by Thomas Klikauer and Meg Young
Only a few weeks ago, a Reichsbürger in Germany shot a police officer with a crossbow during a house’s search in a remote town called Linden, in the north of Hessen. The Reichsbürger is accused of attempted manslaughter and he was sent to prison until his court hearing. Violent attacks by the right-wing extremist Reichsbürger are nothing out of the ordinary in Germany.
Germany’s antisemitic and semi-fascistic Reichsbürger, also known as sovereign citizens – were at the forefront when a mob of right-wing extremists attacked Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag in August 2020. Like many other right-wing extremists, Reichsbürger too, use anti-lockdown rallies as cover to conjure up supports for its reactionary ideology.
At Germany’s parliament, three policemen were fighting the crowd of Reichsbürger, Neo-Nazis, anti-vaxxers, and tin-foil-hat wearing conspiracy fantasies believers until reinforcements arrived preventing a German version of what has happened in Washington in January 2021.
At the Bundestag, the Reichsbürger waved Germany’s black-white-red imperial flag which signifies the Reich. A few days before their attack, Reichsbürgers and QAnon supports had already announced (falsely) that Donald Trump had landed in Berlin to liberate Germany.
Despite the non-appearance of Donald Trump, German Reichsbürgers regarded their rally as a success. With stunts like these, the Reichsbürgers continue to receive high levels of public attention. One reason for the publicity surrounding the Reichsbürger was the murder of a police officer in Georgensgmünd by a so-called Reich-citizen. Reichsbürgers tend to be well-armed and extremely violent.
On that day, police had stormed the gunman’s house confiscating his 31 firearms. The man had marked his property with a yellow line and a sign saying, Regierungsbezirk Wolfgang – Reich area Wolfgang (his name). Reichsbürger Wolfang then shot a police officer and injured several others – one of them fatally. Reichsbürger Wolfgang was sentenced to life in prison.
Ideologically, Reichsbürger rejects the legitimacy and sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany. Some even think that Germany is still at war and currently occupied by Allied Forces – perhaps even “alien” (!) forces. Hallucinations like these are encouraged by the lack of a formal peace treaty after WWII. Some Reichsbürger even claim that Germany is running some secret power behind the Allies. Worse, Reichsbürger are also convinced that Germany is actually a company – a kind of Germany Ltd.
Accordingly to this conspiracy fantasy, only private and business law – not state law – applies to Germans. As a consequence of all this, the German Reich continues to be the lawful state representing all Germans. Hence, there is a strong belief in the Reich and to be citizens of that Reich, i.e. Reichsbürger.
Of course, out of this comes the phantasm that Reichsbürgers must act to restore the Reich, the 4th Reich, after Hitler’s III. Reich. Other Reichsbürgers believe that they can, individually, leave the Federal Republic. As a consequence, they declare themselves to be “individual sovereigns”. Some Reichsbürgers even have their own state often ornamented with fanciful, mythical, Germanic, and right-wing names.
Moreover, some Reichsbürgers are driven by the actions of the self-proclaimed Reich Chancellor Wolfgang Ebel – the original Reichsbürger. During a several Berlin court cases, Ebel formed an imperial Reichs-ideology that eventually became the guiding ideology of the Reichsbürger. Later, Eibel claimed to have been informed by Allied intelligence officers. These officers had entrusted Eibel with the task of changing Germany towards the Reich.
Subsequently, Ebel pretends to be Supreme Commander of the German Reich, the Minister of Transport (for some reason), and Reich-chancellor of Germany’s Reichs-Government in-Waiting. It is a government which he founded, of course. For the antisemitic Reichs-Commander Ebel, the Federal Republic of Germany is an illegal association working as a cover-up for a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy.
Since today’s Germany is illegal and until the Reich comes, Reichsbürger should not have to pay taxes, any fees, and fines issued by the state. As expected, this has led to numerous legal disputes. Reichsbürger, and Ebel in particular, are much feared by Germany’s bureaucracy. They tend to send pages after pages of longwinded and semi-delusional justifications for the non-existence of the Federal Republic of Germany.
As the true Reichs-government, they issued death sentences, preferably against German civil servants because of their treason and because they work for an illegal state. In addition, Reichsbürgers offer paid courses in which they inform often rather naïve and unsuspecting people about the true legal situation in today’s illegal Germany. Thankfully, Reichsbürger sells official Reichs-documents such as Rechs-passports and Reichs-driver’s licenses. Reichsbürgers believe these are real documents.
Yet, the recent growth of the Reichsbürger has led to tensions within its organisation leading to several internal splits. This process continues. A recent report by Germany’s secret service lists about 20,000 Reichsbürger in Germany – up from 19,000 the year before. Among them are about 1,000 Reichsbürger classified as extremely dangerous and violent right-wing extremists.
On online platforms like Telegram – the Reichsbürger Channel – more than 60,000 subscribers are listed. This makes it clear that their support is much stronger than the officially counted Reichsbürger. The right-wing milieu from which Ebel originated – also describing himself as sovereignist – provides a unifying ecosystem and ideology spiced up with conspiracy fantasies. The term “sovereignist” might also be suitable when describing Reichsbürger.
Beyond that, Reichsbürger also operate in a transnational contexts. The term Reichsbürger tends to narrow one’s view to a German and Austrian specific ideology. Yet, many conspiracy ideologies like those of the Reichsbürger are closely linked, in terms of history, with anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism, and of course, Nazism. These reach far beyond the confines of Germany and Austria.
Like Neo-Nazism, the Reichsbürger too, believe that the Federal Republic of Germany is oppressing the German people. Almost self-evidently, their freeing of Germans includes a return to Kasier’s Reich or to Hitler’s Reich and the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft. The word Volksgemeinschaft almost automatically means the exclusion of all non-Aryan, and, in its final consequence, Auschwitz.
Some of today’s Reichsbürger used to be members of Germany’s established Neo-Nazi party, the NPD. Of course, the NPD was taken over by the most successful Neo-Nazi party of post-Nazi Germany, the AfD. Many inside the AfD also long for the past days of a German Reich.
In a similar vein, today’s Reich-Chancellor Wolfgang Ebel also believes in restoring the German Empire – whether the Kaiser’s Reich or Hitler’s Reich or a mixture of both. Until their militarism can start taking over Germany and, subsequently, start conquering again, Reichsbürgers will have to confine their imperial ambitions to the territory of the German state.
As such, Reichsbürger, just like the AfD, Germany’s right-wing populists, the Identitarian Movement, and Neo-Nazis, are part of Germany’s so-called new right. Reichsbürger do not just superficially talk about Hitler’s Nazi Reich. They actively lament on the lack of sovereignty of Germany while pining for a return to the heroic Reich.
Reichsbürgers openly proclaim the establishment of the German Empire. Many Reichsbürgers live in the ideological tradition of nationalism, chauvinism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, tradition conspiracy ideologies – pretty much the standard fare of German right-wing extremism.
Crucially, the core ideological makeup of the Reichsbürger remains inextricably linked to the liberation from Nazism – something the Reichsbürger do not see as a liberation but as a defeat.
Since the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht on 8th April 1945, right-wing extremists, Neo-Nazis, and now the Reichsbürger continue to strive for a rather different solution from what exists since 1945. They seek to initiate the political, ideological, institutional, and territorial restoration of the German Reich.
According to their right-wing ideology, the German Reich had not ceased to exist with the surrender of the Wehrmacht. Instead, the Reichsbürger still regarded the arrest of Hitler’s successor – Karl Dönitz – as an illegal act by the Allied Forces.
As a consequence, they see themselves as a resistance movement and as a national opposition against present-day Germany, which is ruled by some forms of evil democracy. Of course, Reichsbürgers like to dish up the old Nazi myth of a Jewish world conspiracy again and again. Unless the Reichsbürgers act, these dark and deeply conspiratorial forces will bring the entire world into a Jewish world order.
In their twisted ideology, the Nazi Reich was the antithesis against abstract idea of modernity, Enlightenment, and democracy. For the Reichsbürger, fascistic ideologies like these remain relevant, just as they do for one of Germany’s most dangerous – the Neo-Nazi demagogue, Horst Mahler.
Since the late 1990s, Mahler and adjacent Neo-Nazis have been aiming to establish the Fourth Reich. Neo-Nazi super ideologue Mahler combines Holocaust denial with standard Reichsbürger propaganda. He also claims that Germans aren’t free again until the German Reich is re-established. This is the only way to the glorious German Reich which will lead to the overthrow of Jewish foreign rule. This Jewish foreign rule will collapse with the exposure of the Auschwitz lie, so Mahler tells his followers.
Top Neo-Nazi Mahler also announced the setting up of a Reichsbürger-Movement, envisioning himself to run the show together with Wolfgang Ebel’s Provisional Reich Government. Even several convictions for hate speech and several prison sentences have failed to deter Mahler from his anti-Semitic demagogy.
Instead, Mahler continued to publish Neo-Nazi propaganda from prison. Next to Mahler, Germany’s most prominent Holocaust deniers – Ursula Haverbeck-Wetzel and Manfred Roeder – are already members of Mahler’s Reichsbürger organizations. Today’s anti-Semitic Reichsbürger also include, Neo-Nazi video blogger Nikolai Nerling, who likes to present himself as a Volkslehrer – people’s teacher – ready to serve his Volksgemeinschaft.
Almost self-evidently, Reichsbürger, right-wing anti-Vaxxers, and hygiene rally supporters mix very well particularly since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. These tin-foil-hat and Neo-Nazi rallies provide Reichsbürgers with an ideal platform to spread their toxic propaganda, recruit new members, and move people ever deeper into Germany’s Neo-Nazi orbit.
One of the main organizing platform for such right-wing extremist rallies is Querdenken 711. It is run by conspiracy fantasy believer Michael Ballweg, who is convinced that the Coronavirus pandemic was invented by Bill and Melinda Gates who, through their money control the WHO, and also controls Angela Merkel. Ballweg harbours strong sympathies for the Reichsbürger. At his rallies, Germany’s imperial Reich flag is visible and Reichsbürger propaganda is handed out.
One of Germany’s main and more thoughtful ideologue of Neo-Nazism is Jürgen Elsässer. He is also the editor of the semi-Reichsbürger, deeply conspiratorial, and anti-Semitic Compact magazine. His latest plan is to give the imperial Reich flag, what he calls, a pop star status. The idea is to make it acceptable to the wider public.
He also pushes the insignia “1871” (the year when Germany’s Reich was founded). Elsässer believes that this will resonate with the wider movement. For some reason, he thinks that it is because the Kaiser’s Reich was the last true state on German soil. In his twisted mind, the Weimar Republic did not really exist because it was forced onto Germans by the victorious powers of Versailles.
Beyond all that, German Reichsbürgers are also linked to today’s QAnon. Reichsbürgers share many QAnon conspiracy myths. QAnon’s right-wing fantasies which are linked to Christian end-of-the-word themes appeal to Reichsbürger. So does the hallucination that Donald Trump will free the USA and ultimately the world from a conspiracy of paedophile Satanists. These might no longer live in the basement of a Washington Pizza shop.
Aligned to QAnon, Reichsbürger expected that right at the beginning of the pandemic in Germany in spring 2020, planned NATO war games would signal Trump’s arrival to liberate Germans. 20,000 American soldiers would secretly eliminate the hated Federal Republic of Germany. Trump would conclude a peace treaty restoring the beloved Reich. Sadly for the Reichsbürger, the war games were cancelled. Yet, the delusion of the liberator Trump had established itself in their minds.
Instead of liberation from democracy and the establishment of the Reichsbürger’s glorious Reich, something worse happened to the Reichsbürger. Their right-wing extremist Reichsbürger and known anti-Semite Attila Hildmann was arrested. He had attended a Reichsbürger rally together with QAnon and former Neo-Nazi party (NPD) member and long-serving Reichsbürger Rüdiger Hoffmann. Hoffmann’s staatenlos.info is a website that tells you how Bill Gates wants to take over Germany, why Adolf Eichmann was a great guy, and how NATO and the USA manipulate the weather to further global warming.
In the end, one is tempted to dismiss the Reichsbürger as a few right-wing madman. Yet, the Reichsbürgers show an extremely dangerous level of brutality and violence having already killed a policeman. Beyond that, Germany’s 20,000 Reichsbürgers are well armed. They live in the delusion that they defend their Reich against government authorities. They are also convinced that anyone who does not believe that the next Reich is upon us – is a threat. Worse, the Coronavirus pandemic and recently so-called hygiene rallies have given Reichsbürgers new recruitment opportunities.
Thomas Klikauer (MAs, Boston and Bremen University and PhD Warwick University, UK) teaches MBAs and supervises PhDs at the Sydney Graduate School of Management, Western Sydney University, Australia. He has over 700 publications and writes regularly for BraveNewEurope (Western Europe), the Barricades (Eastern Europe), Buzzflash (USA), Counterpunch (USA), Countercurrents (India), Tikkun (USA), and ZNet (USA). His next book is on Media Capitalism (Palgrave).
Meg Young (GCA and GCPA, University of New England at Armidale) is a Sydney Financial Accountant & HR Manager who likes good literature and proof reading.
Originally published in CounterPunch