A London friend texted me last week, asking “How much should I worry about this?”. He attached a BBC news piece titled “Germany arrests: 25 accused of plotting coup”.
My default response would have been that my concern about the future of German football far outreaches any worries about two dozen wackos conspiring in a Thuringian castle. But on second thoughts I didn’t want to make them sound like harmless cranks, so I elaborated a little.
I told him that there are about 20,000 supporters of the Reichsbürger Movement, and a couple of thousand of those have militant ideas (that is 0.00-something of the general population). They disregard state laws and institutions because, they claim, Germany isn’t a sovereign nation and is still under allied command.
The friend texted back: “The British media gets excited about the words ‘German’ and ‘far right’ in one sentence. It was most viewed on the BBC website.”
Well, it was most viewed on German websites, too. Because we were curious as to that almost-monarch of ours, the man who thought he would become king once a group of his loyalists had taken the Reichstag by storm and handcuffed members of parliament. All he needed then for his plan to succeed, we’re informed, was for riots to spread across Germany and for the armed forces to join together with the public to overthrow the rest of the system.
I don’t want to sound patronising, but I sense certain flaws in their operative planning and strategy.
Anyway, our aspiring ruler is called Heinrich – ie Henry – XIII, from the noble house of Reuß (pronounced royce), which dates back to the 12th century. His extended family fell out with him years ago and made it clear that they have no intention of revolting.
All male Reuß descendants are called “Heinrich”, by the way, and are numbered consecutively. Since the middle ages they also have nicknames – probably their mothers found it exhausting to constantly shout “Henry the 37th, will you stop hitting Henry the 38th!”
Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuß’s nickname is Enrico, and we may never know why he thought Deutschland was waiting for a König Enrico I. Because it isn’t.
So, 99.9% of the country had never heard of Heinrich XIII, but since he made the front pages his antisemitic conspiracy ideas (to be found on YouTube) have drawn some attention. According to the embarrassed head of the Reuß family (an Austrian unsurprisingly called Heinrich XIV), his relative has become embittered during years of – mainly unsuccessful – attempts to get restitution for family estates that were seized by the Soviets in East Germany.
Legal proceedings are still ongoing, and even a Briton figures: dispossessed Heinrich XLV (let’s see how good your Latin is), despite being a member of the NSDAP and a Wehrmacht officer, had dual citizenship. Because of his British passport, Heinrich the 45th wasn’t supposed to be expropriated, says Heinrich XIII’s legal team. Which of course has other concerns now that the prince is imprisoned on remand, with his co-conspirators.
So let’s leave this aristo-gossip behind (it’s nothing to match a certain Netflix show) and look at the shadow post-coup government, which according to Der Spiegel has already met five times.
It is straight from the far-right-spiritualist-fusion playbook: a female judge and former AfD MP (to be justice secretary), a businessman and former AfD member, a couple of middle- to high-ranking ex-military – some of whom have been kicked out for weapons theft – and an ex-police officer (home secretary). One active soldier, from Germany’s elite unit KSK, the special forces command. A female doctor (officer for spirituality and the art of healing) and a female astrologist (commissary for transcommunication).
Over the phone, Heinrich XIII said to a like-minded fantasist: “We will crush them, the fun is over!”
We know this because intelligence services have been watching the group and listening in for months. Around 3,000 people were involved in planning and seeing through the pre-dawn raids last week – and the only leaks were those to the press. So the Reichsbürger aren’t as well connected within the system as they would like to be.
A coup in Germany is a total delusion. But when fantasy meets fanatics there’s danger ahead: the pandemic seems to have given the Reichsbürger a larger fanbase, and some of them are so screwed up that their irrational minds don’t just come up with ideas like abducting the health minister on live TV. In recent years they have attacked, even fatally shot, police officers.
Our democracy is well-fortified, but only if the military and security services continue to be vigilant – including in their own ranks.