An alleged German coup plot leads to dozens of arrests

By FRANK JORDANS (Associated Press)

BERLIN (AP) — German police rounded up dozens of people Wednesday, including a prince himself, a retired paratrooper and a former judge, accusing the suspects of discussing violent overthrow of the government but leaving unclear how specific they were the plans.

A German official and a lawmaker said investigators may have detected real plots, drunken fantasies or both. However, Germany takes any right-wing threat seriously and thousands of police officers have carried out pre-dawn raids across much of the country.

“We are talking about a group that, according to what we know so far, planned to violently abolish our democratic rule of law and an armed attack,” said government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

Sara Nanni, an MP for the Green Party, part of the German government, suggested the group may not have been able to.

“More and more details are emerging that cast doubt on whether these people were even intelligent enough to plan and carry out such a coup,” Nanni said in a post on social network Mastodon . “The truth is: however cruel their ideas and hopeless their plans, even the attempt is dangerous!”

Federal prosecutors said the group believed in a “conglomeration of conspiracy theories consisting of narratives from so-called Reich citizens as well as QAnon ideology. Followers of the Reich Citizens movement reject Germany’s post-war constitution and call for the overthrow of the government, while QAnon is a global conspiracy theory with roots in the United States.

The Reich Citizens scene has been under surveillance by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency since 2016. Authorities estimate the broad movement has around 21,000 followers.

Prosecutors said the suspects also believe Germany is run by a so-called “deep state.”

One of the alleged rulers arrested on Wednesday is Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, a 71-year-old member of the House of Reuss, who continues to use the title despite Germany abolishing any official role of royalty more than a century ago .

Federal prosecutors said Reuss, whom the group planned to install as Germany’s new leader, contacted Russian officials with the goal of imposing a new order in the country once the German government was overthrown. There is no indication that the Russians responded positively.

Police also detained Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a judge and former parliamentarian from the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

The Alternative for Germany, known by its acronym AfD, has been increasingly scrutinized by security services because of its links to extremists.

AfD co-leaders Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel said they only learned of the alleged coup plans through the media and condemned them.

“We have full confidence in the authorities involved and call for a swift and comprehensive investigation,” they said in a statement.

Federal prosecutor Peter Frank said about 3,000 officers were involved in the raids at 150 locations in 11 of Germany’s 16 states.

Officers detained 22 German nationals on suspicion of “affiliation with a terrorist organization”, prosecutors said. Three other people, including a Russian national, were detained on suspicion of supporting the organization, they said. Another 27 people were investigated.

One of those arrested was a soldier working in the support staff of Germany’s KSK special forces unit in the southwestern city of Calw. The unit has come under scrutiny for what officials have called the far-right beliefs of some soldiers.

Along with the arrests in Germany, prosecutors said one person was detained in the Austrian town of Kitzbuehel and another in Italy.

The last suspect, a 64-year-old German national who is a former officer in the German army’s special forces, is accused of being part of a criminal organization that sought “to undermine the German democratic order by any means – including criminal – and replace it with another unidentified form of state,” police said in a statement, adding that extradition proceedings were ongoing.

“Of course, there are many people who get up in the stands and tell confused stories after consuming alcohol,” said German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann. “In this case, however, there were such strong suspicions that the group wanted to take purple measures that the investigating judge at the Federal Supreme Court ordered investigative measures to be taken.”

Some of the group’s members made “concrete preparations” to storm Germany’s federal parliament with a small armed group, according to prosecutors.

Wednesday’s raids showed that “we know how to defend ourselves with full force against the enemies of democracy,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.

“The investigation provides insight into the depth of the terrorist threat in the environment of Reich citizens,” Faeser said. “Only further investigation will provide a clear picture of how far the coup plans have gone.”

Officials have repeatedly warned that far-right extremists pose the biggest threat to Germany’s domestic security. This threat was highlighted by the killing of a regional politician and the deadly attack on a synagogue in 2019. A year later, far-right extremists participating in a protest against the country’s pandemic restrictions tried and failed to storm the Bundestag building in Berlin.

Faeser announced this year that the government plans to disarm about 1,500 suspected extremists and tighten background checks for those looking to buy guns as part of a broader crackdown on the far right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *