A militant group from the Reich Citizens’ Movement launched a major raid. They must have been planning the coup. How realistic is such a coup?

The plan of the 25 arrested and their dozens of supporters seemed clear: “As far as we know, the association has set itself the goal of eliminating the existing state order in Germany, the free-democratic basic order, using violence and military means”. This is how Attorney General Peter Frank described the reasons that led to a major raid against supporters of the so-called Reich Citizens and Lateral Thinkers movement this week.

Eliminate the free-democratic basic order – what does that mean? That can mean attacking politicians, storming the Bundestag, overthrowing the federal government, dissolving the judiciary, seizing the military. Is something like this even possible in Germany, with its 75-year democracy, with a constitution, with fixed structures and separation of powers?

“The state is well defended, the absolute majority of citizens not only feel democrat, but also find democracy worth protecting,” says Andreas Zick, head of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at Bielefeld University, DW .

And Timo Reinfrank, managing director of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which aims to strengthen civil society against right-wing extremism, confirmed to DW: “A real coup d’état can hardly succeed in Germany, the state order and the constitution are too stable for that.”

And yet: Zick, Reinfrank and many other experts warn against underestimating those arrested and the associated militant scene. The group is incredibly dangerous, warns the criminal policy spokesman for the Social Democrats, Sebastian Fiedler. Terrorism expert Peter R. Neumann agrees that the Reich Citizens’ Movement as a whole is capable and willing to carry out serious terrorist attacks against the state.

What exactly makes the dug out group so dangerous? One reason is their composition, another is the ideology that holds them all together. The 25 people who allegedly planned the overthrow apparently belong to a hodgepodge of extremists – including Reich citizens and lateral thinkers against corona measures.

What unites them: the rejection of the democratic state. And: they are not social fringe figures. According to Zick, there were no right-wing extremists who had gone astray among those arrested. “These are groups formed in parts, they are people who are pursuing a profession, who move from the center into the scene and can build a parallel society there. So they are able to develop a closed milieu over the years with alliances and alliances with other groups.”

Among those arrested are a judge who sat in the Bundestag for the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), former soldiers, aristocrats and former members of the police force. In other words, people who have contacts, insights into democratic institutions and financial resources. Some are familiar with or trained in weapons. Several weapons were seized during the raid.

This makes those arrested and their supporters a threat to the rule of law, even if they can hardly bring it to its knees. “There is no overthrow, but fragments of the ideologies can push into other extremism as well as into the middle,” says Zick.

Because all these people are connected by a dangerous ideological concoction. Some of them believe in a state within the state operating in secret and are attached to anti-Semitic conspiracies. “It is also central that the ideologies of many of the groups demand the overthrow, because they do not recognize the form of government and democracy at its core,” analyzes Zick.

Many experts conclude that the corona pandemic crisis and the associated protests have contributed to the radicalization of the scene. Some people have lost faith in the democratic state and have become receptive to supposed freedom struggles and the establishment of an alternative state.

Reichsbürger, for example, dealt with issues such as freedom and resistance and thus pushed into the mainstream of society: “The corona protests brought together various groups from the middle classes, right-wing populism, right-wing extremism, conspiracy-oriented and other milieus through resistance and freedom ideologies,” says Andreas Zick .

The criminal policy spokesman for the SPD, Sebastian Fiedler, recommends no longer “thinking in pigeonholes” when it comes to lateral thinkers, Reich citizens and other groups: “Not all Reich citizens, they are certainly not classic right-wing extremists, but it’s something I already know for some time conspiracy extremism, in this case one could more precisely say right-wing conspiracy terrorism”.

And politics and society have apparently not yet found an answer to this. Fiedler analyzes, for example, that state and politics now understand quite well how radicalization works in right-wing extremism and Islamism and have set up deradicalization programs accordingly. But in dealing with conspiracy myths one is not that far. Conflict researcher Andreas Zick also advocates analyzing the various milieus in detail and then developing a prevention plan.

And that seems more urgent than ever: crises in a complex world can push people away from democracy, which can sometimes seem tedious and complicated, and towards the simple explanations that conspiracy myths entice. “Extremism in particular is changing, especially in times of crisis,” says Zick. “We always look for the masses of people, but it’s small groups like terrorist cells that can make a state unstable.”

By Lisa Haenel

The original of this post “Reichsbürger: Is a coup conceivable in Germany?” comes from Deutsche Welle.