Five Germans charged over putsch plot, plan to kidnap health minister

Group allegedly aimed to create ‘civil war-like conditions’ in Germany, violently overthrow democratic government, restore authoritarian 19th-century Reich

People walk past the Reichstag building while being reflected in a puddle in Berlin, Germany, September 6, 2022. (AP/Christoph Soeder)
People walk past the Reichstag building while being reflected in a puddle in Berlin, Germany, September 6, 2022. (AP/Christoph Soeder)

BERLIN — Five Germans have been charged with treason over a far-right plot to overthrow the government that included plans to abduct the health minister, prosecutors said Monday.

The four men and a woman were arrested in recent months over the plot, with German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach — unpopular among far-right groups because of anti-Covid measures — confirming that he was targeted.

They were charged on January 16 and face counts ranging from founding a domestic terror group to preparing a treasonous act and violating weapons laws, the federal prosecutors’ office said.

The group aimed to “trigger civil war-like conditions in Germany by means of violence… to cause the overthrow of the government and parliamentary democracy,” it said in a statement.

The suspects accepted that fatalities could result from the attempted overthrow, it added.

It said the group’s ideology was “shaped” by the woman charged — identified only as Elisabeth R. — and was centered on the belief that the modern German state was not legitimate.

File: German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach addressing the media during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, on February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Instead, they claimed that the German Empire of the 19th century was the country’s true system of government and that an authoritarian ruling order should be re-established.

Their beliefs chime with those of the far-right Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) movement, which rejects Germany’s democratic institutions and has attracted a growing number of followers.

‘Military, administrative arms’

The five members organized themselves into “military” and “administrative” arms to plan the coup, prosecutors said.

It involved triggering a “long-lasting, nationwide blackout by damaging or destroying important power supply facilities,” and then abducting Lauterbach, with his bodyguards killed if necessary.

A special assembly would then be called in Berlin to publicly depose the government and appoint a new leader, prosecutors said.

They had sought support via the Telegram messaging app.

One of the accused, Sven B., was to lead the abduction of Lauterbach, while Thomas O. scouted areas as part of plans to trigger blackouts and obtained maps of electricity infrastructure, prosecutors said.

Masked police officers lead Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuss, center, to a police vehicle during a raid against so-called ‘Reich citizens’ in Frankfurt, Germany, December 7, 2022. (Boris Roessler/dpa via AP)

The two men also tried to procure explosives, which they wanted to import from the former Yugoslavia, and Thomas O. was arrested after obtaining assault rifles, handguns, and ammunition.

Elisabeth R., along with three others, was in charge of recruiting potential members.

“She insisted on quick implementation of the plan and repeatedly named specific dates,” prosecutors said.

Another far-right group planning to overthrow the government — including an ex-MP and aristocrat — was uncovered in December, though authorities have not linked that group to the one that plotted to abduct Lauterbach.

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