Fueled by the Corona protests, the number of so-called Reich citizens has risen sharply again since the beginning of the year. Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) told the “Bild am Sonntag” that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution now estimates the number of people in this spectrum to be around 23,000 people – an increase of around 9.5 percent (around 2,000 people) compared to the previous year. In 2018 and 2019, the domestic secret service assigned around 19,000 people to this very heterogeneous scene.

The nationwide numbers on various extremist currents vote the constitutional protection officers of the federal and state governments in December. In 2021, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution also assigned more than five percent of the “Reichsbürger and Selbstverwalter” to the right-wing extremist spectrum. About ten percent of “Reich citizens” are considered violent. In 2021, the police registered 239 violent crimes attributable to the scene, significantly more than in the previous year.

“Reich citizens” are people who do not recognize the Federal Republic and its democratic structures. They often refuse to pay taxes. Federal prosecutors arrested 25 people on Wednesday, including former officers. She accuses 22 of those arrested of being a member of a terrorist organization that wanted to overthrow the political system in Germany. Three arrested are considered supporters. The 23 suspects arrested in Germany are in custody. The federal prosecutor also spoke of 27 other suspects.

Benefiting from the Corona Pandemic

The security authorities primarily attribute the fact that the “Reichsbürger” scene has grown so rapidly in the past two years to the protests against government measures to contain the corona pandemic. These would have triggered “increased dynamics and activity”, according to the 2021 report for the protection of the constitution.

Since a “Reich citizen” killed a police officer in 2016, the authorities have made increased efforts to disarm members of the scene. By the end of 2021, 1050 so-called Reich citizens had had their gun permits revoked. Around 500 people who are assigned to the milieu still had such a permit.

“Despite the reforms of recent years, enemies of the constitution have access to legal weapons too easily,” says Marcel Emmerich, head of the Greens on the interior committee. A rapid revision of the weapons law with a simplification of the complex procedures is urgently needed. The member of the Bundestag says: “For this, the principle of refusal to comply with the rules is required. This means that all persons who are known to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as extremists are not allowed to receive a weapon permit per se.” Faeser told the “Bild am Sonntag” that she wanted to “further tighten gun laws shortly”.

Her predecessor Horst Seehofer (CSU) had tried to introduce a reporting requirement that would prevent people with mental illnesses from owning weapons, but two years ago they did not get enough backing from parliament. The trigger for the debate was the racist attack in Hanau. The right-wing extremist assassin suffered from delusions. Nevertheless, the sports shooter had a gun permit.

Don’t get bogged down

FDP parliamentary group leader Konstantin Kuhle says: “There is no need to tighten gun laws to disarm Reich citizens.” The state should not get bogged down in the fight against enemies of the constitution and turn against law-abiding sport shooters and hunters who belong to the “middle of society”. Rather, there is a lack of personnel in the weapons authorities. Those responsible would also have to be trained to recognize “Reich citizens” as such.

The federal prosecutor’s investigations into the alleged conspirators also fueled the discussion about extremists in the civil service and how to deal with the AfD. Among those arrested is the Berlin judge Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a former AfD member of the Bundestag. An ex-city councilor from Saxony, who is also in custody, is said to have left the AfD a few months ago, according to party circles.

Lower Saxony’s Interior Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) sees overlaps between AfD and “Reich citizens”. “Reich citizen does not automatically mean AfD and vice versa. But there are big overlaps – from the rejection of our state to the pro-Russian attitude to hostility towards America,” he told the “Bild am Sonntag”.

Officials, soldiers, reservists and an ex-general

Several officers are among the suspects. There were also searches in the house and office of a soldier from the Bundeswehr Special Forces Command (KSK) and several Bundeswehr reservists. A general suspicion against members of the armed forces and security authorities is inappropriate, said the president of the reservists’ association, Patrick Sensburg, of the “Rheinische Post”. What is necessary, however, is a “much more consistent crackdown” on people like one of those arrested. The ex-officer is known for his attitudes, there are criminal proceedings against him, “and yet he continues to walk around the country in uniform and spread his crude theories, even with a full pension.”

Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD) wants to submit a draft law to the other departments of the federal government before the end of the year, which should accelerate the dismissal of extremists from the civil service. Among other things, the respective employer should have more direct options for action.

“At all levels of the state, there is a need for a high level of sensitivity with regard to the constitutional loyalty of civil servants,” said Christoph de Vries (CDU), the Union’s domestic politician. However, his parliamentary group will make sure “that the principles of the rule of law are not violated and that civil servants are not prematurely and carelessly removed from the civil service”. The coup plans uncovered in the course of the most recent investigations showed that the so-called Reich citizens were a real threat. It is therefore unacceptable that information about the forthcoming raid was “spread” early and widely. It is to be feared that the accused would have gotten wind of the searches and thus possibly also the opportunity to get weapons or other evidence away.