The Reichsbürger movement in Germany is on the rise, and already has thousands of followers, a survey finds. Followers reject the authority of the German state, some found their own kingdom - and some are armed.
The number of supporters of the Reichsbürger ("Citizens of the Reich") movement has risen to at least 4,500.
That's according to information the Rheinische Post newspaper has gathered from German state interior ministers and domestic intelligence services. Only two states - Saxony and Hesse - were unable to provide figures.
In October, the movement had at least 1,100 followers nationwide, an earlier survey found - an approximation as seven German states hadn't been able to provide concrete data at the time.
According to this most recent survey, the southern state of Bavaria leads the list with 1,700 Reichsbürger supporters, many of whom are thought to be armed. Baden-Württemberg is ranked second with 650 supporters, followed by Thuringia with 550 members of the movement.
Fragmented and radical
No leader, no hierarchy or ideology: The Reichsbürger group is largely heterogeneous. Racist, anti-Semite, rightwing extremist, esoteric, or firm believers in conspiracy theories, they are united by their refusal to recognize the authority of the German state, asserting instead that the German Reich continues to exist in its 1937 borders, despite the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII.
Reichsbürger followers also often refuse to pay taxes or fines, and some use homemade IDs and registration plates. One member proclaimed himself king, others print their own currency.
In October, a member of the far-right group wounded three police officers and shot dead another in a shootout near Nuremberg. A week later, police discovered a weapons stockpile believed to belong to the same extremist group.
The movement has since been put under surveillance by German intelligence agencies - a good thing, conservative politician Stephan Harbarth told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday. Reichsbürger are by no means simply "harmless crackpots," they pose a "threat to our state," he said, echoing remarks by the federal interior minister .
"The danger emanating from this group has significantly increased over the last year," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said last month. "It is time to take a closer look at what they are doing."
Several states fear the number of Reichsbürger followers will soon even turn out to be much higher nationwide, since the movement has only been under surveillance by the state domestic intelligence service for a few weeks.