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The prince, the plotters and the would-be putsch: Germany to try far-right coup gang



One of the largest legal proceedings in German history is due to start on Monday with the first of three trials of a group of far-right conspiracists who planned to violently overthrow the country’s parliament.

So sprawling is the network, so extensive their plans, that for a mixture of logistical and security reasons, the 27 people due in the dock have been split into three separate groups.

On Monday a group of nine, identified as the “military wing” behind the group ringleader, the self-proclaimed Heinrich XIII, Prince Reuss, 72, will be the first to go on trial in the southern city of Stuttgart on terrorism charges. Nine others, including Reuss and other prominent members, go on trial in Frankfurt on 21 May.

Prince Reuss, an antisemitic businessman, descended from a formerly aristocratic family, founded the group with the express wish to violently eliminate the state order. In the event of the coup’s success, he was due to be declared provisional head of a new German state, which would have redrawn the country according to its 1937 borders.

According to federal prosecutors, the group planned to enter the Reichstag in Berlin with armed support to arrest members of the Bundestag or parliament with the intention of “overthrowing the system”. The plotters aimed to forcibly eliminate the existing state order and replace it with their own government. They had been forging the plans from August 2021, until they were uncovered in December 2022 in a series of large scale anti-terror raids involving thousands of officers searching 150 properties across 11 German states, as well as abroad.

Members, many connected to the German far-right extremist Reichsbürger movement, had access “to a massive arsenal of weapons”, prosecutors said, including 380 firearms, 350 cutting and stabbing weapons, almost 500 other weapons and 148,000 pieces of ammunition, which they referred to by the codename “bonbons”.

“These are people who do not recognise the federal republic and its democratic structures,” the prosecutors said.

Among their very detailed plans was an “execution list” drawn up by an ex-elite soldier and survival trainer, Peter Wörner, nicknamed “Wolf”, which included chancellor Olaf Scholz, two leading TV personalities, Markus Lanz and Sandra Maischberger, as well as the head of the opposition CDU, Friedrich Merz. In preparation for the new “regime”, in which he expected to have a part, Wörner had commissioned a tailor to run him up a “Nazi-style” soldier’s uniform, the court will hear.

The would-be putchists paid a Swiss criminal gang around €140,000 (£120,000) for weapons, and had plans to search for “subterranean children’s prisons” in which they believed a secret “world government” was carrying out experiments on children.

Thomas T, a 60-year-old welder from the rocker scene in the southern state of Bavaria, together with the group’s future “trans-communications minister” Hildegard Leiding, also 60, a member of the rightwing AfD party and an astrologer, are said to have sought out candidates for the “future government” on a “spiritual basis”, according to their dates of birth, prosecutors said. A star chef from Austria with a mandate to cook healthy food for the new regime was also allegedly involved.

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On trial alongside T, will be Melanie Ritter, 57, a doctor specialising in the method of predicting the future through eggs and a Covid vaccine sceptic who had expected to become health minister following the coup.

According to the indictment, former lieutenant colonel Rüdiger von Pescatore, aged 70, interpreted the death of Queen Elizabeth in September 2022, as “the signal for an attack by allied forces on Germany” which would mark “Day X”, the coup date, according to messages he wrote in two of the groups’ various online chat groups. He expected a resulting power cut to trigger the start of the coup, but it never happened.

Criminal investigators have said they observed the first meeting with the group, held by Prince Reuss, on 25 October 2021, in a pub in the Bavarian town of Helmbrechts. He had, according to investigators, only wanted international recognition of his fantasy state “Dukedom Reuss”, in the eastern state of Thuringia, and had attempted to lobby the Russian consulate general in Leipzig for such recognition and support for the coup, via his Russian girlfriend. He had reportedly told the consulate general: “We’ll show you that the German wolf and the Russian bear are an unbeatable team”. Reuss’s lawyer, Roman von Alvensleben said last week he would not comment on his client’s position. “I cannot confirm… that Prince Reuss posed a threat to the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and that he would have joined or approved of the use of violence,” he told German media.

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