Reichsbürger movement

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The German Reich within its 1910 borders
Flag of Germany from 1871 to 1918 used to represent the Reichsbürger movement.

Reichsbürgerbewegung ('Reich Citizens' Movement') or Reichsbürger ('Reich Citizens') is a label for several far-right[1] groups and individuals in Germany and elsewhere who reject the legitimacy of the modern German state, the Federal Republic of Germany, in favour of the German Reich, which existed from 1871 to 1945.[2]

They maintain that the German Reich[3] continues to exist in its pre-World War II borders, and that it is governed by a Kommissarische Reichsregierung (KRR, 'Provisional Reich Government'), or Exilregierung (government in exile).[4] There are a number of competing KRRs, each claiming to govern all of Germany. Ideologies among members vary, with monarchist, republican, populist, reactionary as well as far-right and antisemitic factions, existing.

Arguments[edit]

The self-described Reichsbürger ("Reich citizens") maintain that the Federal Republic of Germany is illegitimate and that the Reich's 1919 Weimar Constitution remains in effect. Most of their arguments are based on a selective reading of a 1973 decision of the Federal Constitutional Court concerning the 1972 Basic Treaty between West and East Germany.[5] The judgement[clarification needed] held that the 1949 Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Grundgesetz) itself assumes that the Reich, as a subject of international law, had survived the collapse of Nazi Germany in spite of the German Instrument of Surrender and the Allied occupation, but is incapable of acting as a state because it lacks any organization, such as governmental authorities.[6]

The Reichsbürger do not, however, cite the Court's further holding that the Federal Republic is not a successor state to the Reich, but identical to it, albeit partially and not necessarily exclusively due to its smaller territorial extent.[7] Instead they claim to have restored the governmental bodies of the German Reich and to be capable of acting on the basis of the Weimar Constitution.

One belief of the Reichsbürger is that the Federal Republic of Germany is not an actual sovereign state but a corporation created by Allied nations after World War II. While Donald Trump was president of the United States, movement members adopted QAnon beliefs and expressed their hope that Trump would lead an army to restore the Reich.[8]

History[edit]

The original Kommissarische Reichsregierung was founded in 1985 by Wolfgang Gerhard Günter Ebel,[9] a former Reichsbahn traffic superintendent in West Berlin. Ebel, who appointed himself Reich Chancellor, claimed to be acting on the authority of the Allied occupation authorities. Some of the members of his "cabinet" later fell out with Ebel, and established provisional governments of their own with names such as Exilregierung Deutsches Reich or Deutsches Reich AG (the latter being based in Nevada, United States).

KRRs engage in activities such as issuing currency and stamps, as well as promoting themselves through the Internet and other media. Where the number of their adherents allows, they also emulate the "re-established" institutions, such as courts or parliaments, of the Weimar Republic or of earlier German states. A restored Reichstag temporarily existed as well as several Reich Ministers, state governments, and a Reichsgericht.

Ideology[edit]

The Reichsbürger movement is part of the far right.[10][11] The movement espouses conspiracy theories, antisemitism, and racism.[11][12] The movement has been described as neo-Nazi in character,[12][better source needed] although The Economist reported in 2016 that Reichsbürger adherents "draw ridicule even from neo-Nazis".[13] Many supporters of the Reichsbürger movement are also monarchists who support a restoration of the German Empire.[14]

The Reichsbürger movement is characterized by a rejection of the modern Federal Republic of Germany;[11][12] denial of its legality[15] and legitimacy;[16] and denial of the authority of the federal, state, and local governments in Germany.[16] Reichsbürger believe that the German Empire borders of 1932 or 1871 borders still exist and that the modern Federal Republic of Germany is "an administrative construct still occupied by the Allied powers".[15]

Membership[edit]

In April 2018, Germany's domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), estimated that Reichsbürger movement membership had grown by 80% over the previous two years, more than estimated earlier, with a total of 18,000 adherents, of whom 950 were categorized as right-wing extremists.[17] This marked an increase from BfV's 2016 estimate of 10,000 adherents[17] and 2017 estimate of 12,600 adherents.[18] The increase in numbers may be attributable to more adherents becoming known to authorities, rather than an actual increase in the number of adherents.[17] The heterogeneity of the movement and its division into many small groups that are often independent of one another makes it difficult to estimate the number of active Reichsbürger.[19]

Reichsbürger adherents are scattered around Germany, but concentrated in southern and eastern part of the country,[11] in the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Bavaria.[15] BfV has estimated that there are 3,500 adherents in Bavaria and around 2,500 in Baden-Württemberg.[15]

Adherents tend to be older,[11] with most aged 40–60 years old[20] and an average age of over 50.[15] The majority are male[15][20] and socially disadvantaged.[15] The Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which monitors far-right activities in Germany, states that Reichsbürger adherents are "often isolated" and "completely cut off from reality".[11] German counterextremism official Heiko Homburg states that the Reichsbürger movement is an amalgamation of right-wing extremists, esoterics, and "sovereign citizens", and that the movement attracts conspiracy theorists, the economically troubled, and "people who are a little mentally disordered".[16]

Activities[edit]

Sign at the entrance of the home of a supporter of the Reich Citizens' Movement

As of 2009, there was no reliable count of the number of KRRs then existing, but the KRR FAQ, an online registry maintained by a German jurist, lists some 60 persons or organizations associated with operating competing KRRs. Several (though by no means all) KRRs have links to far-right extremist or neo-Nazi groups.[3] The Bundesverfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's federal domestic security agency, has monitored Reichsbürger since November 2016, and the security services of individual states have been monitoring the activities of the group for longer.[18]

Some KRRs are ready to issue, for a fee, "official" documents such as building permits, and driving licences, which their adherents or gullible citizens may attempt to use in everyday life.[4] In one instance, Wolfgang Ebel's KRR issued an "excavation permit" to the Principality of Sealand (a micronation), who then had men dig up a plot of land in the Harz region in search of the Amber Room for two weeks, until the landowner hired a private security service to drive them off.[21] Similarly, in 2002 Ebel's KRR "sold" the Hakeburg [de], a manor in Kleinmachnow south of the Berlin city limits that had been owned by the German Reichspost (and therefore, according to Ebel, by his KRR) to one of the two competing governments of Sealand, thus creating, in their view, an enclave of Sealand in Germany.[22]

KRR adherents have also on occasion refused to pay taxes or fines, arguing that the laws providing for such sanctions have no constitutional basis. In the ensuing judicial proceedings, they refuse to recognize the courts as legitimate.[23] Some also pursue their activities abroad. In 2009, after Swiss authorities refused to recognize the "Reich Driving Licence" of a German KRR adherent, he unsuccessfully appealed the case up to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland.[4]

Wolfgang Ebel's original organization, in particular, continues to attempt enforcing its asserted authority through attempts at intimidation.[21] According to Ebel, his "government" has issued more than 1,000 "arrest warrants" against people who have disregarded documents issued by the KRR. These warrants inform the addressee that, once the Reich Government is in power, they will be tried for high treason, for which the penalty is death.[21] Ebel has also admitted owning a "government helicopter" painted in the national colours, but has denied using it for intimidating fly-overs.[21] Several attempts to prosecute Ebel for threats, impersonating a public servant and so forth have failed because, according to German prosecutors, all courts have found him to be legally insane.[21]

Violence by Reichsbürger activists[edit]

In 2016, Adrian Ursache, a self-proclaimed Reichsbürger and the 1998 winner of the "Mister Germany" beauty contest, violently resisted his eviction from his house in Reuden. When the German police arrived on scene they encountered a group of around 120 people, who were staying on Ursache's and his in-law's property. Ursache deemed his property as part of the self-proclaimed "State of Ur" and flew the flag of the old German Reich above the home. After a first eviction attempt failed, the German police returned with a special response team the day after. When the eviction started, Ursache opened fire and injured two officers. Ursache was shot and rushed to a hospital.[19][24][25] In 2019, Ursache was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 7 years in prison.[25]

Also in 2016, in Georgensgmünd near Nuremberg, a self-described Reichsbürger fired on a special response unit of the Bavarian Police when they attempted to confiscate his 31 firearms. Three police officers were injured. One of them later died from his injuries.[26] The weapons confiscation followed the revocation of the murderer's firearms permit and his repeated refusal to co-operate with local authorities.[27] German authorities expressed concern at the escalation in violence. The event attracted international attention.[28] Bavarian ministers called for increased surveillance of the right-wing extremist movement.[29] On 23 October 2017, Wolfgang P. was sentenced to imprisonment for life.[30]

In Höxter, North Rhine-Westphalia, in 2014, one Reichsbürger group (the "Free State of Prussia") attempted to smuggle weapons into Germany in an attempt to create its own militia.[15] Police raids have found large stockpiles of guns and ammunition hoarded by Reichsbürger adherents.[15] In 2018, the German magazine Focus reported that Reichsbürger adherents had been attempting to build an armed militia in preparation for "Day X"—"an imagined day of reckoning or uprising against the German government".[10]

In April 2022 four members of a Reichsbürger group called United Patriots (German: Vereinte Patrioten) were detained for plotting to overthrow the government.[31] They planned to destroy electrical substations and power lines through bomb attacks to cause a nationwide power outage to create 'civil war-like' conditions.[32] Two members are also alleged to have been plotting to kidnap the German health minister Karl Lauterbach.[31] Lauterbach was said to have been aware of the plans.[32]

Infiltration of police by Reichsbürger activists[edit]

There were renewed calls for more serious measures against the movement, including revocation of firearms permits and seizure of their weapons, following disciplinary action against police officers allegedly connected to the movement.[33][34] On 27 October 2016, a Bavarian police officer was suspended from his duties because of his connections to one of the Reichsbürger movements. There have been allegations of similar kind against other police officers in different states of Germany as well.[35][36]

List of Reichsbürger groups[edit]

The following is a non-exhaustive list of KRRs that have received media coverage.[37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Why white nationalist terrorism is a global threat". The Economist. March 21, 2019. Archived from the original on July 11, 2022. Retrieved July 19, 2022. Last year the security services identified dozens of police and soldiers as members of Reichsbürger, a far-right movement.
  2. ^ Rulf, Kirsten (2018-08-09). "Meet the 'Reichsbürger': Germany's Far-right anti-Semitic Cult That Is Armed to the Teeth". Haaretz. Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  3. ^ a b Oppong, Martin (15 May 2008). "'Kommissarische Reichsregierungen': Gefährliche Irre". Die Tageszeitung (in German). Retrieved 2009-03-25.
  4. ^ a b c Thiriet, Maurice (11 March 2009). "'Reichsführerschein' im Thurgau nicht gültig". Tages-Anzeiger (in German). Retrieved 2009-03-25.
  5. ^ BVerfGE 36, 1 ff.
  6. ^ "Das Grundgesetz – nicht nur eine These der Völkerrechtslehre und der Staatsrechtslehre! – geht davon aus, dass das Deutsche Reich den Zusammenbruch 1945 überdauert hat und weder mit der Kapitulation noch durch Ausübung fremder Staatsgewalt in Deutschland durch die alliierten Okkupationsmächte noch später untergegangen ist ... Das entspricht auch der ständigen Rechtsprechung des Bundesverfassungsgerichts, an der der Senat festhält. Das Deutsche Reich existiert fort ..., besitzt nach wie vor Rechtsfähigkeit, ist allerdings als Gesamtstaat mangels Organisation, insbesondere mangels institutionalisierter Organe selbst nicht handlungsfähig. ... Mit der Errichtung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland wurde nicht ein neuer westdeutscher Staat gegründet, sondern ein Teil Deutschlands neu organisiert." (citations omitted)[citation needed] Translation: "The Basic Law – not just a thesis of public and private international law! – assumes that the German Reich survived its collapse in 1945 and that neither on its surrender, nor by the exercise of foreign state power in Germany by the Allied occupying powers, did it cease to exist ... This is also consistent with the continuous jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court, to which the bench adheres. The German Reich continues to exist ..., possesses legal capacity now as previously, but as a complete state lacks organisation, in particular institutional organs, and is thus incapable of acting. ... With the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany no new state was founded, rather a part of Germany was newly organized."
  7. ^ "Die Bundesrepublik Deutschland ist also nicht ‚Rechtsnachfolger‘ des Deutschen Reiches, sondern als Staat identisch mit dem Staat ‚Deutsches Reich‘, – in Bezug auf seine räumliche Ausdehnung allerdings ‚teilidentisch‘, so dass insoweit die Identität keine Ausschließlichkeit beansprucht." Translation: "The Federal Republic of Germany is thus not a 'legal successor' of the German Reich, but rather as a state identical with the state named the 'German Reich', albeit in relation to its spatial extent 'partially identical', so to that extent the identity need not be exclusive."
  8. ^ Bennhold, Katrin (October 11, 2020). "QAnon Is Thriving in Germany. The Extreme Right Is Delighted". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 19, 2021.
  9. ^ "www.der-reichskanzler.de". Archived from the original on 2009-07-02. Retrieved 2009-04-01.
  10. ^ a b Elizabeth Schumacher (12 January 2018). "Report: Far-right Reichsbürger movement is growing, building army". Deutsche Welle.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Christopher F. Schuetze (March 19, 2020). "Germany Shuts Down Far-Right Clubs That Deny the Modern State". New York Times.
  12. ^ a b c "German police raid neo-Nazi Reichsbürger movement nationwide". BBC News. March 19, 2020.
  13. ^ "Hundreds of Germans are living as if the Reich never ended". The Economist. November 10, 2016.
  14. ^ Timothy Wright, Germany’s New Mini-Reichs, Los Angeles Review of Books (June 22, 2019).
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dick, Wolfgang (19 October 2016). "What is behind the right-wing 'Reichsbürger' movement?". Deutsche Welle.
  16. ^ a b c Anthony Faiola & Stephanie Kirchner (March 20, 2017). "In Germany, right-wing violence flourishing amid surge in online hate". Washington Post.
  17. ^ a b c "Germany's far-right Reichsbürger movement larger than earlier estimated". Deutsche Welle. 28 April 2018.
  18. ^ a b "Verfassungsschutz zählt 12.600 Reichsbürger in Deutschland" [Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution estimates 12.600 Reichsbürger in Germany]. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 22 May 2017. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  19. ^ a b Schaaf, Julia (12 September 2016). "'Reichsbürger'-Szene: Schießerei im Staat Ur". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  20. ^ a b Connolly, Kate (March 19, 2020). "German police arrest members of far-right group after state ban". The Guardian.
  21. ^ a b c d e Gessler, Philip (2000-08-15). "Die Reichsminister drohen mit dem Tod". Die Tageszeitung (in German). Retrieved 2009-03-25.
  22. ^ Document of Sealand's supposed acquisition of the Hakeburg
  23. ^ a b "BRD-Leugner: Was ist die Interim Partei?". Badische Zeitung (in German). 2008-09-03. Retrieved 2009-03-25.
  24. ^ "Chronologie: Mordprozess gegen 'Reichsbürger' Adrian Ursache". mdr.de (in German). Archived from the original on 2017-11-12. Retrieved 2017-11-30.
  25. ^ a b David Crossand, 'Mr Germany' jailed for shooting police officer, Times of London (April 19, 2019).
  26. ^ "Wolfgang P. aus Georgensgmünd: Lebenslange Haft wegen Polizistenmordes für Reichsbürger". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 2017-10-23. Retrieved 2017-11-30.
  27. ^ "Germany shooting: Policeman dies in raid on far-right gunman". BBC News. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  28. ^ Oltermann, Philip (20 October 2016). "Germany fears radicalisation of Reichsbürger movement after police attacks". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  29. ^ Dearden, Lizzie (21 October 2016). "Anti-government 'Reichsbürger' attacks German police and calls them Nazis after extremist shoots officer dead". The Independent. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  30. ^ "Lebenslange Haft wegen Polizistenmordes für Reichsbürger". Frankfurter Allgemeine. 23 October 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  31. ^ a b "Germany kidnap plot: Gang planned to overthrow democracy". BBC News. 14 April 2022. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
  32. ^ a b "German police arrest far-right extremists over plans to 'topple democracy' | DW | 14.04.2022". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
  33. ^ Saha, Marc (31 October 2016). "A broken oath: Reichsbürger in the police force". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  34. ^ "State premier: Three suspected Reichsbürger police in Saxony". Deutsche Welle. 6 November 2016. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  35. ^ Clauß, Anna; Menke, Birger; Neumann, Conny; Ziegler, Jean-Pierre (21 October 2016). "Staatsleugner als Staatsdiener". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  36. ^ "Polizei suspendiert mutmaßlichen 'Reichsbürger'". Spiegel Online. 27 October 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  37. ^ See, generally, the media section of KRR FAQ.
  38. ^ Fröhlich, Alexander (2009-03-15). "Die Hippies von Germania". Der Tagesspiegel (in German). Retrieved 2009-03-25.
  39. ^ "'Staatenlose' lösen Unbehagen aus". Schwabacher Tagblatt (in German). 2008-10-28. Retrieved 2009-03-25.
  40. ^ Extremist Group Leader Injured in Shootout With German Police, Zeke Turner, The Wall Street Journal, 2016-08-25.
  41. ^ "Judge sends 'King of Germany' to jail". The Local. 18 October 2013. Retrieved 8 November 2021.

External links[edit]

  • Schmidt, Frank (2007). "KRR FAQ" (in German). Retrieved 2009-03-25, a KRR database.