Status: 03/22/2023 7:43 p.m
Conspiracy theories and weapons, right-wing extremists and science deniers: According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the “Reichsbürger” scene has around 23,000 followers – and the trend is rising. What danger do they pose? The most important questions and answers.
What are “Reichsbürger”?
So-called Reich citizens do not recognize the Federal Republic of Germany as a state. They falsely claim 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. The thesis that Germany is actually run like a GmbH is also part of the ideological pool.
However, “Reichsbürger” are not a unified movement. Some of them see themselves as heads of state in their own little empire, with their own ID 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 scene – and what potential for violence is there?
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 of them (about 2100 people) sees the protection of the constitution as violent. Around 1,250 people are right-wing extremists.
According to the authorities, a total of 1011 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.”
A nationwide raid last December, in which numerous suspects were arrested, caused a sensation before the most recent searches. The network is by no means homogeneous, like ARD terrorism expert Michael Götschenberg described at the time. The group is considered dangerous primarily because of the mixture that has come together in it – in addition to esotericists, “lateral thinkers” with a Bundeswehr background are also part of it.
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 may only show specific indications of a violent anti-constitutional attitude years after the permit was issued.
A police officer was shot during the recent raid. Have there been similar attacks before?
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.
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.