Special Forces in Germany have arrested 25 people suspected of supporting a domestic terrorist organization that planned to overthrow the government and form its own state, the federal prosecutor said on Wednesday. They described the group, which they did not identify, as being influenced by the ideologies of the conspiracy group QAnon and a right-wing German conspiracy group called the Reichsbürger, or Citizens of the Reich, which believes that Germany’s post-World War II republic is not a sovereign country but a corporation set up by the victorious Allies.
It is not by accident that the group had goals similar to those that spawned the January 6, 2020 insurrection at the US Capitol. It is the same far-right ideology that has spread. Researchers first began to notice QAnon hashtags circulating on German social media in 2018, but back then the movement was extremely fringe. It partially surfaced in the mainstream when a far-right extremist murdered 10 people and wounded five others in a racially motivated attack on a shisha bar in the western city of Hanau. The case was widely reported in the national media, including a rambling 24-page manifesto published on the killer’s own website that cited theories popular in QAnon circles.
Since mid-March of 2020 experts noted an explosion of membership in German online groups related to the theory. Analysis of Qlobal-Change, a German QAnon YouTube channel, shows that its follower count has grown exponentially in this period. Similarly, its Telegram channel had around 20,000 members in February and now has more than 110,000 followers. The same group hosts channels in Italian and Spanish, but each has only a fraction of the membership of its German-language iteration.
In early-morning raids carried out on Wednesday across the country, some 3,000 police and Special Forces officers detained people believed to be members and supporters of the group, which prosecutors said had been formed in the past year and was operating on the conviction that “Germany is currently ruled by members of a so-called deep state” that needed to be overthrown. Two other people had been arrested outside Germany, one in Austria and another in Italy.
Also similar to the January 6 Capitol insurrection, some of those involved were highly placed members of the political or social establishment. Among those detained in Germany were a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party who had served in the German Parliament, a member of the German nobility and a Russian citizen accused of supporting the group’s plans. Federal prosecutors said that they were investigating a total of 52 suspects.
The group’s plans included an armed attack on the German Parliament building, known as the Reichstag, the prosecutors said, and members had organized arms training and attempted to recruit personnel from the German security services. The prosecutors added that the group’s members had also formed a sort of shadow government that they intended to install if their plans were successful. It remains unclear, however, how close they were to acting on those ambitions.
As in the US, many of those arrested had military training and included former German soldiers, including from the army of the former East Germany, and were known to have been heavily armed with weapons acquired illegally. The group was most likely formed in late 2021, the prosecutors said.
Its aim was “to overcome the existing state order in Germany and to establish its own form of state, the outlines of which have already been worked out,” the prosecutors said in the statement. “The members of the organization were aware that this goal can only be achieved through the use of military means and violence against state representatives,” the statement added. “This also included commissioning killings.” Already in 2020, far-right supporters, Q-Anon backers and anti-vaccine activists attempted to storm the Reichstag at a protest against coronavirus measures in Berlin.
The German far-right group’s link to Donald Trump’s presidency is explicit and direct: his attacks on NATO, the European Union, his dismissal of the Paris climate accord, and his preferential treatment of historic enemies such as Russia over allies like Germany, have made him a hero to Germany’s anti-Atlanticist conspiracists. In addition, Trump’s open enmity towards Chancellor Angela Merkel only confirmed their own hostility towards her ideology. His attacks on science leaders and parroting of unverified cures for the coronavirus, such as chloroquine, boosted his profile in Germany, found fertile ground and eventually led to this attempt at what can only be called a coup d’état in imitation of the January 6 insurgence in Washington D.C..
Lest we in the US become complacent, thinking that the Trump menace is over, this should come as a warning to law enforcement, that the threats to democracy are very real, and constant vigilance will be needed to address copycat right wing militias in this country. Especially when you have a raging out-of-touch former leader who, two years after he legitimately lost an election, demands the suspension of the Constitution and his reinstatement as president.
Let these arrests in Germany be a reminder.