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Germany: COVID rule 'armed resistance' group to face trial

May 10, 2024

A court in Koblenz will hear a case against three men accused of making weapons and conducting drills with a view to resisting COVID restrictions by force. They were arrested last December.

An "Entrance only with a medical mask sign" seen in a duty free shop in the main Terminal at Frankfurt Airport. On Monday, October 18, 2021, in Frankfurt Airport, near Kelsterbach, Frankfurt am Main, Hesse, Germany.
Germany restrictions included requirement to wear masks in many public places, like airports or trains, and a strong encouragement towards vaccination that however stopped well short of it being obligatoryImage: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/picture alliance

The Landgericht Koblenz court in western Germany announced on Friday that it had accepted the charges against the trio.

They are accused of forming a group they called "Paladin" that allegedly planned to offer armed resistance to COVID-related "lockdowns" and other restrictions in Germany. 

Prosecutors allege that the three men took part in paramilitary-style training exercises between February and May of 2021 and also that they used 3D printing to generate makeshift weapon parts and ammunition.

The investigation was first announced when the suspects were detained last December, the youngest of them with cooperation from authorities in Portugal, where he was based at the time.

What else do prosecutors allege? 

The state case against the self-styled "Paladin" group paints the younger, 39-year-old suspect as the ringleader and founder member. 

He's accused of developing the belief that the state was trying to restrict people's basic freedoms under the guise of seeking to contain the pandemic. This process allegedly took place some time late in 2020 — around 6 months into the phase of relatively widespread restrictions in Germany as in many countries.

Prosecutors allege he believed the military and police had become complicit in a conspiracy and that armed resistance, or at least preparation for it, was therefore necessary and justified. 

Between February and March of the following year, prosecutors say that he found and recruited a 63-year-old and 57-year-old to the cause. They then allegedly took part in paramilitary-style drills and exercises together. 

The main suspect still sits in pretrial detention, the other two are not in custody. 

The men are charged with the formation of an armed group, the formation of or membership in a criminal organization, and gun law violations, but not with any violent acts.

Police and protesters crowd a street in central Munich. December 22, 2021.
Protests against the COVID restrictions were fairly common in several German cities, Munich included, during the height of the pandemic Image: Sachelle Babbar/ZUMA/picture alliance

Group formed not long before restrictions began winding down

Like many countries, Germany issued fairly wide-ranging restrictions on travel, retail, and public life amid the pandemic.

They tended to come and go and change constantly, usually based on caseloads. But the most affected period was arguably from March or April of 2020 to roughly the summer of 2022. Two notable German steps to loosen most major domestic restrictions came in March and June of that year.

The period proved a fruitful one for fringe groups like the anti-vaccination movement or those believing in some manner of "deep state" conspiracy.

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msh/rc (AFP, dpa)