The prince, the politician and the paratrooper: Who's accused over the alleged coup plot in Germany?

Access to the comments Comments
By David Mac Dougall
Police escorts Prince Heinrich XIII P. R  after 25 suspected members and supporters of a far-right group were detained during raids across Germany.
Police escorts Prince Heinrich XIII P. R after 25 suspected members and supporters of a far-right group were detained during raids across Germany.   -   Copyright  Credit: Reuters

A minor German aristocrat, a former German MP, an ex-paratrooper, and a Russian accomplice. 

The disparate group of people arrested in dawn raids across Germany -- as well as in Austria and Italy -- on Wednesday morning don't seem to have too much in common but are linked by a desire to overthrow the government and install their own regime instead, according to prosecutors.  

So who are the "Citizens of the Reich" -- Reichsbürger -- behind this alleged plot?

With an estimated 20,000 members, the Reichsbürger movement brings together strands of disaffected, anti-establishment, right-wingers and others: those either angry at the post-WWII federal republic, or nostalgic for a Germany long gone. 

"The Reichsbürger have existed for a long time but has been more prominent in the last few years," explained Jakob Guhl from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue

"There are many streams to it, it's a loose movement which has a few different sub-tribes, if you will, including competing people who think of themselves as the leader, or people trying to form alternative kingdoms," he told Euronews. 

Some of those sub-tribes that Guhl outlined subscribe to an ideal of Germany as it was in 1937 during the Third Reich; while others want to see the return of the 1871 Second Reich. 

Other Reichsbürger sub-tribes reject modern state structures and refuse to pay taxes or take part in a census, and don't carry ID cards either. 

"During COVID this pre-existing movement managed to connect with quite a few parts of other far-right groups, the people involved in anti-lockdown protests. They're allied with the far-right Alternative for Germany AfD political party, with people critical of established medicine and anti-vaccine groups -- people who believe in QAnon and alternative lifestyles. Plus the proper extreme right activists, neo-Nazis and identitarians," explained Jakob Guhl.     

Credit: AP
Police secure the area after 25 suspected members and supporters of a far-right group were detained during raids across Germany.Credit: AP

Who are the alleged ringleaders of the 'coup plot'?

The elderly man pictured being led away in handcuffs and a facemask is an aristocrat that German authorities say is the ringleader of the alleged coup plot, who planned to install himself as the next leader of the country. 

Prince Heinrich XIII is 71 years old and comes from the Reuss family, nobles who used to rule a part of what today is Thuringia in central Germany, until 1918. 

All of the male children born into the family are called Heinrich, and given a numerical suffix: and when the family reached a hundred, they started numbering again. It is understood the family has long since distanced itself from Heinrich XIII. 

The prince has now been remanded in custody by authorities, who said his coup plan involved storming the German parliament and capturing it by force. 

"What you have is this slightly broad coalition of people, but now who seem to have been organised by a tight, cohesive group, lead by this elderly aristocrat, with a shadow cabinet in place," said Guhl.

"They have shared online spaces, and use platforms like Telegram to come together and network," he added. 

The military wing of the secret organisation

Also detained on Wednesday was another senior citizen, a former paratrooper who was lined up to head the military wing of this new German state. 

Authorities said he was trying to recruit police and ex-elite troops to run the post-coup military and had scouted barracks that could be used after the government was overthrown. 

"Some of its members have served actively in the Bundeswehr in the past. It is up to this part of the association to enforce the planned takeover of power by force of arms," authorities said. 

"This also includes committing homicides."

Italian police on Wednesday arrested another former German army officer at a hotel in the city of Perugia where "material related to the subversive activity" of the alleged coup plot was found, authorities said. He will be extradited back to Germany. 

"They are firmly convinced that Germany is currently governed by members of a so-called 'deep state,'" said prosecutors.

Another active duty member of Germany's Special Commando Forces was also implicated in the plot, and his accommodation was raided by police in Calw, near Stuttgart.

The political connection

Among the posts the alleged coup plotters had planned for their shadow government were foreign affairs, health and justice. 

Authorities say Prince Henrich XIII had already reached out to representatives from Russia, possibly through a Russian national named in paperwork as Vitalia B. 

The Russian government denies it supported the plan, and prosecutors say "there are no indications that the contact persons have reacted positively to the request." 

A former AfD member of Germany's Bundestag, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, was also arrested on Wednesday. She's currently a serving judge and it is alleged she was being lined up as the new justice minister in the new government.