By Anna Noryskiewicz
December 7, 2022 / 6:59 AM / CBS News
Masked police officers escort Heinrich Reuss, also known as Prince Heinrich XIII, after his arrest and a raid of his home in Frankfurt, Germany, December 7, 2022. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office has conducted raids targeting a terror group known as Reichsburger, which Reuss is accused of heading, for an alleged plot to overthrow the Germany government. Boris Roessler/picture alliance/Getty
Berlin — Police have arrested at least 25 people tied to an alleged right-wing extremist plot to overthrow Germany’s government. The group targeted in about 130 raids across Germany was described by prosecutors as being influenced by QAnon conspiracy theories and espousing a doctrine similar to that of far-right groups in the U.S. and across Europe.
Germany’s Federal Prosecutor General is now investigating the suspected right-wing terror group, which calls itself Reichsbürger, for allegedly planning an attack on the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, as part of a violent coup to overthrow the government.
The investigators’ trail leads to a member of a former Germany royal family as the purported figurehead, a former parliamentarian from the far-right AfD political party, and of particularly concern to the investigators, to former members of the German military’s special forces.
Current members of Germany’s special security services struck in the early hours of Wednesday morning, in what was a potentially dangerous series of raids.
Forces stormed apartments across the country, executing 25 arrest warrants and launching extensive searches.
A police officer works during a raid in Berlin, Germany, December 7, 2022. Twenty-five suspects were arrested after coordinated raids in 11 federal states, including Thuringia, Hesse and Lower Saxony, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement. Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency/Getty
While only 25 people were detained, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office has accused around 50 men and women of forming a terrorist organization with the intent of eliminating the constitutional order of the Federal Republic of Germany and establishing a new state modeled on the German Reich of 1871.
The group stands accused of planning to storm the Reichstag, or parliament building, as part of a wave of attacks aimed at precipitating civil war-like conditions in Germany. It also allegedly planned to attack the national power grid and to depose the federal government and take power by force.
The prosecutor’s office said the group had already selected members to fill important ministerial posts in the new regime, from the moment of the “takeover.”
Investigators have described the operation against the group as unprecedented in Germany: “Beyond all dimensions in terms of scope.”
Because a significant number of the group’s alleged members are former soldiers of the Germany armed forces, including special forces, it has been treated as a particularly dangerous organization. Investigators had indications before the raids that the suspects were armed with a variety of weapons, some of which were legally owned.
Given the security concerns, in addition to task forces from the Federal Police’s antiterrorism unit GSG 9, officers from several special forces (SEK) of the German states were also deployed to carry out the arrests and ensure security during searches. A total of about 3,000 security forces carried out the raids.
The central figure of the group is Heinrich Reuss, who calls himself Prince Heinrich XIII. He’s the scion of a long-established but minor German royal household from what is now Thuringia, in eastern Germany. The 71-year-old has publicly advocated his “Reichsbürger” theses for several years, which suggests the modern German state is illegitimate and that the old royal lineage from the 19th century must be restored to power.
During a raid against the so-called “Reichsburger” group, a police officer sits in a police vehicle with key suspect Heinrich Reuss, or Prince Heinrich XIII, after searching his home and detaining him. Boris Roessler/picture alliance/Getty
In 2019, for example, he declared at a forum in Switzerland that the Federal Republic was not a sovereign state, but still controlled by the Western allies from World War II. In another video still circulating online, he refers to the German state and the country’s judiciary branch as “companies.”
Reuss was earmarked by the Reichsbürger terror group targeted in Wednesday’s raids to become the new state regent after its takeover of the country, investigators said. Reuss works as an independent financial adviser in Frankfurt and owns a hunting lodge in Thuringia. Members of the group are reported to have met at the lodge several times over the course of this year.
A kind of “shadow cabinet” is said to have been formed, with Reuss at the helm.
Particularly explosive was the allegation that the group intended to install as the head of a new national justice department the former AfD member of the Bundestag, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann. She has worked as a judge in Berlin since leaving the Bundestag last year. Previous attempts by the Berlin regional senate to have her removed as a judge, due to anti-democratic and other political statements she has made from the bench, have failed.
One of the leading suspects swept up in the raids was Rüdiger von P., who commanded a German paratrooper battalion in the early 1990s until it was absorbed into the then-newly-founded national commando special forces (KSK). He was dismissed from the Bundeswehr at the time after being found to have stolen weapons from the military’s stocks.
Some suspected members of the group had already made public appearances as agitators at recent protests against Germany’s anti-coronavirus measures. For example, a former military colonel and member of the special forces named by prosecutors as Maximilian E. publicly advocated at one protest to send Germany’s special forces to “clean up the mess” in the national government.
Due to the large number of suspects and the large number of arrest warrants executed on Wednesday, the raids will pose a considerable logistical challenge for the judiciary and law enforcement authorities involved. All those arrested must now be brought before an investigating judge by the end of the following day, Thursday, under German law. It will be up to those judges to decide whether the individuals can be held in pre-trial detention.