In December 2022, German police arrested 25 individuals for suspicion of involvement with a plot to overthrow the German government. These individuals were associated with the Reichsburger movement, a far-right group that considers the current government illegitimate and laments the end of the Third Reich in 1945, according to The Washington Post. The group is founded on antisemitic and racist conspiracies and has been investigated for reports of members committing violent attacks in recent years, BBC News explains. Their recent plot follows years of increased public far-right activity and a more lenient attitude towards such groups both in Germany and internationally.
BBC News reports that 50 people are believed to be involved in the plot, including prominent individuals such as parliamentary figures, judges, policemen, and military personnel. The police searched 130 properties across 11 states and found weapons in 50 of the accused plotters reports Reuters. Some members were involved with QAnon, whose supporters participated in the January 6 insurrection in the United States, and the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) far-right party.
The group was reportedly led by aristocrat Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuss, who would have been instated as the leader of Germany had the coup succeeded. Their new government, complete with a planned military arm, took inspiration from the second Reich, BBC continues. Some of the coup plans included armed violence, and as many plotters were affiliated with the military and law enforcement and were willing to recruit military members, General Prosecutor Peter Frank believed they posed a real threat, Reuters continues. While, in hindsight, it seemed the plot could not have been successful, the increase in riots such as the January 6 insurrection shows that with enough coordination and knowledge of military affairs, an armed coup is a real possibility for Germany.
Far-right and neo-Nazi groups in Germany have been continuous issues even after 1945. These groups and the original perpetrators of the Third Reich’s crimes have been active in the area, yet remain ignored by the government. This coup plot shows that groups of this nature internationally are becoming increasingly bolder and if not addressed properly, there is a real possibility of Germany’s democratic government turning fascist once again.
Germany, while more active in combatting right-wing and Nazi ideals than other states, has had an issue with Fascist ideology lingering after 1945. One major reason is that after the war, Nazism was not properly addressed or corrected by Germany or the states it occupied. The United States and the Soviet Union, for example, relocated Nazi war criminals and scientists, many of whom were directly involved in the operation of concentration camps and the “mittelworks,” the Nazis’ attempt to create superweapons in underground bases.
Secondly, the Nuremberg Trials only tried a very small number of high-ranking Nazis; many SS and SA officers were not tried for their crimes and roamed free. Other Nazi officials also kept their government jobs, including in law enforcement and intelligence divisions, according to the Washington Post. Lastly, in a state where hatred and propaganda were so ingrained into the very fabric of society even before the Third Reich came to power, many felt they benefitted from its existence and held the sentiment that the Third Reich did nothing wrong.
The Washington Post also points out that amidst the cold war, Germany focused more of its intelligence efforts on left-wing and communist groups instead of the neo-Nazi groups that began to resurface in the region. In recent decades, the country has also become more lenient with far-right groups and even allowing one, the aforementioned AfD, to have seats in the Bundestag for the first time since World War II, The Washington Post reports. Germany also recorded 15 times as many neo-Nazi attacks and “propaganda crimes” than it did in 1990 and just recently increased measures to respond to right-wing extremism, The Washington Post continues. German intelligence also failed to uncover a large neo-Nazi cell called the National Socialist Underground (NSU) until 2011 after they killed 9 immigrants, Reuters explains.
Despite Germany’s efforts to combat neo-Nazi groups, they are becoming increasingly influential and their ideology rampantly spreading to the point of plotting takeovers and coloring the thoughts of large portions of the German military and police. With the rise of far-right groups and conspiracies across the world, the threat of fascism must be recognized in all its modern forms. The suffering of those victimized by these groups must be mitigated by combatting the threat of Nazism influencing institutions of power. In a state that has seen the full horrors of Nazism, it is a very real possibility that these forces may take hold in the descendants of those who were never prosecuted.
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