Dozens of people were detained by German police this week over allegations that a QAnon-inspired fringe group planned to overthrow the government and install a new national leader in a violent coup.
Germany’s chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank said some 3,000 officers took part in raids at 150 sites across the country. More arrests were expected to take place in the coming days, authorities said.
What was the suspected plot?
According to German officials, members and supporters of a "domestic terrorist organization" had made concrete preparations to storm Germany’s Parliament building in an armed attack that included arresting lawmakers and installing an aristocrat as the new head of state.
"The suspicion exists that an armed attack on constitutional bodies was planned," German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said. The terrorist group that the suspects belonged to had set a "goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with its own form of state, which has already been worked out in outline," prosecutors said.
It was unclear when the insurrection would have taken place.
Who was arrested?
As of Friday, 25 people had been arrested, most of whom are believed to belong to the “Reichsbürger” (Citizens of the Reich) — a far-right group that rejects the postwar democratically elected German government and advocates for the reestablishment of the German Empire. Prosecutors said the group allegedly believes in a "conglomerate of conspiracy theories consisting of narratives from the so-called Reichsbürger as well as QAnon ideology" and thinks Germany is ruled by an apparent “deep state.”
Of the dozens arrested, one person was detained in Italy and another in Austria. Twenty-seven others are under investigation.
Among those arrested were former lawmaker Birgit Malsack-Winkemann and German aristocrat Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss — a 71-year-old member of the House of Reuss, which ruled parts of central Germany until 1918 — who continues to use the title of prince despite Germany abolishing the formal role of royalty over 100 years ago. Reuss had been chosen as the group’s new head of state.
What has happened in the buildup to the arrest?
Last summer, residents in the village of Bad Lobenstein, where Reuss owns a castle, were told by coup plotters that they were "not German because our passports were not German," Andree Burkhardt, the town’s deputy mayor, told Reuters.
"We were then given the opportunity to apply for our German origin documents with the Reuss administration," he said. "This, of course, provoked a huge outcry among the population."
What do we know about the Reichsbürger?
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency started observing the group in 2016. In 2020, there were said to be around 3,300 supporters, but that number jumped to 21,000 by the end of 2021, security forces told the local newspaper Tagesspiegel in April.
The Reichsbürger’s antigovernment views became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdown restrictions took effect. In 2020, then-German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer banned a faction of the group. "We will be relentless in continuing the fight against right-wing extremism, even in times of crisis," Seehofer said at the time.
Mia Bloom, co-author of "Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon," told Yahoo News, “I’m seeing a massive uptick of Reichsbürger on the semi-encrypted apps where QAnon content is shared. … Their increasing numbers appear correlated to the uptick in both conspiracy theories plus the increasing influence of far-right authoritarian politics in Germany and globally.”
What has the German government said?
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the alleged coup attempt had an important consequence of allowing everyone to know how "resilient" the country was and that the state's security bodies were able to "penetrate and counter such crimes and plans." Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said, "The investigations provide a glimpse into the abyss of a terrorist threat from the Reichsbürger milieu."
A spokesperson said that security agencies were looking into the group's ties with Russia after it was alleged that members had been in contact with Russian officials. However, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, said the arrests were “an internal problem” for Germany. “There can be no discussion of any kind of Russian intervention,” he added.