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The alleged plot to overthrow the German government, led by a self-styled prince, a former paratrooper and a Berlin judge, was rooted in a murky mix of post-war discontent, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and anger at recent pandemic restrictions, experts said.

Police detained 25 people on Wednesday who were described as part of Germany's Reich Citizens movement.

Although the name suggests a link to the Nazi era, it is actually a reference to the first modern pan-German state, formed when King Wilhelm I of Prussia and his chancellor Otto von Bismarck united numerous smaller countries into a single empire or "Reich" in 1871 .

"Reich Citizens" believe that the division of Germany by the Allied Powers after World War II and the subsequent formation of democratic states was illegal, and claim that the original "Reich" still exists.

"To a certain extent, they differ from the Third Reich," said Johannes Kiss of the Else Frenkel-Brunswick Institute for the Study of Democracy in Leipzig, referring to Adolf Hitler's German dictatorship from 1933 to 1945.

"But (they) almost seamlessly work together with all kinds of outright neo-Nazi groups," he added.

Kiss said yesterday that the rise of the Reich Citizens movement reflected the changes that had occurred in recent years on the far-right of the political spectrum.

Where open opposition to the existing order used to be an extreme position, now anger at restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic has proved fertile ground for anti-government sentiment, he noted.

Kiss compared what happened in Germany to what happened in the US, where white supremacist movements teamed up with people who believe the "deep state" controls the government and together opposed the peaceful transfer of power after the last presidential election. writes the Associated Press, quoted by BTA.

Federal prosecutors said some of those arrested had specific plans to infiltrate the German parliament with weapons.

Such an attack would be facilitated by the fact that one of the accused conspirators – Birgit Malsack-Winkemann – is a former MP from the Alternative for Germany party and knows the Bundestag building very well.

Prosecutors said the group had intended to make Malsack-Winkemann justice minister after the coup, and the new government would have been headed by Heinrich the Thirteenth.

The 71-year-old member of the Reus family, who continues to use the title "prince" even though Germany abolished the monarchy's official role more than a century ago, has been identified as one of the ringleaders of the plot, authorities said.

Some people in Germany questioned whether the suspected militants could actually carry out any serious attack.

But the country's top security official, Interior Secretary Nancy Feser, said it would be a mistake to underestimate such groups, especially if, as alleged in the case, their members included people trained to handle firearms, such as soldiers or police officers.

Olaf Sundermeyer, an investigative journalist with German public broadcaster Er Be Be who specializes in political extremism, said authorities had long downplayed the threat posed by Reich Citizens until a representative of the organization shot dead a police officer six years ago.

"Financial Times": Foiled plot in Germany highlights problem with far right

In addition to having a "history of radicalization," many of the "Reich Citizens" share an affinity for Russia and are open to disinformation spread by Russian media, Zundermeier said.

However, he questioned claims that there was an apparent collusion with Moscow to topple the German government.

"I don't see any evidence of structural, systematic interaction between these groups and the Russian authorities," said Sundermeier, who has followed the movement for many years.

However, federal prosecutors said Prince Royce had contacted Russian officials to discuss his plans, and the only foreign national detained Wednesday was identified as Vitalya B., a Russian citizen.

Germany is highly sensitive to right-wing extremism because of its Nazi past and repeated acts of violence by neo-Nazis in recent years, including the assassination of a local politician and a deadly attack on a synagogue in 2019.

Two years ago, right-wing extremists participating in a protest against the restrictions introduced in the country due to the pandemic tried unsuccessfully to storm the Bundestag building in Berlin.

Earlier this year, authorities arrested four people accused of plotting to cause a long-term blackout across the country and kidnap the health minister.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said yesterday that it was "remarkable and truly terrible" that a former lawmaker had been charged with involvement in the plot, but the arrests showed that "we have a state that can defend itself, a democracy that can defend itself with full strenght".

Kiss, the far-right expert, said those detained this week were likely not the only extremists in the Reich Citizens movement, which German security officials estimate has more than 20,000 followers.

"There are other similar groups. They are at the same stage of radicalization. (These groups) may not be as dangerous because they don't have access to weapons, etc... However, we will see the emergence of more similar groups and , hopefully also to their arraignment," Keys added.


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