A massive police raid foiled extremist plans to topple Germany’s government. But the timing of the plot and its absurdity raised questions about a state security role in instigating it – something seen many times in Germany’s past.
On the morning of December 7th, 2022, Germany’s security services conducted the largest police raid in their history, as 3,000 officers stormed 130 properties spanning almost the entire country, as well as Austria and Italy.
When the police sweep was over, 25 individuals had been arrested for plotting to overthrow the German government. They stood accused of plotting to storm parliament, arrest lawmakers, and declare the restoration of the country’s monarchy by force, led by aristocrat Heinrich XIII Reuss.
However, a closer examination of the police action and its timing raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the alleged coup, and whether the German security state played a role in instigating it. If so, it would fit within the historical pattern of the government’s infiltration of extremist movements since the post-war period. In 2003, a German court was forced to abandon a case against a notorious neo-Nazi group when it determined the organization was at least partially, if not wholly, controlled by state assets.
The suspects accused of plotting to overthrow Germany’s government are part of a movement known as Reichsbürger, or Citizens of the Reich. This group is said to reject the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany, and contends the country is not in fact a sovereign state, but a corporation created by the US and Britain after World War II.
#German police raid ‘far-right terror group led by #PrinceHeinrich XIII’ that planned to attack parliament and overthrow the government in deadly coup’https://t.co/jON2u0FjXb
The 4th Reich, be scared, be very scared! pic.twitter.com/sNuDrwwdkN
— D.N.S. (@DubaiNameShame) December 8, 2022
That’s just one striking aspect of an event so shot through with farcical elements and headline clickbait, it appears to have been custom-made to generate media frenzy. A celebrity gourmet chef recruited to “take over the canteens of the new German Reich” is among those arrested, as is a former MP of the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). So is a Russian citizen, the girlfriend of Reuss, who reportedly contacted Moscow’s embassy in Germany to discuss a new post-coup world order.
Authorities had clearly set out to court intense news interest, inviting packs of journalists to document the raids in real-time, therefore ensuring outlets across the world were almost instantly plastered with photos of the plotters being escorted away handcuffed. In all, 125 officers were deployed for each suspect taken in for questioning – an obviously extraordinary, excessive ratio.
Given the speed with which major German news outlets such as Der Spiegel published detailed, lengthy reports on the raids, some have even suggested certain articles were prepared in advance of the police swoop, and that journalists and editors had been awaiting the day for some time. Eerily, in a since-deleted tweet on December 6th, ARD journalist Georg Heil fortuitously predicted, “I suspect there will be a lot of ‘exclusive’ news tomorrow.”
Numerous government officials have aggressively pushed the line that the plotters “are not harmless, crazy people,” and the media has treated the putsch with utmost seriousness. However, the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle has conceded that Reichsbürger did not even have a remotely realistic prospect of overthrowing the government. More generally, DW acknowledged, a coup d’etat could “hardly succeed in Germany,” as “the state order and the constitution are too solid.”
Though only a handful of weapons were seized in the police raids, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has declared Germany’s already strict gun laws will be tightened even further in response to the supposedly thwarted insurrection. It is almost certain Berlin’s security and intelligence services will be granted enhanced capabilities to surveil and harass citizens and suppress unrest too, given they are highly opportunistic in criminalizing dissent at politically expedient junctures.
In April 2021, as the German government prepared to impose harsher pandemic restrictions in the face of staunch opposition from the public, and a plurality of political parties across the political spectrum, Berlin’s domestic security service, known as the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, or BfV, established a new, dedicated monitoring category for lockdown opponents.
The agency argued that opposition to lockdown orders represented a subversive threat to the state, but that it did not fall under pre-existing categories of concern such as the far-right, far-left, or Islamic terrorism.
The move effectively outlawed all anti-lockdown agitation in Germany, while classifying anyone arrested for such activity – of which there had at that point been thousands, despite Germany’s Constitutional Court ruling a year earlier that Covid-19 restrictions did not extend to demonstrations – would be guilty of extremist endeavors.
It also guaranteed expanded powers and bureaucratic resources guaranteed to the BfV, which put them on display this December when it took down the Reichsbürger’s supposed insurrection plot.
Germany’s government infiltrates the far-right
The German media’s preponderant focus on the Reichsbürger plotters’ purported “far-right” nature is striking, as the BfV calculates that of the estimated 21,000 adherents in Germany, of whom only around five percent are “right-wing extremists.”
These figures might seem unusually specific, but the BfV is well-placed to know them with a high degree of certainty. Indeed, the agency’s surveillance and infiltration of Germany’s far-right is so extensive, the movement has been at least partially run and even funded by the state.
This disturbing reality was laid bare in January 2001, when all branches of the German government requested that Berlin’s Federal Constitutional Court investigate the ultranationalist National Democratic Party (NPD) and determine whether it was unconstitutional. Their intent was to ban the party outright.
The resultant probe collapsed in 2003 after the Constitutional Court determined many NPD members and grandees – including at least 30 of its most prominent figures – were undercover agents or informants of the BfV. Moreover, much of the government’s case against the party was based on statements made and works published by individuals on the agency’s payroll. An antisemitic NPD pamphlet that featured prominently in evidence provided to the Court was, for example, authored by an undercover operative.
As a result, the Court ruled that it was impossible to ascertain which statements, publications and actions attributed to the party had been influenced by the BfV. Investigators speculated the NPD’s activities may have been deliberately and actively directed by the agency in support of the party’s proscription.
This explanation is highly implausible given the fact that renewed calls for the NPD’s ban in 2011 were dismissed by the BfV on the grounds that doing so would necessitate deactivating its 130-strong network of informants in the party – half of them neo-Nazis – who provided invaluable intelligence on a number of secretive right-wing movements.
It is similarly implausible then that, as the established narrative of the “coup” asserts, the plotters only came to the BfV’s attention for the first time in April this year, following the arrest of four members of United Patriots, a Reichsbürger sub-group. They were allegedly conspiring to destroy power stations to cause a nationwide blackout, and kidnap health minister Karl Lauterbach.
Reichsbürger had been on the BfV’s radar for years. In March 2020, after a shooting in Hanau that left nine migrants dead, Germany’s central government proscribed the group, and several of its members were arrested.
The extremist outfit featured prominently in the BfV’s 2021 annual report, as did the Covid-19-skeptical Querdenken movement, to which the plotters were also linked. The latter was specifically cited by the BfV in its official justification for creating a new monitoring category for lockdown opponents.
As such, the “coup” conspirators were irrefutably connected to an array of groups officially confirmed to be under intensive surveillance by the BfV. These outfits would have thus been heavily penetrated by agents and informants reporting on their members’ every move. In the case of the AfD party, its designation as a suspected extremist group means the private communications of anyone connected to it are rigorously recorded and stored.
The aristocratic Reichsbürger leader Reuss and his confederates supposedly became subjects of interest to the BfV after the arrests of its United Patriot subgroup members. “Very early on,” according to agency president Thomas Haldenwang, the BfV “had a very clear overview of their plans.”
Authorities had closely monitored their communications and contacts from that point on, gathering intelligence on the wider network in which they operated and built cases against them. If they truly posed a serious, immediate threat to Germany’s constitutional order, or their plans to do so were well-developed and nearing fruition, action surely could have been taken much earlier.
Haldenwang claims the BfV watched in real-time as the plot “became more and more concrete and weapons were procured.” The question of whether BfV provocateurs encouraged and/or assisted any of the conspirators in advancing their insurrectionist fantasies over this period remains an open and obvious one.
After all, the eight months in which the plot developed provided ample time to insert agents into a group, or recruit them.
After frenzied media buzz, “coup” disappears from headlines
One of the most remarkable aspects of the “coup” is how quickly it vanished from headlines after the initial series of raids. After a surge of minute-by-minute reporting, an event of purportedly seismic, historic significance – declared by Bloomberg columnist Andreas Kluth to represent Berlin averting the establishment of a “Fourth Reich” – has ceased to be of any interest at all to mainstream journalists, including those within Germany itself.
After such a terrifying event, in which Germany was supposedly saved from the second coming of Hitler, it seemed reasonable to expect more lurid details about the conspirators’ grand design. At the very least, some of the promised arrests of other members of the extremist cell should have materialized by now.
But save for a series of closed-door Bundestag sessions on December 12th, during which it was claimed the plotters had dreamed of creating 280 paramilitary units tasked with “arresting and executing” people after the government’s overthrow, authorities have remained markedly tightlipped since December 7th. As is their nature, established news outlets have followed the state’s lead, letting the “coup” drop from its radar almost entirely.
The media’s sudden disinterest in the Reichsbürger plot recalls another supposed far-right coup conspiracy in Germany. In April 2017, the country was deluged with reports of a 28-year-old Bundeswehr soldier known as “Franco A” who had been arrested for planning to carry out violent attacks on German politicians, activists and journalists.
Portrayed as a leading member of far-right terror group Nordkreuz, Franco A supposedly registered as a Syrian refugee with German authorities in December 2015. His purported intent was to deliberately leave his fingerprints at the scenes of serious crimes in the hope they would be blamed on his Syrian persona, and thereby trigger nationwide violent backlash against immigrants across the nation.
Authorities later declared that investigations into Franco A revealed he was but one component of a much wider plot among Germany’s elite Special Forces Command (Kommando Spezialkräfte – KSK) to achieve “Day X”, whereupon they would abduct and execute a variety of German politicians.
The case prompted international outcry, as well widespread public debate about the degree to which the Bundeswehr had been infected with dangerous, revolutionary far-right sentiment. However, the official inquiry ultimately amounted to nothing.
In November 2017, six months after his arrest, Franco A was released from custody, as Berlin’s Federal Court ruled, “the results so far of the investigation do not substantiate the strong suspicion that a serious act threatening the state was in preparation.”
A police raid three months earlier on KSK headquarters similarly failed to unearth any indication of subversive intentions or activities among its operatives. Concluding that absence of evidence was not evidence of absence, police speculated the Command had been tipped off in advance, and promptly charged a soldier known as Peter W, whom they accused of secretly leading far-right group Hannibal, with helping the suspects cover their tracks.
Peter W was duly acquitted in March 2019, and apparently continues to serve in the German armed forces to this day. He successfully argued in court that Social Democratic Party supporters within Germany’s Ministry of Justice grossly exaggerated and distorted his case in order to embarrass the ruling CDU-led government for reasons of electoral expediency.
Meanwhile, Nordkreuz’s putative leader and founder, a veteran police sniper and shooting instructor known as “Marko G,” was given a suspended sentence of 21 months in December that year. Despite guns and ammunition being found at his home, the arsenal was ruled to be largely legal, and several “unconstitutional” comments he made in a private group chat neither implied he intended to overthrow the government, nor carry out terrorist attacks.
Franco A was eventually sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for possession of illegal weapons and fraud in July 2022. No concrete evidence of a concerted effort, let alone desire, to overthrow the German government on his part has ever materialized. In the meantime, the KSK was reorganized and partially disbanded due to the purported level of far-right extremism within its ranks, although no further arrests were made.
‘Strategy of tension’ returns to Europe?
The specter of a secret fascist nexus hellbent on seizing power in Berlin through incendiary violence is one German authorities, politicians, and journalists have long-been eager to conjure. While there can be little doubt that modern Germany is home to an inordinate number of neo-Nazis and fascists, at least some of whom are violent and dangerous, they stand little to no chance of threatening the country’s constitutional order.
It is also true that these extremist forces are well-represented in the military and security services. In November 2018, BfV chief Hans Georg Maasen was fired for disseminating racist conspiracy theories. At the time, it was speculated his political views may have led the agency to turn a blind eye to the activities of the country’s far-right during his six-year tenure.
Maasen’s predecessor Heinz Fromm also departed in disgrace, after it was revealed that the BfV shredded files related to the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a Neo-Nazi terrorist group which carried out murders, bank robberies, and bombings across Germany with impunity for a decade.
Questions abound to this day over whether the NSU was actively protected from investigation and capture by the BfV state security services. It also remains unclear why one of the agency’s staff, referred to by fellow spooks as “Little Adolf” for his far-right views, was present at the scene of one of the group’s killings. What has been confirmed is that the NSU were in direct, regular contact with many BfV informants, and indirectly received agency funds through the German state security organization.
This was hardly the first-time that right-wing terrorists have managed to get away with literal murder in Europe. Throughout the Cold War, British and American spies in conjunction with NATO managed a network of secret fascist armies who committed countless violent, criminal acts as part of a “strategy of tension,” designed to discredit the left, and justify ever-greater security measures. In Italy, this connivance was known as Operation Gladio.
Many terrorist attacks carried out during this period either remain officially unsolved, or the likely perpetrators have never been brought to justice. Gladio operative Vincenzo Vinciguerra, jailed for life for a car bombing that killed three police officers and injured two, in later years explained why, and laid bare the “strategy of tension” in stark detail:
“You were supposed to attack civilians, women, children, innocent people from outside the political arena. The reason was simple, force the public to turn to the state and ask for greater security…People would willingly trade their freedom for the security of being able to walk the streets, go on trains or enter a bank. This was the political logic behind the bombings. They remain unpunished because the state cannot condemn itself.”
Vinciguerra’s words resonate strongly against the backdrop of the recent Reichsbürger “coup,” as the supposed plot could not have come at a more opportune time for the German government. Throughout 2022, officials in Berlin openly angsted about the prospect of mass upheaval due to spiraling living and energy costs. Though scarcely reported in mainstream media, large-scale protests have grown in size and frequency. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has dubbed the situation “a powder keg for society.”
It is not unlikely that the country will fall into a deep, grinding recession in the near future; some analysts have predicted its eventual deindustrialization. Public approval of Scholz’s administration is already flagging significantly. Conversely, AfD – which opposes arming Ukraine and sanctioning Russia – has reached near-record levels in the polls, and is on course to come first in several state elections in 2024.
With Western governments no longer able to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic to crush dissent, rally citizens behind unpopular administrations, and expand systems of surveillance and social control, intelligence services throughout Europe and North America are again ramping up fears of terrorism to terrify their populations into submission – this time in the form of domestic, far-right elements.
If German spies had wished to concoct a false flag terror plot that achieved maximum visual and political impact, and without any risk to national security, the “coup” they so heroically busted on December 7th could not have been better conceived.
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions.
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