Germany’s resurgent nightmare

Hany Ghoraba
Tuesday 13 Dec 2022

The attempt by the extremist Reichsbürger Movement to overthrow the German state this week was far more serious than it might at first appear.


News emerging from Germany this week of the arrest of members of a far-right terrorist group plotting a coup against the government felt more like something from a Tom Clancy novel than reality. But any doubts about the reality of the attempt were dispersed as details of the massive raids in response that included 3,000 police officers across 11 of Germany’s 16 states were published.

At least 25 suspects were arrested on 7 December, all members of a ring called the Reichsbürger Movement, or Citizens of the Reich. The ring leader was Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuss (Heinrich Reuss), a German aristocrat who is believed to have orchestrated the plot to overthrow the government. The German media reported the possible involvement of further suspects as arrests continue.

This week’s raids were the largest counter-terrorism operation in Germany’s post-War history, and this speaks volumes of the kind of danger Germany is facing. The group’s members do not recognise Germany’s current borders and seek to restore those of 19th-century Wilhelmine Germany that extended into neighbouring Poland and all the way to the Klaipeda region of Lithuania which was once known as the Memel territory.

These areas were lost after World War I and the signing of the Versailles Treaty. But the German claims continued into the 1930s when the Nazi regime attempted to reoccupy the territory but was forced to retreat after a successful Soviet counter-offensive that led the Germans to withdraw their remaining forces from the region.

Reuss and his co-conspirators planned a putsch that would take power in Germany and attempt to regain what they believe are its rightful borders and restore the former monarchy. This was not simply an imaginary scenario by an arrested former aristocrat, as the Reichsbürger Movement has recruited trained elements or former members from the German army as well as the police.

Reuss’ great-grandfather Heinrich XXVII was the ruler of the historic German statelet of Reuss until the 1918 Revolution forced him to abdicate. All German titles were abolished in 1918, but former German aristocrats can inherit their titles along with their palaces and castles in many cases. Reuss’ family title dates back to the 12th century during the time of the former Holy Roman Empire.

He turned one of his castles in Saaldorf into a meeting place for the Reichsbürger Movement and another estate into a business address linked to an asset-management company in London that financed the terrorist group’s operations. While some in Germany still believe in neo-Nazi and fascist ideologies, Reuss is among the few who have put their dangerous ideologies into action.

His plan was to force the German government out through a coup that would take control the state institutions including the army and the police. He would then establish himself as the emperor of Germany. Part of the plan was to storm the German parliament in Berlin with an armed group, to take control of it, and then to announce a new government.

As insane as the plan sounds, it was acted upon, and the German authorities are still unfolding more details of how deep it was. Other suspects including some politicians from far-right parties are under investigation.

It is no secret that recent years have not been kind to many Germans, especially the last years of former chancellor Angela Merkel whose immigration, energy, and economic policies weakened Germany’s steady growth.

Germany has also received an influx of immigrants seeking refuge, permanent residence, and citizenship. This has opened the door to the rise of far-right movements with extremist anti-immigration rhetoric such as PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamicisation of the Occident) and the Alternative for Germany (AFD) as well as the National Democratic Party.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), has been busy battling jihadist groups on the one side and far-right groups on the other, with the latter rapidly growing as a result of the country’s dwindling economic and social prospects in recent years.

The Reichsbürger Movement’s membership is estimated at around 21,000, according to the BFV, and it is alarming to think that only 25 members of this group were capable of plotting a conspiracy that forced the German authorities to launch the country’s biggest counter-terrorism raid in recent history. It is unknown how far the group’s infiltration of the country’s institutions has reached.

Nipping such movements in the bud is important in order to sustain German national security in the face of radicals who have shown themselves to be willing to plot a violent coup against one of the most established democratic systems in the world. This is not a matter that Germans can take lightly, even if the number of conspirators remains limited. The largest fires start from a small spark, and hence all hands must be on deck to protect German security, with this reflecting on the rest of Europe’s security as well.

It is known that the terrorist attacks carried out by the Islamic State (IS) group and its affiliates in Europe in recent years have diverted attention away from the dangers posed by radical far-right and neo-Nazi groups. However, the battle to contain both Islamist and fascist terrorist threats is far from over, and it may require the further recruitment of law-enforcement and intelligence personnel in the coming years.

The far-right and neo-Nazi groups remain a mostly hidden but still resurgent nightmare for Germany as they do in many other European countries. The citizens of a country that paid a heavy price in World Wars I and II cannot be drawn into a political nightmare once again over a series of bad economic decisions.

Germany’s stability is a cornerstone for the rest of Europe and the whole Western world, and therefore these groups must be tackled with absolute determination to halt their resurgence especially among a younger generation that may be oblivious to what their elders had to go through as a result of similar ideologies.


The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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