The Federal Republic of Germany founded after the Second World War does not exist. It is just a territory under permanent occupation by the allies, in a “conspiracy against the Germans” by Wall Street, “Jews” and international financial capital. Your government and institutions are puppets of foreign forces. The German Empire, however, continues to exist legally and its borders should be re-established, if possible, in line with those of 1914, 1937 or 1939, which could include the appropriation of foreign sovereign states like Namibia.
These are just some of the ideas that, even without real basis, are defended by the Reichsbürger (citizens of the Reich / imperial citizens), a German extreme right movement with neo-Nazi connections, strong anti-Semitism and historical revisionism.
The Reichsbürger, who also reject the German legal system, are increasingly attracting attention in Germany for their affinity for weapons, hostility to law enforcement officials and violence. In March of this year, the government banned a faction of the movement for the first time across the country for considering it extremist and unconstitutional.
Citizens of the Reich were among the hundreds of right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis who tried to invade the Reichstag (the Federal Parliament building in Berlin) on August 29, after a protest against measures taken to stop the new pandemic. coronavirus – about 38 thousand people, including neo-Nazis, anti-capitalists, anti-ivacines and “ordinary” citizens who doubt the seriousness of the pandemic, attended the event in the German capital.
“The Reichsbürger embraced public protests against corona restrictions as a welcome occasion to meet and gain visibility on the streets. They are more present than ever,” explains Axel Salheiser, a researcher at the Institute for Democracy to BBC News Brasil and Civil Society, in Jena, in the state of Thuringia.
In the onslaught on Parliament, condemned by politicians of different spectra, the great number of flags of the German Empire stood out, associated with the Reichsbürger and neo-Nazi groups. The symbol was also used by the Adolf Hitler regime.
“The Reich has always been a mythical place, a safe haven for Germans,” says Jan Rathje, a specialist in right-wing extremism at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin.
In the “anti-covid-19” demonstration, says the researcher, the use of the imperial flag as “in games of soccer“points to this mythical idea in the Reichsbürger’s imagination of” a place that is not the Federal Republic of Germany “.
“It is a place of hope for the personal individual, but also in the folkloric sense of freedom for the German people. But you have to ask yourself later: freedom against what? So the anti-Semitic conspiracy comes into play,” adds Rathje.
In this context, Salheiser believes that there are no clear boundaries between the Reichsbürger and neo-Nazis. Both share an “ideological terrain”, including historical revisionism. “German neo-Nazis carry the same black-white-red flags or display pre-1918 German Empire insignia that the Reichsbürger use to express their contempt for democracy.”
In Germany, disseminating propaganda material or Nazi symbolism (swastikas, for example) is a crime liable to up to three years in prison. Therefore, extremist groups use other images, such as the flag of the old empire.
Who are the Reichsbürger?
The Reichsbürger are a non-uniform movement composed of several groups spread across Germany and online. Part of them expressed their opposition to the modern German state by rejecting official documents, declaring the area of their homes as independent national territories, printing passports from these “nations”, creating their own coins and even “pseudo-police units”.
The self-proclaimed ‘citizens of the Reich’ refuse to pay taxes, do not accept democratically elected representatives and are aggressive towards public officials, bailiffs and police officers who approach them to execute administrative orders.
That is why, according to the Federal Agency for Civic Education (BPB), the authorities are “concerned” about the significant number of legal gun sizes among members of the movement and seek to suspend these permissions when “legally possible”.
German police seized large quantities of armaments, ammunition and explosives in 2019 from citizens of the Reich, including individuals whose arms sizes had been banned.
BPB considers the Reichsbürger’s risk of violating “the legal order” to be “very high”, since they do not recognize it, and assesses the potential for violence on the part of these individuals as “very large”. For Salheiser, this “tendency towards violence is blatant”, even though it comes from a minority.
“The liberal democratic state and its representatives are seen as enemies of the people – therefore, violent resistance seems legitimate. Some are preparing for ‘X Day’ [cenário apocalíptico do colapso da sociedade] to overcome democracy and its institutions. They prepare to kill, “he says.
“Today, researchers and security agencies agree on the dangers of this scene. Their thoughts reject fundamental principles of our society, such as the rule of law. Their ‘social utopia’ moves between an authoritarian monarchy (German empire) and the illegal state of 3rd Reich (Nazi regime) “, says Paul Zschocke, a researcher at the Frankfurt Peace Research Institute.
Although there are many divisions between groups and “imperial governments” in the movement, the profile of ‘citizens of the Reich’ is clear: about 75% are men between 40 and 60 years old, who tend to belong to the most disadvantaged segments of society.
National surveys by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), the German domestic intelligence service, and the Bundeskriminalamt, the federal police, estimate that in 2019 there were 19,000 members of the Reichsbürger and Selbstverwalter movements (something like sovereign citizens, who do not consider themselves sovereign citizens Germany or under its jurisdiction). In 2017, that number was 16,500.
Despite official data, Rathje argues that it is difficult to determine the actual size of these groups, because the current information is from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a “non-scientific” institution. Soon, data from studies conducted by universities and peer-reviewed studies would still be lacking.
Currently, 950 Reichsbürger are classified as right-wing extremists in Germany. About 530 have legal weapons and at least 790 have lost those permits.
While BPB sees similarities between the movement and “religious networks and sects”, the Ministry of the Interior says in its annual report on the protection of the Constitution that the Reichsbürger have an “unsophisticated worldview” shaped by, among other points, theories conspiracy and anti-Semitism. In this way, “executive” measures against them have little success and rarely result in withdrawals from the movement.
“The radicalization does not happen overnight, nor does the radicalization. Sometimes, the State’s counter-action is an excuse ready to plunge even happier into the rabbit hole – or it serves the self-image of a victim of state oppression”, he says. Salheiser.
Because of his “belief in a hidden agenda”, adds Zschocke, it is “almost impossible” to reasonably reason with a Reichsbürger. “Government actions often make their followers more convinced of their causes.”
BPB tracks the beginning of the movement around the 1980s, with Wolfgang Gerhard Günter Ebel. The former East German railway company employee called himself “Chancellor of the Reich” and formed his first “government” in West Berlin in 1985, claiming to have been commissioned by the Allies.
Ebel had a clear anti-Semitic stance. For him, postwar Germany was an illegal association that covered a “Jewish-Masonic” conspiracy. Therefore, he declared that the citizens of the Reich would not pay taxes, fees or fines to that country.
According to BPB, Ebel distorted partly real information to claim the non-existence of the modern German state. Among them, that Germany does not have a Constitution and is not sovereign because there was no peace treaty with the Allies. However, the Basic Law of 1949 is the country’s Constitution, even though it was created as a temporary way out waiting for the territories occupied by the Soviet Union to be reattached.
The Federal Republic of Germany, moreover, achieved full sovereignty in 1990, when the Two-Plus-Four Treaty brought the country together and defined that the Allies gave up their rights in relation to Germany.
The movement initiated by Ebel suffered a split in 2004, when a “government in exile”, independent of the Allies, was founded in Hanover. And the leadership of this group went to “Chancellor” Norbert Rudolf Schittke, a right-wing extremist monitored by the authorities who downplays the Nazi regime and believes that the Germans are the real victims of the Second World War.
Several other groups have emerged in recent decades. But Rathje points out that part of the movement may have its origins around the 1950s, since the idea of re-establishing the German Empire and freeing it from foreign occupation was one of the goals of Nazis within the Federal Republic of Germany.
“They created the Reich Socialist Party, the first to be banned as unconstitutional [na Alemanha pós-guerra]. He even carried his objective in the name “, he says.
When the organization was banned, neo-Nazis and the far right went ahead with the plan. “That is why in neo-Nazi and right-wing extremist demonstrations in Germany there will always be black-white-red flags representing the Empire.”
Violence and attacks on law enforcement officers
The movement started to radicalize in the early 2010s. And since November 2016, the German intelligence system closely monitors its activities.
The Reichsbürger, on the other hand, showed aggression in the 1980s and 1990s. Since they do not pay taxes, they enter into legal disputes against the state. Ebel and his followers sent letters to the authorities with death sentences handed down by the “Reich government” against public officials for acting in an “illegal state”.
In 2019, according to the BfV, citizens of the Reich and Selbstverwalter committed 589 politically motivated extremist crimes. Of these, 121 were recorded as acts of violence, in addition to 156 cases of coercion and threats, 81 of extortion and 31 of resistance to police officers.
But the episode that changed the authorities’ perception of the danger of the Reichsbürger occurred in October 2016 in Georgensgmünd, in the state of Bavaria. Police were trying to execute search and seizure warrants when they were shot by a 50-year-old man, who killed one of the officers and wounded three others. The defendant was sentenced to life in prison.
Before that case, in August 2016, another citizen of the Reich injured a police officer with a firearm, also during the execution of a warrant. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for attempted murder.
There are also several other cases of serious conflicts with the police. In March 2018, for example, three police officers in Lower Saxony were attacked and had their vehicle followed by citizens of the Reich when trying to conduct an arrest warrant against a Reichsbürger.
“Even if it is accepted that every society has its ‘lunatic fringes’, it is necessary to see that the hostile and conspiratorial attitude of these groups makes them very dangerous. Along with the propaganda for the possession of weapons, all this creates an explosive mix,” says Zschocke .
For the Reichsbürger and the extreme right in general, the researcher argues, it is “essential” to create a new worldview around the ‘status quo ante’ (as things were before), distant from modern society that constantly denies the ” your world”.
“[Ou seja] strong masculinity instead of gender equality, security in social roles instead of uncertain freedom for all, a strong state that supports ‘the general interest’. The flag of the Empire inhabits all these desires and for the rejection of our current rule of law, the Federal Republic “, says Zschocke.