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Who are the Reichsbuergers? Far-right plotters who tried to overthrow German government standing trial

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If the plot had succeeded, Germany’s government would have been overthrown, martial law imposed on the public and an aristocrat installed as national leader, prosecutors say.

Nine men will go on trial on Monday charged with high treason, attempted murder and plotting a violent coup d’etat that would have seen democracy torn down.

It’s the first of several big trials of members of the Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) group and follows a huge set of raids across the country in 2022 in which 3,000 police officers arrested 25 suspected members of the group.

Who are the Reichsbuergers?

The Reichsbuerger movement is a term that has applied to several groups in Germany who reject the legitimacy of the modern German state.

They tend to believe they are citizens of an earlier Germany – typically the pre-First World War German Reich – which has been usurped by today’s Federal Republic.

They base their beliefs on the idea that a foreign “Alliance” including the US and Russia stands ready to help them depose an illegitimate “Deep State” squatting in office in Germany since 1945.

“These militant Reichsbuerger are driven by hatred for our democracy,” interior minister Nancy Faeser has said. “We will continue our crackdown until these militant structures have been fully exposed and crushed.”

German intelligence estimated there are about 21,000 Reichsbuergers and has been observing them since at least 2016.

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From 2022: Police raids over far-right coup plot

Who is ‘ringleader’ Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss?

Among the people detained during the raids in 2022 was Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, a member of a now throneless dynasty who was allegedly a “ringleader”.

The 71-year-old comes from a German aristocratic family that goes back to the 12th century, the House of Ruess, and authorities say the plotters planned to make him the leader of a new government.

The family once ruled over parts of eastern Germany, but this ended when the country became a republic and their land became part of the state of Thuringia in 1920.

The current head of the House of Reuss, Prince Heinrich XIV, has distanced himself from his relative.

Police escorts a person after 25 suspected members and supporters of a far-right group were detained during raids across Germany, in Karlsruhe, Germany December 7, 2022. REUTERS/Heiko Becker
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More than two dozen people were arrested during the raids in 2022. Pic: Reuters

Trial in maximum security courtroom

The first in a series of trials linked to the Reichsbuergers begins on Monday, with nine people appearing under tight security in Stuttgart.

In total, 27 people are charged.

The political leadership of the group, including Heinrich XIII, appear in court in Frankfurt next month, while another group of suspects including an astrologer stand trial in June in Munich.

One of those going on trial on Monday, referred to in trial documents as Markus L, shot and seriously injured a policeman while resisting arrest, prosecutors say.

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