“Danger recognised – danger averted” was the intended message of last week’s German television and newspaper pictures. In what was probably the largest anti-terrorist operation in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, on December 7, 3,000 officers searched 150 properties, confiscated weapons and arrested 25 people. So far, there are 54 suspects under investigation. The accusation: the right-wing extremists were planning a coup. But questions remain.
Admittedly, it was an illustrious gathering that was led away in handcuffs. Among them was Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, a noble real estate dealer whose family was badly affected by the November Revolution of 1918, but who played an important role in Thuringia until the Second World War. Also among the party was a judge who sat in the Bundestag, the German parliament, for the far right-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) for four years and only this year resumed her position at the Berlin Regional Court. There was also a soldier of the military’s Special Forces Command (KSK), and a former policeman, a former army officer and small businessmen … one could continue the list at length.
The magazine “Der Spiegel” said, almost astonished, that these were many people from high society. As if it was something new that many right-wing extremists come from the upper petty bourgeoisie.
On the surface, the right-wing terrorists had few points of contact, at first: Heinrich XIII was angry about the fact that his efforts after 1990 to get back the lands of his ancestors expropriated by the former East-German Stalinist GDR were not very successful. That is why he joined the Reichsbürger (‘Citizens of the Reich’) movement which does not recognise the Federal Republic as legitimate and instead regards the German Empire (the ‘Second Reich’) formed in 1871 as the real German state. Thus Heinrich XIII sent letters to the villagers in Bad Lobeda telling them to order papers from him identifying themselves as ‘real’ Germans. This is not some kind of historic joke, many Reichsbürger look back fondly to an authoritarian imperial regime with limited voting rights and which imprisoned socialists and trade unionists.
Judge Brigitte Malsack-Winkemann gave racist speeches for the AfD in the Bundestag. Roughly speaking, she too has only a few points of contact with Rüdiger von Pescatore. At the time, he commanded the paratrooper Battalion 251. It was stationed in Calw, in Baden-Württemberg, and later formed the basis for the creation of the Special Forces Command (KSK), the German military’s main special forces unit.
Together with others, they met on the estate of Heinrich XIII in Thuringia. There was also an active soldier of the KSK, a former police officer, and middle-class entrepreneurs.. It is difficult to outline exactly how large the circle is. About 120 declarations of confidentiality have been found by the authorities, so far. Those who signed agreed to be threatened with death if they spoke in public about the circle around Heinrich XIII. According to the investigating authorities, the group grew rapidly.
Looking at the ideology of the conspirators, one runs the risk of thinking the group is simple-minded or a bad joke. It appears to be an eclectic composition of all possible conspiracy theories. Yet this does not make them harmless. The theory may be removed from any rational consideration; that has always been the nature of conspiracy theories. But precisely therein lies a danger: the antisemitism of the Nazis was also a conspiracy theory and legitimised the mass murder of millions of jews. Tobia R., the right-wing terrorist who murdered nine people in Hanau, in February 2020, and recently made a name for himself again with an attempt to taka a hostage in his prison, believed – just like the circle of conspirators around Heinrich XIII – in the whole madness around QAnon.
The group’s plans were far-reaching. Not only was the Bundestag going to be stormed and politicians arrested, through their local contacts they also wanted to set up 280 “homeland security companies” to eliminate political opponents. For this purpose, Bundeswehr (the German army ) barracks were being spied on.
The group probably had enormous financial resources: so far, 400,000 euros have been discovered in cash or in gold and silver coins. In addition, another six million euros in the form of gold bars are said to be in lockers.
In addition to the circle’s immense financial resources, their access to weapons also increases the danger they pose. Already in the 1990s, Rüdiger von Pescatore had sold more than 150 weapons from NVA (National People’s Army of the GDR) stocks during his active service. Only eleven weapons have been recovered.
An ideology that allows practically any crime, enormous financial resources and access to weapons – measured by that alone, the group is a true nightmare. But not only that, the number of conspirators and thus ultimately supporters of the group is already estimated to be far greater than initially assumed.
There is no question, at this point in time, that this group poses a serious threat to the bourgeois parliamentary order and a coup attempt would have been doomed to failure. The group let a date of its own choosing to launch a coup to pass for reasons that are as yet unclear. Nevertheless, it remains dangerous. It is anything but impossible that, at some point, such people will start taking up arms. It can be assumed with a certain degree of probability that in addition to Heinrich XIII’s group, other forces consisting of ‘Reich Citizens’, fascists and right-wing extremists of all shades, may have decided to network in a similar way.
The state’s action against the extreme right-wing conspirators is certainly an expression of a real concern on the part of those in power that these forces are getting out of control.
Fascists and other right-wing extremists have always been something like the dirty children of capitalism. The former CSU (conservative party in Bavaria) leader Franz-Josef Strauß once called them “auxiliaries”. Such auxiliaries would be led off the leash against the workers’ movement and the Left. The far right have intimidated migrants and shifted social debates to the right. But in recent years, such forces have spread into the state apparatus. The AfD and the Querdenker*innen (‘lateral thinkers’) movement have become a destabilising factor from the point of view of the established pro-capitalist parties.
Furthermore their terror, as in the cases of the knife attack on the Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker and the murder of Kassel District President Walter Lübcke, has also sometimes turned against bourgeois politicians. Nevertheless, armed ‘Reich Citizens’ and fascists are above all a danger to anti-fascists, the workers’ movement, leftists, migrants, women and minorities. This danger is real, in contrast to the danger of a successful coup. A look at the USA also shows what blossoms the political crisis of the capitalist establishment can produce – the rise of Donald Trump and the storming of the Capitol. For the Federal Republic of Germany, this is certainly still pie in the sky, but it cannot be ruled out for the future.
Attempts at appeasement
The KSK is well on its way to implementing the reforms called for – despite this latest right-wing extremist incident in a long list of such incidents – explained Eva Högl, the Bundestag’s Commissioner for the Armed Forces. However, she failed to provide a conclusive explanation as to why a force that has repeatedly been in the news for right-wing extremist incidents in the past is now on the right track when a new such incident has been discovered. The Federal Criminal Police Office hastened to announce that the situation has always remained under control.
Asked by the press whether the AfD’s distancing itself from ‘Reich Citizens’ should be taken seriously at all, as a former AfD member of the Bundestag belonged to Heinrich XIII’s circle, the party’s federal leader, Alice Weidel, smugly explained that her party was the only one that had ‘Reich citizen’ listed as an organisation membership of which was listed as incompatible with joining the AfD. This did not stop several AfD members from joining Heinrich XIII.
Weidel dubbed the attempt at a coup d’état a “walker putsch”, alluding to the generally older age of those involved. This can hardly hide the obvious closeness of parts of the AfD to the ‘Reich Citizens’.
The age of this group says only part of how dangerous it could be. The extent of such a threat is not determined solely by the supposed vitality of the leadership, which is what the circle around Heinrich XIII saw itself as, but by the brutality and determination of its followers.
If one considers that even the Office for the Protection of the Constitution assumes that there are 21,000 ‘Reich Citizens’ in Germany and that a good ten per cent of them are prepared to use violence, there is still a lot in store for us. Particularly as the networking at Querdenker*innen (“Lateral thinker” – the movement against Covid 19 restrictions which, in many cases, linked up with far right forces) and others are open to the extreme right.
A week ago, the group was dismantled. The unanswered questions have been piling up ever since: Why did it seem that not only the press knew about the upcoming police raid? Maximlian Eger, one of the former army officers who now posed as a conspirator, also seems to have been aware of the police action beforehand. His neighbour, for example, announced that he had contacted her the day before from his holiday and informed her of a police operation. The question of gaps in the investigative bodies is therefore appropriate.
The conduct of the KSK is also more than questionable. Allegedly, the active soldier in the ranks of the unit who had joined the circle around Heinrich XIII had been watched for a long time. But no action was taken against him for a long time. It was not until the investigations against Heinrich XIII’s group that the authorities also took action against this KSK soldier.
Did the group already have an arsenal of firearms? If so, where were the sources? Where did the weapons go that von Pescatore moved aside in the 1990s? To what extent were supporters and helpers privy to the plans? What forces did Heinrich XIII’s group intend to rely on to build up the 280 homeland security companies?
The workers’ movement
The scandal surrounding the right-wing terrorist group, ‘National Socialist Underground’ (NSU), has already been barely investigated by the authorities, despite all the promises. Many state files relating to the NSU have disappeared or were destroyed rapidly after a NSU member was arrested, which pose questions about what has been hidden.
If this is to change, the trade unions and the left must take the investigation into their own hands. The regions where these conspirators were active are known. Committees from trade unions, anti-fascist groups, organisations of migrants and refugees should be brought together there. The investigating authorities could be forced to open their files with the help of big campaigns by these groups. The information would have to be evaluated and discussed. And the public must learn about all this. Moreover, formations like the KSK must be disbanded immediately.
It should also be clear: the Bundeswehr (as well as the police) attracts many right-wing extremists. It is dangerous to give them even more weapons in the form of rearmament measures, such as the one hundred billion euros in special funds. The hundred billion euro rearmament package must be stopped and the money spent on care, housing, education and public transport.
The more capitalism slides into crisis, the more likely it is that such cases will occur more often. A strong workers’ movement is the best protection against coups from the right. In 1920, when Reichswehr and Freikorp (the then official and unofficial German military forces) units in Berlin attempted a putsch against the young Weimar Republic, the vast majority of the official Reichswehr leadership declared its ‘neutrality’, in other words letting the coup happen. It was a workers’ general strike that not only caused the coup to fail in just three days, but also launched a new attempt at socialist revolution. But the then reformist Social Democrat-led government, having survived the coup, acted to have the socialist revolution shot down with the help of the military, the same forces that did not want to do anything against the previous right wing coup. Nevertheless, the example remains: workers stopped right-wing extremist putschists.
The struggle against the right-wing extremists of all shades means the struggle to defend democratic rights is linked to fighting against capitalism, for a socialist democracy, in which we collectively and democratically determine how to use the wealth that we all generate.