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Germany

What is behind the right-wing 'Reichsbürger' movement?

They are radical and violent. In recent years more and more people identifying themselves as Reichsbürger have drawn the attention of authorities. Who are they, and what kind of danger do they pose?

They think Germany is simply an administrative construct still occupied by the Western powers. For them, the 1937 borders of the German Empire still exist. We are talking about so-called "Reichsbürger," which translates as "Citizens of the Reich," people who swamp German authorities with lawsuits and are not averse to violence.

The Reichsbürger movement is made up of a number of small groups and individuals - mainly in the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Bavaria. They do not accept the legality of the Federal Republic of Germany nor any of its government authorities. They refuse to pay taxes and have declared their own small "national territories," which they call the "Second German Empire," the "Free State of Prussia" or the "Principality of Germania."

Members of these groups print passports and driver's licenses for their supposed states. They even produce T-shirts and flags for advertising purposes. Reichsbürger simply ignore the fact that such activity is illegal and not recognized by any German authority. They proudly announce their intention to "carry on the fight against the Federal Republic of Germany" on their websites.

Just crackpots?

State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution estimate that there are only a few hundred Reichsbürger in Germany. It is thought that some 150 to 200 are in Brandenburg. Most are male, on average they are over 50 years old and they tend to come from socially disadvantaged segments of society. Many members ascribe to right-wing populist, anti-Semitic and Nazi ideologies. A district court judge in Saxony-Anhalt has described them as "conspiracy theorists" and "malcontents."

The growing radicalization of this group of people, however, is becoming a problem. That radicalization often begins with floods of motions and objections filed against court orders and payment demands issued by local authorities. Regardless of content, authorities are required to process every properly filed formal request they receive.

Reichsbürger (Imago/Future Image)

'Reichsbürger' at a rally in front of the Reichstag in Berlin

Mayors from a number of communities have protested that, beyond having to deal with so much senseless work, they have also been attacked by Reichsbürger, verbally and even physically. Members often film such attacks and then post them online.

In Bavaria, a group of Reichsbürger actually stormed into a courtroom trial and stole documents from the judge's bench. Workers at Wittenburg city hall in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania were given security training to deal with such attacks. All sharp instruments have since been removed from their desks and the building's doors are now locked. Brandenburg has tested emergency call systems for its tax offices. Meanwhile, the Brandenburg Institute for Local Community Advice has compiled a comprehensive guidebook for administrators seeking help on the issue. One of their suggestions: Don't attempt to counsel!

Extreme acts of violence

Of late, Reichsbürger have increasingly gained attention for committing violent acts. This spring a bailiff was threatened with a knife. Police also had to assist in a forced eviction this fall in Saxony-Anhalt to hinder an armed confrontation. In Reuden, Saxony-Anhalt a Reichsbürger fired upon security forces at his "State of Ur" property.

Police have found large caches of weapons and ammunition during house searches, too. And Reichsbürger members are continuing to arm themselves. In Höxter, North Rhine-Westphalia a group from the "Free State of Prussia" attempted to build up its own militia by smuggling in arms from outside the country.

The "German Police Aid Organization" in Meissen, Saxony, is closely related to the Reichsbürger regarding the idea of creating an independent protection force. Police officers and bailiffs have fallen prey to the group. The district court has reacted by sentencing members of the group to jail terms of up to two-and-a-half years for the criminal offenses of extortion, deprivation of liberty and battery.  

On Wednesday, a law enforcement officer was critically wounded during a raid on a 49-year-old Reichsbürger man's apartment in Georgesgmünd, Bavaria. Authorities said the man, a hunter, had a permit for his weapons but that he had since been deemed unfit to possess them. The raid, carried out by members of a special task force unit and police officers, was initiated to confiscate the firearms. Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Hermann announced that he will closely monitor Reichsbürger in the future.

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