German police raid homes of 20 alleged supporters of far-right Reich Citizens movement

Prosecutors say ‘Reichsbuerger’ movement, behind last year’s failed putsch, planned to ‘destabilize’ the state through social media

Illustrative: German police officers at Herrmannplatz, Berlin on October 11, 2023. (John MACDOUGALL / AFP)
Illustrative: German police officers at Herrmannplatz, Berlin on October 11, 2023. (John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

German officials raided apartments nationwide Thursday over an alleged plot by a far-right group to spread conspiracy theories and “destabilize” the state through social media, prosecutors said.

Computers, smartphones and data sticks were seized in the searches at 20 apartments in eight states, the prosecutor’s office in Munich said in a statement.

The investigation is centered on a plot by alleged members of the far-right “Reichsbuerger” movement — the same group behind a plan last year to overthrow the state and install a self-styled prince as Germany’s new leader.

The latest plot centered on several channels on the messaging service Telegram, the prosecutors said.

From early 2021, the channels were used to spread conspiracy theories, and the operator of the channels organized “mass contacting” of authorities by phone and email, they said.

This was “in order to force them to make decisions in favor of the members of the association,” the statement said.

A picture taken on October 20, 2016, shows the terrace of a house where a far-right militant belonging to the shadowy Citizens of the Reich movement killed a policeman during a dawn raid on his house in Georgensmuend, Germany.
(AFP Photo/dpa/Daniel Karmann)

“The overriding aim… was to destabilize Germany and its institutions and to prevent, or at least hinder, lawful state action,” it said.

Those contacted were confronted with far-right conspiracy theories, and faced insults and death threats, the prosecutors said.

Thursday’s raids were launched over suspicions over the formation of a criminal organization, and the aim of authorities was to secure evidence.

Ten properties in southwestern Baden-Wuerttemberg state were searched, while raids also took place in Bavaria, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Brandenburg, Hamburg and Lower Saxony.

They followed the arrest in late 2021 of a 58-year-old man identified as the operator of the Telegram accounts. He was charged the following year, and further investigations identified further alleged members of a criminal organization.

Last month, police also searched homes of other Reich Citizens, or Reichsbuerger members who were allegedly connected to United Patriots, which Germany considers to be a terrorist group. Five suspects were arrested at the time.

In December 2022, more than two dozen people were arrested in connection with plans to topple the government. Among the accused plotters was a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

Germany’s domestic intelligence estimates that around 23,000 people across Germany belong to the Reich Citizens scene.

The Reichsbuerger movement encompasses far-right extremists, conspiracy theorists and gun enthusiasts.

Its members generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-World War I German Reich, or empire, under a monarchy, and several groups have declared their own states.

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