What do “Reichsbürger” want? And how dangerous are they?
The major raid against alleged “Reich citizens” in December was not an isolated case, now the investigators have moved out again nationwide. But why does the extreme mix of conspiracy ideologies fascinate more and more people?
The protests against the German Corona policy have given the so-called Reich citizens a boost and made their milieu public. Again and again the scene tries to saddle up with social protests. A scene that unites right-wing extremists and science deniers, some of whom want to rebuild the historic German Reich, others who want to create a new state.
What drives these people? What ideology do they follow?
What are “Reichsbürger”?
So-called Reich citizens do not recognize the Federal Republic of Germany as a state. They falsely declare that the historic German Reich continues to exist to this day. “Reich citizens” negate today’s democratic and constitutional structures such as parliament, laws or courts. They do not want to pay taxes, social security contributions or fines. But neither do they form a unified movement.
Some of them even see themselves as heads of state of their own little empire, with their own identity cards and license plates. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution uses the term “self-administrator” for these. They claim legal and territorial autonomy outside of the Federal Republic. There are also mixed forms between “Reichsbürger” and “Selbstverwalter”.
How big is the Reichsbürger scene?
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution assigns around 23,000 followers to the entire scene – and the trend is rising. About ten percent (2100) of them sees the authority as violent. According to the authority, around 1,250 are right-wing extremists. A nationwide raid last December, in which numerous suspects were arrested, caused a sensation. According to the investigators, they are said to have planned or supported a coup.
What is the status of the investigation after this major raid?
All 25 of the main suspects are now in custody in Germany. Two men arrested in Austria and Italy were extradited before Christmas and mid-February. According to dpa information, the authorities had seized more than 420,000 euros in cash and precious metals by the end of January – the “Spiegel” had reported a good 50 kilograms of gold. The group of suspects had last counted 55 men and women. At the beginning of February, Federal Public Prosecutor Peter Frank told the “Welt am Sonntag” (“WamS”) that many storage media such as laptops and mobile phones as well as written documents had been seized during the searches. “All of this is currently being evaluated from the point of view of whether the procedure could be extended to other suspects.”
How great is the potential for violence?
About every tenth person in the scene is considered violent. According to information from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a total of 1,011 extremist crimes were attributed to the “Reich citizens” in 2021 – including 184 acts of violence such as extortion and resistance. Attorney General Frank told the “WamS”: “Large parts of this scene are ready for active violence or express their fantasies of violence against state representatives more freely than before. This makes these people dangerous from the point of view of state security.”
How many guns are circulating in the scene?
According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, among other things, the propensity for weapons makes the scene so dangerous. Since monitoring began in 2016, at least 1,050 “Reich citizens” and “self-administrators” have had their gun permits revoked. In contrast, according to the BfV, at the end of 2021 there were around 500 people who were allowed to own a weapon.
Why is it so difficult to take away the guns from “Reich citizens”?
The weapons authority must be able to demonstrate convincingly that this is “necessary to prevent risks to the safety or control of the handling of these items”. If someone has been noticed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution or the police with extremist ideas or crude theories, that is usually not enough. Rather, in such cases, a lengthy process begins. As a rule, those affected also try to defend themselves legally against the confiscation of the weapons. The number of people from the “Reichsbürger” milieu with a gun license will never reach zero either. There are always new gun owners who show concrete evidence of a violent anti-constitutional attitude – possibly only years after the permit was issued.
Were there similar attacks by “Reich citizens” on state officials?
Yes, in Baden-Württemberg alone, two supporters of the scene have to answer in court. A 62-year-old is said to have hit a police officer during a check in Efringen-Kirchen in southern Baden. Federal prosecutors are demanding ten years in prison for attempted murder. A verdict is due this Friday. Also in Stuttgart at the beginning of April, a man from Boxberg in Tauber-Franconia has to answer to the court for multiple attempted murders. The then 54-year-old shot police officers during a SEK operation in the spring of last year and injured two officers.
In April 2019, the former “Mister Germany” Adrian Cause was sentenced to seven years in prison for attempted murder. During the forced eviction of his property in Reuden (Saxony-Anhalt) in 2016, he shot at a SEK police officer. The sentence of a Franconian “Reich citizen” to life imprisonment for fatally shooting police officers in Georgensgmünd is also legally binding. The man shot at SEK officials in mid-October 2016 and killed a 32-year-old police officer. Two other police officers were also injured.