Germany’s Reichs-Nazis

by Thomas Klikauer and Danny Antonelli

Reichsburger

Among the various Neo-Nazi groups in Germany, one of the more peculiar, eerie, and weird – but also very brutal (also known for killing police officers) – are the Reichsbürger. Barely one year ago, the Reichsbürger came close to staging a coup d’état in Germany in order to establish their beloved authoritarian Reich (Empire).

In 2022, the German police were able to thwart the Reichsbürger (or sovereign citizen movement) coup attempt. The Reichsbürgers dreamed of returning to the Kaiser-Reich or, more often than not, to Hitler’s Nazi-Reich.

This reactionary fantasy ended abruptly when German police arrested 25 right-wing conspirators. The Reichsbürger’s Führer was the menacing Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss.

The Prince and his Reichsbürger cohorts wanted to set up a militaristic semi-fascist state modeled on their beloved imperial Reich. To them, today’s democratic Federal Republic of Germany is considered to be illegitimate. Virtually all Reichsbürger sport the ancient flag of the German empire. It was also displayed when they attempted to storm Germany’s parliament in August 2020.

Yet, Germany’s Reichs-Nazis are not an ideologically coherent troupe. Even more confusing is the fact that there is not only one, but plenty of candidates to be the Führer of the Reichsbürger. One of which is – next to putsch-organizing Prince Reuss – the self-proclaimed Reichs-King Peter Fitzek.


With no clear Führer, Germany’s Reichsbürger are an extremely heterogeneous group with very different sub-groupings. Yet their enormous following – often enticed through very public anti-state actions, particularly against vaccinations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic – shows that their mythical dreams of an authoritarian Reich remains a specifically German variant of right-wing populists, reactionaries, and Neo-fascists.

Still, the fact that their semi-mythical and deeply ideological idée fixe of an authoritarian regime – and, most importantly, their extreme violence – are often chosen and carried out for rather opportunistic reasons, this alone does not make the Reichsbürger any less dangerous – on the contrary.

Worse, the number of their violent activities has steadily increased over the past few years. In general, there is an extremely high level of a willingness to use violence. This comes, for example, in the form of assassinations, killings, and murder. This is further turbo-charged by the fact that many Reichsbürger are well-armed and that they live inside filter bubbles – a self-re-enforcing circle of like-minded people sharing similar ideologies.

Meanwhile, Germany’s secret service estimates that there are about 23,000 right-wing extremist Reichsbürger. This indicates that Germany’s Reichsbürger are by no means a small bunch of harmless weirdoes and nutcases.

Instead, it is precisely their rather flexible and never narrowly defined reactionary ideological and backward mythological convictions that open up plenty of opportunities to recruit new followers – from anti-vaxxers to esoteric devotees, to simple-minded conservatives to New Age people, to conspiracy believers and so on.

In any case, and common to virtually all Reichsbürger, questioning the legitimacy of the democratic German state system is at the core of their beliefs. This is spiced up through rafts of self-invented crypto-historical, more often deeply ideological, and above all pseudo-legal justifications.

Something similar appeared, for example, in the USA in the 1960s and they called themselves the Posse Comitatus (not to be confused with the law of the same name). They were followed by, or some believe they morphed into, the so-called Sovereign Citizen movement, which gained a certain notoriety in the early 1970s and has continued to spawn radical rightists to the present day.

Originally, they rejected interventions by the federal government in the southern states after the end of the Civil War, believing in the myth of “the frontier” and the “wild west” with the local sheriff as the highest authority.

In Germany there is no other German word that can explain or define a Reichsbürger. They are specifically German because they echo the concept of “Empire”. This so-called empire had a very short life, starting on January 18, 1871 and ending with the establishment of the Weimar Republic in 1918 – 47 years – not even close to the Roman, Portuguese, Spanish or British empires.

The glorification of this mythical empire is supposed to awaken some glorious past empire under Charlemagne, but that empire was Holy and Roman, not German. German Empires II and III ended rather quickly after suffering humiliating defeats in war.

The Reichsbürger are a very right-wing extremist variant of a what might be called sovereignism – a new form of neofascism linked to anti-democratic, anti-government, and anti-state ideologies. Not surprisingly, the Reichsbürger ideology is – most often – not only anti-democratic, it is also deeply anti-Semitic.

Consequently, some Reichsbürger seek to return to a purely Aryan, white, and most importantly “German” nation. Once again, as is so often the case with neofascist ideology, this idea has no connection to the factual meaning of the word “Aryan”.

The ideology of right-wing sovereignty culminates in the conviction that one can simply withdraw from today’s democratic state and live in a self-created space of territorial independence, like a bubble within the state-dominated system of law and property rights – while of course always profiting from the state-supported infrastructure that surrounds them.

The hated – and yet exploited for egotistical self-aggrandizement – democratic state is considered to be unlawful. Thus an Alice Through The Looking Glass world is created in which they can live comfortably with their delusions.

As a consequence of their own delusional ideology, Reichsbürger believe that they are no longer subject to the laws of Germany. Reichsbürger like to declare themselves to be nationals of the Reich. They do this by cooking up self-produced and all too often very official-looking documents. There are Reichs drivers licenses, Reichs passports, Reichs ID-cards, Reichs gun licenses, etc. These are ornamented with theoriginal imperial Reichs Kaiser flag.

In many cases, some of this is done for the aforementioned opportunistic calculations. This is then sold as Reichsbürger ideology and as a strategy to eliminate the democratic state. In quite a few cases, the invention of a self-carved-out and miniature so-called “Reichs territory” – the Freies Deutschland Hoheitsgebiet – is proclaimed.

These rural fields, farm estates, compounds, etc., are declared to be “free areas” with their own Reichs rules and regulations. At times, this is done to avoid – or at least try to avoid – criminal or even alimony payments, state issued fees and fines.

Simultaneously, a lot of money can be made by disseminating Reichsbürger ideologies, merchandise, and corresponding strategies to re-establish the Reich. For example, Reichsbürger gurus give seminars and lectures and sell books and pamphlets. These commercial activities are often done by Reichsbürger leaders and various mini-Führers. They distinguish themselves from ordinary Reichsbürger by their business acumen.

Although the historical myths to which Reichsbürger leaders refer are different in terms of the different nationalist setups of sovereign citizens in other countries, there are still rather amazing parallels between the German Reichsbürger and similar groups in the English-speaking world.

This is particularly the case with regard to right-wing strategies. One common hallucination is a Reichsbürger strategy that rejects the hated state system and claims to believe that Germany is in reality an externally controlled commercial business entity – weird but true.

In Germany, not a few Reichsbürger have truly persuaded themselves that the Federal Republic of Germany – Germany’s official name – is no more than a business. For them it is simply a business-like “Verwaltungskonstrukt” – an administrative institution with no legitimacy to represent the fascist will of the Volk.

Reichsbürger refer to refer to Germany as BRD GmbH or BRD Inc. Actually, BRD is not even an accepted abbreviation for Germany. Since reunification, the accepted abbreviation is DE (Deutschland).

But above all, German Reichsbürger have proven to be extremely approachable by people of all stripes. This is largely due to the Reichsbürger’s ideological flexibility. Reichsbürgers are not as trapped in a staunchly radical Nazi ideology as, for example, Germany’s hardcore Neo-Nazis.

As a consequence, the number of Reichsbürger has steadily grown – to dangerous levels. This phenomenon occurred rather recently in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the adjacent anti-vaccination conspiracy fantasies – Germany as a state-sponsored Covid dictatorship – that came with it. Of course, this did not only happen in Germany.

In Canada, for example, the self-appointed sovereign citizen Romana Didulo declared herself to be the Queen of the Kingdom of Canada. The new queen also called on her supporters to resist Covid-19 measures. She was arrested after she incited people to shoot medical personnel who offered to vaccinate children.

In England, opponents of Covid-19 vaccinations often used sovereign citizens arguments and claimed that the Magna Carta and the UK’s common law were invalid for them (meaning actually that a King rules unhindered by law and under divine right and that all under him are his servants and not free men as declared by the Magna Carta!). Meanwhile, scores of people linked to the Australian Sovereignty Alliance have received a massive boost in New Zealand and Australia due to the resistance discourse during the pandemic.

In the USA, for a small but growing part of the followers of conspiracy myths such as those trumpeted by QAnon, the delusional ideologies of the sovereign citizens are highly attractive. These conspiratorial hallucinations encourage them, for example, to believe that US-President Joe Biden’s presidency is actually illegitimate – the 81.3 million votes he received are simply deemed not to exist!

Since QAnon’s predictions about Donald Trump’s victory over the so-called deep state have not been confirmed, some ideologues – or better “right-wing demagogues” – inside the QAnon movement have started to familiarize their followers with the ideology of the sovereign citizens: the total rejection of the state. They urge them to take steps to become even more radical followers, directing them towards their anti-democratic quest.

Back in Germany, the recent spread of the anti-democratic and anti-state ideology of the Reichsbürger also resonates with people inside the German army and police, as it does in the US Military Academy at West Point, as recently reported.

The fact that Reichsbürger are operating inside Germany’s army is a particularly threatening development. Most often, these right-wing “entanglements” arise due to the influence of ideologically doctrinaire right-wing extremist, militaristic, and neo-fascist circles.

For example, Reichsbürger have enticed people inside Germany’s security forces to watch and even applaud when, for example, Bolsonaro supporters stormed government buildings in Brasilia. Meanwhile, the coup plans of the German Reichsbürger, exposed in 2022, have revealed that ideologically flexible Reichsbürger demagogy is capable of penetrating extremely deep into Germany’s security apparatus.

The view that Germany is not a sovereign state, but is still occupied by foreign powers, is particularly bizarre for army and other security personnel because the are generally seen as the ultimate representatives of the state system of law enforcement.

Of course, all German Reichsbürger, Neo-Nazis, and their adjacent ideologies are not about the use of rationality and logic. Ideologies, almost by definition, are not about logical consistence. They are about the clever use of propaganda.

In the case of Germany’s Reichsbürger, some of it is about ideology. But it is above all about individuals who want to be the next Kaiser, the next King of Germany, or the next Führer of the Germans. It is also about power, about Narcissistic personality disorders, about political careers, and about profiteering.

Various people within the orbit of the Reichsbürger are part of a growing patchwork of ideological and conspiracy-mythological groups – propped up with pathological and paranoid right-wing extremist delusions. And of course a goodly number are just run-of-the-mill con artists out to fleece another mark.

In Germany, there have long been specific instructions on how to use the ideology of the Reichsbürger to defend oneself against business foreclosures, state issued fees and fines, as well as other state measures.

Reichsbürgers are also given instruction on how best to bully the hated state authorities. Reichsbürgers like to flood Germany’s local, state and federal administration with emails and longwinded and often rather nonsensical letters, irrational requests and senseless petitions. While this has been a long-time feature of the letter-writing Reichsbürger, the self-invented “right” to act with violence – particularly against police officers – is a more recent phenomenon.

Yet, some German Reichsbürger have chosen to escape the hated state authorities by “fleeing” from Germany and settling abroad – perhaps in a reminiscent imitation of Nietzsche’s sister’s mythical and racist blood-&-soil, but ultimately failed, Neugermanien colony in Paraguay. On the downside, the move of today’s Reichsbürger abroad has resulted in the fact that the anti-democratic and anti-state ideology of German Reichsbürger has spread beyond German borders.

The greatest danger for the imminent disintegration of liberal democracies is not just the seemingly ever-increasing number of Reichsbürger and the spread of right-wing extremism – particularly among German security forces – but the fact that Reichsbürgers are well-armed and ready to kill – even police officers, who symbolize the hated state – and are prepared to initiate very serious attempts towards a right-wing coup d’état in order to establish a new dictatorship in Germany.

As in many countries, the ability of an individual right-wing terrorist to take action has long existed. But now there are organized groups of them ready to act out. However, the hope is that right-wing terrorism will be recognized for the danger it actually presents and in the end will not lead to the destabilization of the democratic state system, as the delusional, fanatic, and well-armed Reichsbürger want it to do.

Given this danger, even some sections of Germany’s security agencies are starting to take the Reichsbürger threat seriously. [And not even mentioned here is the hardcore Neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division!]

Despite the recent awareness of the threat in government circles, and a meagre effort to combat it through intervention and arrests, there is still a very real risk of German state institutions being infiltrated and undermined by the Reichsbürger and similar anti-democratic cults.

As (the not-so-holy) Madeleine Albright once said: it is easier to remove tyrants and destroy concentration camps than to kill the ideas that gave them birth.

Thomas Klikauer was born half way between Castle Frankenstein, the place where Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, and Carl Benz’s garage with the first motor-car. Educated at the TU Darmstadt, Bremen University, Boston University, and Warwick University, Thomas Klikauer teaches MBA students and supervises PhDs at the Sydney Graduate School of Management at Western Sydney University, Australia. Among his 935 publications are 15 books. His homepage is: https://klikauer.wordpress.com/. He lives in the beachside suburb of Coogee.

Danny Antonelli grew up in the USA, now lives in Hamburg, Germany and writes radio plays, stories and is a professional lyricist and librettist.

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