Early Wednesday morning, police special forces conducted simultaneous raids in eleven of Germany’s sixteen states and arrested 25 people. The arrests were made in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Saxony, and Thuringia as well as in Kitzbühel, Austria and Perugia, Italy.
The Office of the Federal Prosecutor is accusing the arrestees of supporting a terrorist association. The network is said to consist of 52 people who allegedly planned a far-right coup d’état and apparently wanted to kidnap Bundestag representatives. Members included Heinrich XIII Reuss, a “prince” from a long-established German noble family, former Bundestag representative Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a former commander of a special unit of the German military, and a former police chief superintendent. It is a network dominated by fearful conspiracy narratives and populated by anti-vaxxers and people from Germany’s Querdenken scene, which is motivated by a belief in a “Jewish financial elite” and QAnon, or Satanic abuse. Their plans for a violent overthrow were alarmingly advanced. They planned to strike before Christmas.
“Prince” Heinrich XIII Reuss and the former military commander, Rüdiger von Pescatore, are considered the ringleaders of the far-right Reichsbürger group. The conspirators planned to force their way into the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, and abduct elected representatives. Investigators say that the right-wing terrorist group was founded in late 2021. They allegedly called themselves the “Patriotic Union”.
This massive blow to the Reichsbürger scene involved some 3,000 police officers on Wednesday morning. They searched over 130 houses and apartments. German newspaper Die Zeit reported that the Federal Police anti-terror unit known as GSG9 searched property of the German army’s elite Special Forces Command (KSK) in the southwestern city of Calw looking for evidence and a member of the German military. Some suspects have active military backgrounds and are suspected of having acquired weapons illegally in the past, while others have weapons licences and can therefore legally possess firearms.
The prince wants the revolution in order to establish a monarchy
The alleged right-wing terrorist group planned to take power by force. The head of their new government was supposed to be the “prince”, an ardent monarchist who spreads conspiracy narratives about “Jewish finance capital” and “the Rothschilds”. He is alleged to have partially covered the cost of buying equipment for the Reichsbürger group. The central committee of its far-right shadow cabinet was called “the council” and Heinrich XIII was its chairman. His personal assistant was Thomas T.
Contact with Russia
According to the conspirators’ plans, the new far-right government intended to engage in foreign policy negotiations with Russia. To that end, “Prince” Reuss is said to have already made contact with Russian officials through his partner, 39-year-old Vitalia B. According to investigators, however, his overtures did not fall on sympathetic ears.
Members of the “council” met regularly starting in November 2021 to plan their intended takeover in Germany and the construction of their own state structures, investigators say. Similar to a cabinet in a regular government, the Reichsbürger regime was to have various departments at its disposal.
Birgit Malsack-Winkemann: Former AfD Bundestag representative and judge
The intended leader of the judiciary committee was apparently Birgit Malsack-Winkemann. She was a member of the Bundestag with far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) from 2017 to 2021. Since 2013, she has been a judge in Berlin and until 2017, she presided over the Berlin district court. She joined AfD shortly after it was founded in 2013. Between 2015 and 2017, she was acting chair of the party’s regional office for Steglitz-Zehlendorf.
Alongside the “council”, there was also a “military arm”. Some of its members have been active duty soldiers in the German military in the past. They were supposed to carry out the armed takeover by deploying “homeland defence companies”, which are said to have been armed and organised as military units.
The head of the “military arm” was Rüdiger von Pescatore. He had appointed a high command, which included Maximilian Eder, Michael Fritsch, Frank H., Thomas M., Wolfram S., Marco v. H., Christian Wendler, and Peter W. Among other things, the high command dealt with recruiting new members, procuring weapons and other equipment, setting up secure communications and IT structures, organising target practice, and planning for future housing and provisions for the “homeland defence companies”.
Members of the “military arm” are said to have scouted army barracks in the states of Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, and Bavaria “to survey their suitability for billeting their own troops after the takeover”.
Rüdiger von Pescatore
Rüdiger von Pescatore is alleged to be the leader of the military arm. From 1993 to 1996, Pescatore was the commander of the elite 251st Paratrooper Battalion, from which the KSK was formed in 1996. He was discharged from the German military for selling weapons from the stocks of the former East German army.
Col. Maximilian Eder, Ret.
One member of the high command was apparently Maximilian Eder. In late November, the former colonel posted a video message from his “furlough”. He wanted to gather his strength, because “there’s going to be a fair bit of upheaval in the coming weeks.” He announced an “epochal upheaval” or radical change before Christmas. After that, he said, a new judiciary would be installed and the time for forgiveness would be over. In his words, a struggle was underway against “the murderous vaccine mafia and Satanic and ritual child abuse”. That video message has to be understood as a threat and it is an indication of just how far their preparations for violence had gotten.
Retired Col. Maximilian Eder was a founding member of the elite KSK. At a Querdenken demonstration in Berlin in May 2021, he said from the stage that “they need to send the KSK to Berlin and straighten this place out. Then you’d see what they can do.” On behalf of Bodo Schiffmann, a doctor in the Querdenken scene who has made a name for himself over the past few years as a purveyor of Covid-19 conspiracy theories, Eder assembled a “cadre” to join with other veterans to do aid work when the western town of Ahrweiler flooded in the summer of 2021.
Christian Wendler was also a member of the group’s military arm. Wendler is a former AfD town councillor in the village of Olbernhau on the Czech border. He was the party’s representative on the council until October 2020, when he resigned for “personal reasons”. Until April 2022, Wendler was a member of the local rifle club and therefore presumably has weapons of his own. According to the Office of the Federal Prosecutor, he was responsible for procuring weapons for the Reichsbürger group.
Near where authorities searched Wendler’s property, they conducted another search on Wednesday at an auto repair shop in Olbernhau owned by Frank Richter. Richter is allegedly also a supporter of the Reichsbürger group.
Michael Fritsch, the former police chief superintendent
Michael Fritsch of Hanover is a known “Querdenker” and former police officer who describes himself as a “constable”. Fritsch gained attention for supervising Querdenken protests in 2020 and 2021 in his function as police chief superintendent. He repeatedly documented alleged police violence at Querdenken demonstrations and was radicalized slowly. While he appeared restrained in 2020, there was a noted escalation in his rhetoric in 2021, when he ran for a seat in the Bundestag as a member of the conspiracy-driven party “Die Basis” and spoke about the “death of democracy” in Germany. In late April 2022, the administrative court in Hanover decided to have Fritsch removed from service. He appealed the decision.
Investigators found out about the group after a search of Peter Wörner’s home in Bayreuth last April. He is a former German military paratrooper and survival expert who said in a 2015 interview that “We’re developing a false sense of security. The question isn’t if there will be a disaster, but when.” He was apparently impatient and wanted to help artificially trigger the “Day X” that far-right actors in Germany often refer to. Upon searching Peter W.’s apartment, investigators found firearms, ammunition, magazines, what is known as a “Totschläger” (a type of club or cudgel), and a dummy hand grenade. In the course of their investigation, they found a connection with W.’s former superior officer, Rüdiger von Pescatore.
Taking the threat seriously
One thing that is clear from the composition of this Reichsbürger network is how sophisticated the group’s plans were. A police officer, a lawyer, a founder of the KSK, and a “prince”: between them, they were able to purposefully form a shadow cabinet with the knowledge and contacts required to do so. Added to that are soldiers who had the firepower they needed and were supposed to carry out their revolutionary fantasies as the group’s “armed wing”. They were people who ran in the right circles to win over kindred spirits with military training.
The group planned another start to a civil war on a so-called “Day X”, just as another German prepper group did a few years ago. The newly discovered organisation allegedly wanted to attack critical infrastructure to provoke its “Day X” – a day when they would be armed and ready.
Although uncovering this Reichsbürger network is a major security policy success and one of the largest blows against far-right terror in many years, it is nonetheless alarming that their attack plans had progressed as far as they had. The civil war was supposed to start even before Christmas. Moreover, the group’s personnel is one indication of how well networked far-right radicals, the Reichsbürger movement, and conspiracy theorists are and the seriousness of the terror threat they represent.
This article incorporates reporting from de:hate
Translated by Joe Keady