The far right in Germany isn’t all angry young men with shaved heads, baseball bats and black boots. There are those who appear respectable, even intellectual. The Reichsbürger movement includes accountants, teachers and academics; many members are middle-aged. It’s a fractured network with vastly diverging world views, united in their belief that the current government is illegitimate.
The Reichsbürgers claim that the German empire was not legally abolished when it collapsed at the end of the first world war and that it therefore continues to exist. To them, the so-called November Revolution of 1918, in which Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate, ending the German monarchy, was a coup without legal basis. The governments that followed – beginning with the Weimar Republic and ending with today’s parliamentary democracy – have no right to exist. Today’s Bundestag can therefore be overthrown without qualms, even with violence if necessary. While this kind of extremism is still rare, there has long been residual monarchism in Germany. Around 10 per cent of Germans support the restoration of the royals; among those under 34, that number is nearly one in five.
Elisabeth R, arrested last month by state police, is alleged to be one of those extremist Reichsbürgers. She is not how you imagine a terrorist to be: a 75-year-old retired teacher with shoulder–length white hair, pictured carrying her belongings in a brown potato bag. She is accused of plotting to overthrow the incumbent government to restore the German monarchy. Prosecutors say she is the head of a terrorist cell of Reichsbürgers called the United Patriots that attempted to procure weapons and explosives. One of her alleged co-conspirators, a 54-year-old accountant named as Sven B, was arrested in April when police found an SS uniform and an AK-47 in his cellar.
When questioned by police, he admitted plotting to abduct the health minister Karl Lauterbach, the architect of Germany’s lockdown policies. Plans had been drawn up that included the potential need to kill members of Lauterbach’s security detail. Next, the group would have formally declared the restoration of the German constitution of 1871, when the country was first unified under Kaiser Wilhelm I. They would then have found a stand-in for the current president or chancellor who they could use to confer legitimacy on their revolutionary restoration.