Germany charges suspects in plot to kidnap health minister and trigger civil war
The Washington Post January 23, 2023
BERLIN — Germany on Monday charged five suspects in a plot to kidnap the country's health minister, stir civil unrest and violently overthrow the government.
Germany's public prosecutor said the group had planned to blow up power infrastructure, "trigger civil warlike conditions" and overthrow democracy. All five have been charged with being suspected members of a terrorist group and planning "highly treasonable" acts against the government, it said.
Two of the suspects also face additional charges of preparing a "serious act of violence that is dangerous to the state," while another also faces a charge of terrorist financing.
The group intended to use an actor to imitate the country's president or chancellor in a live television broadcast and announce that the federal government had been deposed and that the constitution of 1871 was in force again, the indictment said.
It was the latest twist in Germany's investigations into its extremist Reichsbürger movement, which rejects the modern German state and wants to return to the days of the German Empire or Second Reich, founded in the late 19th century. The suspects also have links to the "corona protest scene" and had planned to kidnap Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and subject him to a show trial, prosecutors have previously said.
It was the investigation into the cell and their arrests last year that led authorities to unearth a similar plot in December, security officials have said. In that case, a 71-year-old minor German aristocrat, Heinrich XIII, prince of Reuss, and 24 others were arrested and accused of plotting to overthrow the state and storm its parliament building, known as the Reichstag.
All suspects arrested in that case remain in custody as investigations continue, with one awaiting extradition from Italy, the prosecutor's office said.
German security authorities have warned of the increasingly violent strands of parts of the Reichsbürger movement, which has long existed in Germany but whose members have often been written off as cranks. During the pandemic, street protests brought together a mix of Reichsbürgers, right-wing extremists and coronavirus deniers, leading to warnings from security officials regarding radicalization.
In 2021, the movement was estimated to include about 21,000 people nationwide, according to a report by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, which estimated that about 10 percent of those were "violence-oriented."
The group of five suspects charged Monday — four men and one woman — had formed by mid-January last year at the latest, prosecutors said. They think it is an ideology largely shaped by the female suspect, named as Elisabeth R.
The group made "concrete preparations" to take over state power in Germany, according to the prosecutor's office. Suspects Sven B., Thomas K. and Thomas O. had organized themselves into a "military branch," while Elisabeth R. and Michael H. were involved in an "administrative branch," it said.
After damaging power supply facilities, the group planned to kidnap Lauterbach "possibly after killing his bodyguards," the indictment said. The group hoped that the civil-war like conditions that ensued would enable them to depose the government and install a new leader while they assumed executive roles.
The first four arrests were made in April after an undercover operation in which officers posed as weapons dealers. Raids on 21 houses and apartments Wednesday across nine separate German states led to the seizure of weapons, including an assault rifle, 14 rifles and seven handguns, authorities said. They also said they seized gold bars, silver coins and more than $20,000 in cash.
Elisabeth R. was arrested in October of last year. All the suspects remain in custody.