Explained | The Reichsbürger collective, the far-right group that allegedly planned a coup in Germany

A total of 25 people were arrested, including one each in Austria and Italy, and 27 more were identified as suspected members or supporters of the Reichsbürger network.

December 10, 2022 02:11 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 01:50 pm IST

Masked police officers lead Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss (centre) during a raid against so-called ‘Reich citizens’ in Frankfurt, Germany, on December 7, 2022.

Masked police officers lead Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss (centre) during a raid against so-called ‘Reich citizens’ in Frankfurt, Germany, on December 7, 2022. | Photo Credit: Boris Roessler/AP

The story so far: German Police on Wednesday arrested 25 people, including a prince, an ex-lawmaker, and former soldiers, all members of Reichsbürger, that allegedly planned to attack the country’s parliament and overthrow the government.

According to prosecutors, 25 people were arrested, including one each in Austria and Italy, and 27 more were identified as suspected members or supporters of the network.

A group of the self-proclaimed “citizens of the Reich” allegedly spent months preparing for “Day X” – the daythey wanted to execute a coup, Deutsche Welle reported. They had also been holding secret meetings and conducting shooting exercises, the report added.

What is Reichsbürger?

Reichsbürger loosely translates to “citizens of the Reich”, the German Empire founded in 1871. Followers of the ideology are groups or individuals who do not believe in the post-World War II Federal Republic of Germany and its legal system. According to the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), different members have different motives for rejecting the federal republic and vary in their tendency to resort to violent or militant behaviour. Some members believe Germany is still occupied and secretly run by western powers including the U.S., the U.K., and France.

The Reichsbürger movement is not homogenous and consists of groups and individuals with varying beliefs, like far-right views, the superiority of race, and antisemitism. Around 21,000 people throughout Germany were related to the Reichsbürger and Selbstverwalter (self-governors) movements in 2021. 5% of these (around 1,150) are seen as far-right extremists.

According to local media, most Reichsbürger members are concentrated in the States of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Bavaria. It is difficult to differentiate between “Reich citizens”, who consider themselves citizens of the German Reich and not the Federal Republic, and self-governors, who claim legal and territorial autonomy and the right to leave the State any point of time. Some people are followers of both ideologies.

Around 74% of Reich citizens and self-governors are males, and most of them are over 40 years of age, BfV reported. Many of them have been working with groups with similar ideologies for years.


Reich citizens and self-governors operate in a host of ways to draw attention to their ideologies— sending letters to government agencies seeking confrontation is one of them. According to BfV, these letters range from “simple rejection of official action to blackmail, insults or coercion, sometimes with considerable threats of violence”.

Some people may refuse to pay taxes and also reject identity documents like passports issued by the Federal Republic of Germany. Modified car number plates and fantasy documents are common among followers of the ideology as a display of dissociation from the Federal Republic of Germany. A few of them have declared their own “national territories,” called the “Second German Empire,” the “Free State of Prussia” or the “Principality of Germania.”

Some Reichsbürger followers propagate the idea of applying for a certificate of citizenship called the “yellow certificate,” an official document issued by the Federal Republic of Germany that confirms German citizenship. Reich citizens often mention “Kingdom of Bavaria” or “Kingdom of Prussia” as their place of birth, a nod to the erstwhile German Reich and their rejection of current political institutions.

Crimes and antisemitism

A few members have also displayed anti-Semitic behaviours in the past. This ranges from blaming Jews for unemployment to Holocaust-denying conspiracy theories.

The 2021 Constitutional Protection Report attributed 1,330 politically motivated crimes in Germany in 2021 to Reichsbürger and Selbstverwalte. Out of these, 1,011 were classified as extremist, of which 184 were violent. 48 were classified as anti-Semitic.

Possession of weapons by group members is considered a potential threat— at least 1,500 had their weapon licences revoked by the end of 2021, while around 500 people still have at least one gun licence.

The group is also perceived as dangerous since some members are former soldiers of the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) or the National People’s Army of the German Democratic Republic (NVA), the now-dissolved East German military forces, with special military training. There is also concern that some Reichsbürgers are members of the police force or security agencies.

A civil servant in Germany was removed from office in 2021 for being part of the Reichsbürger movement, news agency Reuters reported. He had allegedly applied for a passport with the “Kingdom of Bavaria” as his birth state, whilereferring to a 1913 citizenship law and also violating the obligation to adhere to the German Constitution, the report added.

In 2017, a 50-year-old man – an alleged Reichsbürger – was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a police officer, Deutsche Welle reported.

Did right-wing extremism in Germany rise due to Covid-19 restrictions?

Countrywide restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic caused a wave of protests in Germany, intensified by right-wing extremism.

According to the 2021 Report on the Protection of the Constitution, right-wing extremists attempted to gain mainstream acceptance by taking advantage of “protests against government action to prevent the spread of Covid-19”. In Saxony, the protest movement was driven by Freie Sachsen (Free Saxony), a new regional, right-wing extremist party founded in February 2021

In August 2020, hundreds of people tried to break into the German parliament to protest against the coronavirus restrictions, sparking outrage from politicians and the public.

Some examples

Amt für Menschenrechte

The founder of Amt für Menschenrechte denies the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany and calls it a “fascist and lawless state” or a “company”. The organisation has declared German law invalid.

Königreich Deutschland, or Kingdom of Germany

The group was founded in 2012 in Saxony-Anhalt and sees itself as a new German State that conforms to international law. The leader of the group – the self-proclaimed King of Germany – presides over its meetings. The group has said that being a member exempts one from paying taxes in the “kingdom”, which some members have misconstrued as freedom from paying taxes in Germany. The group acquired two properties in Saxony in 2022 and aims to create a “self-governing state territory” there.

Geeinte deutsche Völker und Stämme, or United German Peoples and Tribes (GdVuSt)

According to German domestic intelligence services, GdVuSt was the first organisation of this kind to be banned and dissolved at federal level. The organisation was reportedly involved in violations related to racism, antisemitism, and historical revisionism. Despite the ban, GdVuSt has still continued its activities.

Prohibition measures

Germany combats extremism through two main channels – banning organisations and banning controversial symbols and marks.

Banning organisations weakens their structure and allows for the confiscation of financial and material resources, BfV said. Openly carrying out anti-constitutional activities is a criminal offence, which may deter members and potential sympathisers.

Usage of certain symbols and signs, including those representing Nazism, is banned by law and is punishable under Sections 86 and 86a of the Criminal Code. Some of the banned symbols are the black sun, Wolfsangel, the Reich War Flags, and the flag of National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

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