German authorities expect further arrests in the coming days as they investigate a far-right group that prosecutors say was preparing to overthrow the state and install a former member of a German royal family as national leader.
A former parliamentary lawmaker from the far-right Alternative For Germany (AfD) was also among those detained, according to German prosecutors.
“Based on my experience, there is usually a second wave of arrests,” Georg Maier, the interior minister of the eastern German state of Thuringia, told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Thursday.
The leader of the alleged plot and their would-be regent is a minor aristocrat called Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, a descendant of the royal House of Reuss in Thuringia. Aged 71, he has been working as a real estate developer.
Neither the House of Reuss nor Prince Reuss’ office responded to requests for comment.
Twenty-five suspected members and supporters of the group were detained on Wednesday in raids involving some 3,000 security personnel that Maier described as unprecedented in modern German history.
Although right-wing groups have been on the rise in Germany, the discovery of the alleged plot came as a shock in one of Europe’s most stable democracies and largest economy.
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“It’s not really comprehensible: you hear about such plans from other countries but for this to happen outside my front door?” said Melanie Merle, who lives close to the apartment in the financial capital Frankfurt where Prince Reuss was arrested.
“The government we have is not ideal but probably better than what they had planned,” she laughed.
Prosecutors said the group was inspired by the deep state conspiracy theories of Germany’s Reichsbuerger and QAnon, whose advocates were among those arrested after the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January 2021.
Members of the Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) do not recognise modern-day Germany and its borders as a legitimate state. Some are devoted to the old German “Reich” (empire) under a monarchy, with some also sharing Nazi ideas and believing Germany is under military occupation.
REMANDED IN CUSTODY
Nineteen of the alleged plotters were remanded in custody on Wednesday, while another six were expected to go before a judge on Thursday, prosecutors said.
Holger Muench, head of the federal police office, told broadcaster ARD on Thursday that the number of suspects in the case now stood at 54, and that that figure could rise further.
Police in their raids on Wednesday found equipment ranging from protective vests to crossbows, rifles and ammunition, Muench said, as well as plans to build up a “homeland protection command” and evidence of recruitment.
“We have a dangerous mixture of people who are following irrational convictions, some with a lot of money, others in possession of weapons and a plan to launch attacks and expand their structures,” Muench said.
Thuringia minister Maier singled out the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is in the state parliament, for becoming an interface for right-wing extremists and spreading what he called fantasies about toppling the state.
“People are scared, and the AfD takes advantage of that and offers simple solutions,” said Maier, who is from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party.
The AfD had in a statement on Wednesday condemned the far-right group’s efforts and expressed confidence in the authorities’ ability to bring clarity to the situation quickly and completely.