The Maastricht Journal of Politics & Economics
The Reichsbürger Movement – Nostalgic Schizophrenia or a Threat to German Democracy?
Updated: Feb 15
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By Petyo Rakov
A delusional leader and his followers threaten the democracy of a country. No, it is not Putinist Russia; it is Germany. A radical fraction of the monarchist and chauvinistic Reichsbürger movement attempted to restore the German Reich through an armed coup. Is this the beginning of the second end of German democracy?
© The NYTimes, Arrest of Heinrich XIII, the main conspirator, 7th Dec 2022
What is the Reichsbürger Movement?
Supporters of the Reichsbürgerberwegung deny the legality of the Federal Republic of Germany, probably due to excessive consumption of Jägermeister. According to their ‘views’, the “Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH” is an illegal administrative construct. The most radicalized citizens of the ‘Reich’ refuse to pay taxes and believe that the Second German Reich, along with its pre-WW1 borders, somehow still exist.
None of their ridiculous claims is based on logical foundations. Contemporary, unified Germany seems to exist at least since 1990 through the signing of the ‘Two Plus Four Treaty’, signed by the two ‘Germanys’. For that matter, the intent to “carry on the fight against the Federal Republic of Germany” sounds like nothing more than a conspiracy theory.
Ideologically, a far-right viewpoint on politics and the notion of German exceptionalism is typical for Reichsbürger. This description sounds oddly similar to neo-Nazism, right? Explicit depiction of Nazism is prohibited in Germany, making a distinction between neo-Nazism and generic far-right tendencies blurry.
Failed Coup d’État Plot Anno 2022
Die Patriotische Union, a Reichsbürger terrorist group, intended to break into the federal parliament and institutionalize a monarchist state. Thankfully, the coup was prevented through 130 raids, carried out by 3000 police officers. Frighteningly, the conspirators planned to organize at least 280 armed units, tasked with “arresting and executing” people to enforce their usurpation of authority.
Among the 25 detainees is Heinrich XIII. Prinz Reuß, the founder and “heir apparent” of the group. His Russian mistress allegedly attempted to grant Russian assistance, though these speculations were denied by the Russian Federation. Another detainee, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, is a former member of parliament from the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party. As expected, the leadership of AfD denied involvement. Lastly, a discharged paratrooper and illegal arms dealer, Rüdiger von Pescatore, has been identified as the planner of the military aspect of the coup.
The Reichsbürger mentality has reached the minds of individuals with considerable influence, political power, and military expertise. This is a troubling realization because the Reichsbürger movement cannot exist alongside a democratic Germany.
The Prince that Plotted a Putsch
Few attributes of a movement grant as much legitimacy as a grounded-in-reality leader. Heinrich XIII. Prinz Reuß doesn’t check this box. Prior to 1918, the House of Reuß was a minor noble family, ruling over the Thuringian cities of Gera and Greiz. According to the Thuringian census, the combined population of the two cities is only 116.700 people as of 2021. Thus, it is disingenuous to consider this regnal claim seriously. After all, Wilhelm II, the last Kaiser of Germany, has a living great-great-grandson.
Heinrich XIII. Prinz Rauß
The cognitive abilities of Heinrich XIII. Prinz Reuß could be described as questionable at best. In 2019, he was invited as a guest speaker at the World Web Forum, an annual event focused on business and technology development. To the amazement of the audience, the topics of his speech ranged from accusations regarding the sovereignty of Germany to antisemitic conspiracy theories.
A Threat to German Democracy?
Around 21.000 people or 0,025 per cent of the population are affiliated with the Reichsbürger movement. This would suggest that the movement does not pose a serious threat to the liberal democracy of Germany.
This fiasco may be a consequence of an emerging German phenomenon – a far-right rise. From 2018 to 2021, 327 cases of right-wing extremist activities have been registered, a sharp rise in cases from a preliminary report from 2020. The Reichsbürger movement may not capitalize on these sentiments, but other more moderate organizations are already achieving this task.
The AfD party has been appealing to right-leaning voters and received 12.6 and 10.3 per cent of the vote in the 2017 and 2021 elections, respectively. The domestic intelligence service of Germany has formally put the more radical wing of the party under surveillance on suspicion of trying to undermine the German constitution. Does this sound familiar? It is not the first vicious, anti-democratic party in Germany.
Last but not least, the failed coup attempt demonstrates the danger of charismatic but delusional leaders and their followers. The proponents of this fringe movement have managed to formulate credible plans to overthrow a democratically elected government. If 2022 has taught something, it is that nostalgic schizophrenia towards ‘the good old days’, manifested in the minds of delusional leaders, can be dangerous to both national and international security.
Sources: Reuters, DW, CBC, The Guardian, Citypopulation.de, bundeswahlleiter.de
Written by Petyo Rakov
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of MJPE or its Board. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the MJPE concerning the legal status of any country, area or territory or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers.