Back to the past: On a far-right coup plot in Germany

Germany will have to tackle the far-right elements politically 

December 09, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 12:53 pm IST

A sitting judge, a former elite paratroops commander and a former police officer. They were among the 25 people arrested by the German authorities on Wednesday in a nationwide crackdown on what they called an extremist group that was planning to overthrow the state. While Germany has seen the rise of several far-right networks, their growing influence over serving and retired members of its security agencies and other state branches should be a matter of concern, given its Nazi past. Among those arrested were members of the Reichsbürger, or Citizens of the Reich, a far-right extremist group that has not recognised the post-War German state, as well as those inspired by conspiracy theories spread by QAnon, a U.S.-based far-right community. The authorities say the plan was to attack the Bundestag, bring down the government through a coup and have a new Reich modelled around the pre-First World War imperial state. Heinrich XIII, Prince Reuss, the 71-year-old former paratroops commander who is believed to be the ringleader, was known for his anti-Semitic dog whistles and attacks on the modern German republic, which he once called an illusion. So, irrespective of the actual strength and capabilities of the group, what Germany has seen is the coming together of anti-Semitic extremists from across society, driven by conspiracy theories and an imperial nostalgia, and who are ready to take up arms to overthrow the democratic German state.

This is not an isolated incident. Germany has also seen a rise in violent incidents by far-right extremists. In 2019, a centre-left local politician in western Germany was killed and a synagogue in Halle, eastern Germany, was attacked by a gunman, killing two. Last year, the government had to partially disband its elite special-forces unit, Kommando Spezialkräfte, after extremism within its ranks. Germany faces two types of far-right challenges — that posed by extremist groups such as Reichsbürger and the other by the mainstreaming of far-right politics — the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right party that failed to cross the 5% threshold in the 2013 elections, but which won 83 seats in the Bundestag last year. While the AfD dissociates itself from violent organisations, there is an ideological overlapping between them — Birgit M.-W, the judge arrested on Wednesday, was an AfD lawmaker. Germany, which still keeps the memories of its horrific Nazi past alive and has strong laws to tackle extremist threats, should ask itself why, despite its precautions, far-right groups are gaining traction. It should make sure that state institutions are not infiltrated by extremists and continue to crack down on networks such as Reichsbürger. But the bigger challenge for Germany’s leaders is to tackle the far-right ideology politically.

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