday have appeared before a federal court for their arraignment and will remain in custody as the investigation into the case continues.
Extradition proceedings have been initiated in the case of two others, identified only as Maximilian E. and Frank H., who were detained in Italy and Austria respectively, prosecutors said.
The case has also put a spotlight once more on the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
One of its former lawmakers, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, was among those arrested. A Berlin judge, she was tapped to become justice minister if the coup succeeded, prosecutors said.
While the party’s leadership has denounced the plot, one of its lawmakers called the raids “the biggest abuse of power in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.”
Petr Bystron, an AfD lawmaker from Bavaria, accused German authorities of “massive intimidation of the entire opposition.”
Rival politicians, meanwhile, have called for the party’s links with the Reich Citizens movement to be investigated.
Also detained was Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, whom prosecutors consider one of the two ringleaders of the plot and who plotters allegedly wanted to install as head of a new government.
The 71-year-old member of the House of Reuss continues to use the title of “prince” despite Germany abolishing any formal role for royalty more than a century ago.
Some in Germany have questioned whether the suspected extremists would actually have been able to pull off any serious attack.
But Germany’s top security official, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, said it would be wrong to underestimate such groups, especially if their members include people who are trained to use firearms, such as soldiers or police officers.
The head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police, Holger Muench, said officers searched about 150 locations across the country. At about 50 locations they found weapons, he told public broadcaster ZDF late Wednesday, without elaborating.
Federal prosecutors have 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.
They also allegedly believe Germany is ruled by a so-called “deep state.”
Germany is highly sensitive to far-right extremism because of its Nazi past and repeated acts of violence carried out by neo-Nazis in recent years, including the killing of a regional politician and the deadly attack on a synagogue in 2019.
Two years ago, far-right extremists taking part in a protest against the country’s pandemic restrictions tried and failed to storm the Bundestag building in Berlin.
The German parliament will review security measures, a vice-president of the Bundestag said Friday.
“We will carefully examine which security provisions for the Bundestag we need to adjust,” Katrin Goering-Eckardt of the Green party told the Funke media group.