[M] DER SPIEGEL; Wolfgang Kumm / picture alliance / dpa; fhm / Getty Images; Jewgeni Roppel

Prince Putsch and His Gang The Motley Crew that Wanted to Topple the German Government

An obscure German blue blood is reportedly at the center of a strange plan to topple the German government foiled this week by the country's security services. Observers are describing the development as a dangerous escalation of the Reichsbürger movement, whose followers want to overthrow Germany's leaders.

The Waidmannsheil hunting lodge is enthroned on a hill on a bend of the Saale River in the southeastern part of the eastern German state of Thuringia. It belongs to the Reussens, a former noble family who ruled the area for 800 years before the end of the German monarchy.

It was built for Henry the 72nd between 1834 and 1837, a single-story structure surrounded by trees and a steep rocky embankment that falls away behind the building. The entrance portal is flanked by sculptures of a bear and boar, both of stone. A tower with battlements makes the whole thing look a lot like a small fortress. Stag antlers hang from the very top of the façade.

The present lord of the manor is Henry XIII. Prince Reuss, an entrepreneur who established himself in Frankfurt as a real estate mogul and as a producer of sparkling wine. Some residents of the small town had been wondering for some time what the 71-year-old was up to. First, a mysterious sign appeared with the Reussen coat of arms. Then a sinister looking figure with a walkie-talkie was seen standing at the entrance to the estate, apparently there to keep prying eyes out of a meeting.

The Waidmannsheil hunting lodge in Bad Lobenstein

The Waidmannsheil hunting lodge in Bad Lobenstein

Foto: Bodo Schackow / picture alliance / dpa

Since Wednesday, it seems clear what was going on behind the massive walls. Early that morning, the GSG9, a special German police force, moved in to root out a suspected right-wing extremist terror cell. It is believed to include at least 25 members and helpers, and 29 other men and women are also under investigation. In concert with around 3,000 officers, investigators conducted raids in 11 German states as well as in the upscale Austrian ski resort town Kitzbühel and in Perugia, Italy. It was one of the largest operations against extremists in the history of the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA).

For weeks, investigators from the BKA's State Security Division had been shadowing suspects, tapping hundreds of landlines and mobile phones, screening bank accounts and monitoring channels on Telegram, YouTube and Instagram. Ultimately, the Federal Prosecutor in Karlsruhe concluded that a terrorist organization had emerged from the milieu of the "Reichsbürger," a motley crew of politically radicalized Germans who have a weakness for conspiracy theories and reject the legitimacy of postwar Germany. The cell's presumed goal was that of overthrowing the political system in Germany in an armed coup. According to investigators, some members formed the "military arm" of the group and were apparently willing to do whatever it took. According to the allegations brought forward by prosecutors, the defendants accepted the fact that "representatives of the current system" would be killed in the process.

It is a rather strange menagerie that came together to overthrow the state. It includes several former members of the German military's Special Forces Command (KSK), an active elite soldier, a police officer who had been suspended from duty, a judge who had been a member of the federal parliament with the far-right Alternative for Germany party for four years, a pilot, a lawyer who holds a doctorate degree, a top chef, a tenor singer, an entrepreneur and a doctor - a surprising number of people from the upper echelons of society.


The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 50/2022 (December 10th, 2022) of DER SPIEGEL.

SPIEGEL International

They include members of the Querdenker, a muddled movement that took to the streets during the pandemic in protest against the federal and state measures to contain the coronavirus. It also includes followers of the conspiracy cult QAnon, who are convinced that a "deep state" is pulling the strings in the background. According to the narrative they espouse, the ruling elite murder children to harvest a rejuvenation serum.

Previously, these right-wing enemies of the state had seemed more like an esoteric political sect than a strictly hierarchical revolutionary commando. The problem is that there are probably tens of thousands of people in these circles in Germany who hold views similar to those of Prince Reuss and his followers.

If the investigators' suspicions are ultimately confirmed, it would mean that Germany finds itself faced with a new form of terrorism and an enormous societal challenge. How is the state supposed to deal with citizens with whom it is unclear if they are just dangerously insane or if they are insanely dangerous?

The world witnessed just how quickly a group of conspiracy theorists can turn into a violent mob in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. That's the day around 1,000 supporters of then President Donald Trump, who had been voted out of office, advanced into the heart of American democracy, the Capitol, a mob that including a bare-chested man dressed as a Viking. The iconic image would later serve as a symbol for the vulnerability of democracy. And for how quickly people can throw out the societal rulebook.

The storming of the U.S. Capitol in January 2021

The storming of the U.S. Capitol in January 2021

Foto: Stephanie Keith / REUTERS
Radicals in their attempt to storm Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin in 2020: United in their hatred of "the people at the top."

Radicals in their attempt to storm Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin in 2020: United in their hatred of "the people at the top."

Foto: Florian Boillot

The group associated with Henry XIII Prince Reuss appear to have modeled themselves after the far-right revolutionaries in the United States. Members are alleged to have spent a year planning for the German "Day X," on which, according to the investigation, they planned to enter the federal parliament building, the Reichstag, with around two dozen men and women. They intended to handcuff members of parliament and the chancellor's cabinet in the Bundestag.

According to investigators, some of the conspirators hoped that the action would spark unrest throughout the country and eventually lead to a coup. An interim government was to be formed, headed by Prince Reuss. "We're going to crush them, the fun is over!" he allegedly said in a call that the authorities were listening in on.

It is doubtful whether the alleged terrorists would actually have been capable of pulling off their crazy ideas. And not just because the Bundestag police have spent weeks preparing for the possibility of an attack, and the fact that the BKA's bodyguards, who provide protection for the most important government ministers, had been put on alert. Indeed, one "Day X" had already apparently passed without anything happening.

Nevertheless, the authorities assessed the danger posed by the wannabe revolutionaries as high. On their path to the great coup, they could have caused a lot of damage, and the fanaticism of some members could have led them to make unpredictable moves.

Investigators say they found weapons in more than 50 of the 150 buildings searched. They include nine-millimeter pistols, swords, knives, stun guns, combat helmets, night vision goggles and the service weapons of two police offices, one male, one female, who are among the suspects. In addition, according to a preliminary evaluation, investigators seized 130,000 euros in cash and several kilograms of silver and gold. "The investigations provide a view into the abyss of a terrorist threat from the Reichsbürger milieu," said German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). According to Federal Prosecutor Peter Frank, the group's goal was to eliminate democracy in Germany "by using violence and military means."

Reuss' dream of holding Germany's highest office ended on Wednesday morning at shortly after six. Special forces arrived at dawn with battering rams and night vision equipment and entered a 19th century building in Frankfurt's Westend neighborhood. Prince Reuss lives at the very top, on the fifth floor.

BKA officers searched the apartment as masked police officers secured the front door on the first floor. After around four hours, police led Prince Reuss out of the building in handcuffs and wearing an FFP2 mask. He wore a large plaid tan tweed jacket, rust brown corduroy pants, a shirt and neckerchief, his white hair slicked back - not exactly the appearance one might expect of a terrorist.

Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss descends from a broadly extended noble family that guided the fortunes of the Thuringian Vogtland region until the end of World War I. By family tradition, all male descendants receive the first name Heinrich. To avoid any confusion, there is an addition to the name: ascending Roman numerals. Each century, the numbering starts anew. A relative says there are currently 30 Heinrichs in the family.

Prince Reuss, born in the western state of Hesse in 1951, graduated with a degree in engineering and initially worked as an entrepreneur in Frankfurt. He is considered to be a bon vivant and is married to the daughter of an Iranian banker. His fondness for fast cars earned him the nickname "Heinrich the Race Driver" among his family. The headline of one newspaper report about a joyride taken together with him in eastern Germany read: "A Blue Blood with Gasoline in His Blood."

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he fought in numerous court cases for the restitution of the family property in Thuringia, which had been expropriated by the Communist regime of East Germany. He had only limited success. Relatives also see this as one of the reasons for him drifting into the extremes.

He has fallen out with the rest of his family. The head of the "family alliance of the House of Reuss," who resides in Austria, let it be known in a statement that the relative is a "bitter old man" with "conspiracy theory delusions."

Suspect Prince Reuss during his arrest in Frankfurt: "We're going to crush them, the fun is over!"

Suspect Prince Reuss during his arrest in Frankfurt: "We're going to crush them, the fun is over!"

Foto: Georg Lukas / DER SPIEGEL

One can get a sense of those delusions on YouTube, with one video showing Prince Reuss at a digital trade show in Zürich. In broken English, he delivers a confused and anti-Semitic jeremiad. He laments the supposed power held by Jewish capitalists and claims that World War I played into the hands of U.S. business interests. He says that the Federal Republic of Germany isn't a sovereign state and that it is still dominated by the Allies to this very day - all central elements of the Reichsbürger ideology. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, estimates that around 21,000 people in Germany are affiliated with the movement.

Over the summer, Prince Reuss was involved in a commotion in Bad Lobenstein. The town's mayor, who holds no political affiliation but is also known for adherence to conspiracy theories, invited him to a reception. A reporter with the Ostthüringer Zeitung newspaper asked why a "Reichsbürger" had been invited to an official event. At a reception following the event, the mayor then attacked the journalist, who fell to the ground. Later, the mayor was suspended from his post.

All of this could be dismissed as a provincial farce, but the authorities soon stumbled across clues hinting at Reuss' dangerous plans. Prosecutors would later accuse him of having aspired to build a "New German Army." So-called "Homeland Security Companies" in the Black Forest, Thuringia and Saxony had allegedly agreed to help with the "shadow army." A special commission made up of hundreds of BKA officers called "Shadows" has been investigating the case since summer.

The government will soon be replaced by something "new," one of the suspects announced on YouTube.

Rüdiger von Pescatore, 69, is thought to have played a leading role. Prior the pandemic, he spread the following message on the internet: "The truth will be accessible to mankind only after a system change."

In the mid-1990s, he had been a commander of a paratrooper battalion of the German armed forces Airborne Brigade 25 based in Calw near Stuttgart, a kind of predecessor to the elite KSK unit. That is, until he became the focus of a scandal in the Bundeswehr.

As a lieutenant colonel, he had diverted weapons from old stocks of the East German People's Police and the National People's Army for himself and others. During that time, 165 functioning pistols and rifles disappeared, and only 11 were recovered. A court sentenced Pescatore to two years' probation in 1999, ending his career in the Bundeswehr.

Investigators believe the former soldier led the "military arm" of the terror group.

Peter Wörner, a man who served in the same battalion as Pescatore in the 1990s and was trained as a survival commando by the Bundeswehr, is also thought to belong to this "New German Army." On Instagram, he posts photos from his active-duty days: skydiving in the Pyrenees, heavily armed in the Swabian Alb mountains, with American special forces in the U.S. The homegrown German Rambo is 54 years old.

Most recently, Wörner worked as a trainer teaching survival skills. In Germany and Norway, he teaches participants how to survive under the most adverse conditions. One of his courses is called "escape from urban areas." Another is "urban survival." He once told an Austrian newspaper that he couldn't rely on the state in an emergency. People are naive and unprepared, he said.

The German public TV station ZDF ran a segment about him in 2016. In it, Wörner is seen preparing a rat as a meal on the forest floor in the Rhön Mountains of Thuringia. Using a knife, you have to slit the animal once all around, he explains in the video, then you can easily peel off the skin, "like a pair of pants or a jacket."

Wörner first came onto the radar of terror investigators in the spring during an investigation into the Querdenker movement. During a search of his home in the Fichtelgebirge Mountains, police officers found a pistol and ammunition that Wörner was apparently not authorized to possess. In a YouTube video discovered by investigators, he talks about a coup. He says the government is nothing but a "criminal clique" that will soon be replaced by something "new."

Later, in conversations intercepted by investigators, the former elite soldier talks about storming the Reichstag building to arrest members of parliament.

His case would be the starting point for the investigation that led to Prince Reuss and his alleged plans to topple the government. And the network also apparently includes a soldier who is an active member of the KSK elite military force.

Andreas M. is assigned to the special Bundeswehr unit as a logistician, but he is more of a bureaucrat than a well-trained commando. Nevertheless, the staff sergeant has plenty of military experience, having served several tours in Afghanistan with the Bundeswehr. He even wrote a book about the war, called "You Can Die Every Day," a kind of eyewitness account from the front.

Following his deployments in Afghanistan, he joined the KSK in Calw. Fellow soldiers from the small, largely segregated elite unit describe the 58-year-old as being somewhat of an oddball, but otherwise not particularly compelling.

The fact that Andreas M. was trending toward radicalization could certainly have been detected by the KSK. By 2021, at the latest, his WhatsApp profile picture suggested a penchant for conspiracy theories, even mentioning the "deep state." But it would take months before his superiors at the KSK grew suspicious. In February, he refused to take the coronavirus vaccine. He wrote that it is questionable whether compulsory vaccination in the Bundeswehr is "compatible with the Allied occupation law still in force." At that point, they called in MAD, the military intelligence service. They then determined that he was part of the Querdenker movement and ordered him to take several weeks of sick leave.

Investigators believe that M. smuggled members of the suspected terrorist group into barracks in October using his military ID. Their deranged plan, according to the investigation, was to inspect whether the facilities would be suitable for housing their own troops after the coup.

The soldier apparently isn't the only person working for the government who used his free time to prepare for the elimination of that very state. Among those arrested was a judge at the Berlin Regional Court, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, who holds a doctorate degree in law.

It was still dark out, when law enforcement officers closed in on her. Police officers snuck through the neighbor's backyard to her home in the upper middle class Berlin district of Wannsee. At 6 a.m., they banged their fists on the door. "Police," one yelled. Then there was a crash – the men used a crowbar to force their way into the judge's house.

Malsack-Winkemann is alleged to have been involved since summer in the plans to break into the Reichstag building. She would have been a valuable expert for preparations: From 2017 to 2021, the 58-year-old held a seat in the Bundestag as a member of the right-wing AfD party. Until her arrest, she was a member of the party's Federal Arbitration Court, which decides on expulsion proceedings against particularly extreme members. Her knowledge of the Bundestag could have been helpful to the terrorist group, the investigators believe. Until her arrest, she also possessed a pass to get into the Bundestag as a former member of parliament.

Police during the raid in Berlin's Wannsee district: They struck in the darkness.

Police during the raid in Berlin's Wannsee district: They struck in the darkness.

Foto: Martin Brinckmann / DER SPIEGEL
Foto: Martin Brinckmann / DER SPIEGEL

Malsack-Winkemann's lawyer declined to comment on the allegations, as did Prince Reuss' defense lawyer. Lawyers for most of the other defendants could not be reached for comment.

In her party, the judge was considered part of the less radical camp, which says quite a bit about the AfD. She was extremely adept at spreading agitation and fake news.

For example, she claimed in a speech in the Bundestag that refugees are "colonized with antibiotic-resistant bacteria." During the pandemic, she speculated that a 13-year-old girl died because she had been wearing a mask, an outright lie. She also described Donald Trump as a "true statesman," even after the storming of the Capitol that he had stoked.

In 2021, in a party conference speech, the lawyer called for resistance to the "Great Reset," a conspiracy ideology with anti-Semitic connotations, according to which "the elites" were using the coronavirus crisis to carry out a "great reboot" of the global economic system. In a Telegram channel bearing her name, messages with a slogan of the QAnon cult were disseminated until a few weeks ago. When DER SPIEGEL asked her if it was her channel, the AfD politician denied it. Shortly afterwards, the entries disappeared.

After she left the Bundestag, the Berlin judicial administration sought to prevent Malsack-Winkemann from returning to the regional court – initially without success. Since then, she has again been able to render verdicts at Chamber 19a, which is responsible for construction matters.

Even during the legal tug-of-war over her job, Malsack-Winkemann had become a target of terror investigators. Officers shadowed her and observed her as the judge met with Henry XIII Prince Reuss, the suspected ringleader, in a Berlin restaurant. Another AfD functionary was also present at the meeting.

Among the accused, there are at least two other men who are or were active in the AfD at the regional level. Also accused is Michael Fritsch, the leading candidate in the state of Lower Saxony for Die Basis, a party linked to the Querdenker movement, in the 2021 federal election. Within the scene, they call him the "protection man with a heart and a brain."

The 59-year-old used to be the chief detective at the Hannover Police Department. That is, until he attracted attention with crude statements at rallies and was suspended. He spoke of alleged parallels between the SS and today's "security apparatus." As early as 2020, Fritsch returned his German identity card and applied for a "citizenship card," as is customary in the Reichsbürger scene. He also requested to have his birth state changed to "Prussia." A court has since ruled that the police can remove him from the civil service, a decision he appealed. His defense attorney didn't want to comment on the terror allegations from the Federal Prosecutor's Office.

For all its bizarreness, what makes the group so dangerous is its deep hatred of the state and the governing politicians. And its access to weapons. Several of the defendants allegedly possessed pistols and rifles, some legally and others illegally.

According to investigators, some of the suspects practiced shooting on Oschenberg Mountain near Bayreuth in Bavaria. The conspiratorial actions of the group created a major headache for investigators. The hard core of the group allegedly equipped itself with around a dozen Iridium satellite phones that have a unit price of around 1,500 euros each. They would still work even if the mobile phone network collapsed. The conspirators also allegedly signed nondisclosure agreements. Those who violated the terms would face death, it stated.

According to investigators, Alexander Q. is among the supporters of Reuss' group. He runs one of the most trafficked German QAnon channels on Telegram, with more than 131,000 subscribers. His channel has an innocuous name: "Just ask us." But the hashtags he uses, such as WWG1WGA, quickly make clear what it is really about – the abbreviation stands for the motto of the QAnon disciples: Where we go one, we go all.

In his voice messages, he regularly railed against the "fascist regime" and spread fake news nonstop. In July 2021, shortly before the massive flooding disaster in Germany's Ahr Valley, he claimed, for example, that the flood water had washed up the corpses of 600 children. He claimed they had been imprisoned for years in underground facilities, where they were tortured and finally killed in order to deprive them of the metabolic chemical compound adrenochrome, which supposedly has a rejuvenating effect. The tale of murdered children is a popular conspiracy tale among followers of the QAnon cult.

Four weeks after the 2021 federal election in Germany, the Telegram propagandist posted a voice message on his channel warning of a large scale fraud – like the one in the U.S. In the eyes of QAnon supporters there, Donald Trump was removed from power through election fraud. The unleashed their fury by storming the Capitol.

Germany has also had a similar scare, although on a much smaller scale. In the summer of 2020, supporters of conspiracy theories stormed the stairs of the Reichstag building on the sidelines of a major protest in Berlin against measures aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus. A QAnon disciple had given the signal to run: "We're going up there and taking our house back here today and from now on!" For a brief moment, only three policemen stood between the roaring crowd and the entrance gate to the house of parliament. Then reinforcements arrived and they succeeded in keeping parliament sealed off.

Why people from all educational and professional backgrounds believe in abstruse narratives is a question that researchers have tried to explore in recent years.

Social psychologist Pia Lamberty differentiates between misinformation and disinformation and broader conspiracy narratives. She says that people are particularly susceptible to fake news if they have neither the capacity nor the motivation to delve deeply into a topic. The simpler or more emotional the answers, the easier it is for them to catch on.

She says the belief in all-encompassing conspiracy narratives, on the other hand, has more to do with a person's own identity and psychological phenomena, with a general distrust of "powerful people" such as politicians or scientists, for example. That, she says, can lead to the conviction that everything bad that happens in society is the result of secret planning. Lamberty considers the group that has now been uncovered to be "extremely dangerous" precisely because of its composition.

The retreat of many people into the digital world during the pandemic has led to further growth in the number of people following and believing in conspiracy theories. In the relevant channels and networks, people found their peers turning hose channels into echo chambers that often lacked any countering viewpoints or factual comparisons. The war in Ukraine and the subsequent economic crisis have exacerbated that development. Crises act as catalysts for a fundamental critique of the system. "What is decisive for the success of the conspiracy theory is not its truth content, but its potential to plausibly resolve contradictions, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Philipp Sterzer writes in his book "The Illusion of Reason."

The result is a polarization of society, with the group that rejects the political system growing increasingly visible. It's a development that the British-American economist and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton, for example, currently believes is affecting the entire West. Deaton says it is related to the declining growth in recent decades.

As is the case with many movements in society, extremist groups develop on the fringes, believing that they can only achieve their goals through violence. During the 1968 era, it was groups like the far-left Red Army Faction, and, more recently, terrorist groups formed out of Salafist circles. And it was only a matter of time before radical groups would emerge from the coronavirus skeptics and the Querdenker movement, for whom protests in the streets or on the internet didn't go far enough.

The increasing propensity for violence within these circles had been apparent for some time. As the pandemic has progressed, the tone on relevant Telegram channels had become increasingly bellicose. There has been talk of "overthrowing the ruling criminal regime," of "revenge" that would be cruel: "They will all be hanged in the end."

As early as May 2021, the Interior Ministry for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, warned that such violent digital fantasies could lead "to the establishment of terrorist structures." The different branches at the federal and state level of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, increasingly started infiltrating "virtual agents" into chat groups: with fake profiles whose authors only pretend to belong to the scene in order to be able to detect when words turn into deeds. But the sheer number of channels makes it impossible for authorities to keep track of all potential perpetrators of violence.

Radical circles that had long marched separately also came together on the streets. They included right-wing extremists, the Reichsbürger, followers of the anti-Muslim group PEGIDA, fans of the AfD, New Age esoterics and opponents of vaccination. In the end, it barely mattered whether it was against the anti-corona measures, the government's position in the Ukraine war or the skyrocketing prices. What united them is their hatred of "the people at the top."

From the stages of the demonstrations, speakers chanted once again that "the Reichstag should be swept out," and all the members of parliament should be replaced. They railed that government ministers were crazy or "just mercenaries" waging economic war against the German people. That there is a need for "resistance" and that the police should join them. They longed for a coup.

Some followed their sense of longing even before Prince Reuss and his group were accused of planning the coup.

Several months ago, a group from the Reichsbürger and Querdenker circles apparently made plans to kidnap German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach. They wanted to abduct him while he was on a talk show, live on camera. The code word for the operation: "Klabautermann," the name for hobgoblin from German mythology. According to investigators, Lauterbach's bodyguards were to be taken out with shots from machine guns, after which point the government was to be forced to resign. According to court records, the group also wanted to get their blessing for the coup from Russia.

Emissaries wanted to cross the Baltic Sea to Kaliningrad by ship and ask for an audience with the Kremlin – with Vladimir Putin himself. Five suspected members of the cell are in custody.

A completely insane plan. What is known is that the group had already secured weapons and was trying to get its hands on more. An undercover investigator from the Rhineland-Palatinate State Criminal Police Office possibly thwarted worse from happening.

Two cases from Baden-Württemberg show how unpredictable the threat really is. In April, the police wanted to confiscate a weapon from a Reichsbürger ideologue who had been banned from possessing it. When police in the town of Boxberg-Bobstadt arrived to search the house, the man fired several dozen shots from a fully automatic rifle, injuring two officers. On the Reichsbürger's property, the investigators discovered a kind of walk-in armory, and they found a machine gun that had been set up in the living room.

A few weeks earlier, a Reichsbürger adherent had apparently deliberately run over a policeman during a traffic check in the southern Baden region in the state. He told the magistrate they didn't have the right to arrest him, that the magistrate lacked the "legal capacity."

The authorities long underestimated the movement of "Reichsbürger and self-administrators." Many laughed them off as crackpots who wield in fantasy IDs and proclaim kingdoms. But dangerous? They thought not.

That view has since changed completely. The ideological stubbornness and irrationality make supporters of the Reichsbürger movement particularly dangerous, says one senior investigator.

One man whose radicalization took place on the open stage is Maximilian Eder. Investigators also count him among the group surrounding Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss. He is alleged to have received 50,000 euros from him to further equip their "military arm," the "New German Army." It is unclear how that money was eventually used – some fellow campaigners have accused him of squandering it.

Eder, now 63, served as colonel in the Bundeswehr. In 1999, he led a Bavarian armored infantry battalion into Kosovo. Prior to his retirement in the autumn of 2016, he served intermittently in the KSK. During the pandemic, he became one of the leading figures of the radical protests against the government and its anti-coronavirus measures.

At one Querdenker demonstration, he demanded that KSK fighters should conduct a "thorough purge in Berlin." He called mandatory vaccinations for soldiers a "crime against humanity."

When a flood in Rhineland-Palatinate inundated the Ahr Valley in July 2021, Eder and his fellow campaigners cast themselves as helpers for people in distress. The retired colonel appeared on the scene in uniform and signed official-looking deployment orders with leading figures in the Querdenker movement. The supposed helpers set up shop in Ahrweiler in a former school. Eder described himself as the "leader of the command center" and to former elite soldier Peter Wörner, also arrested this week, as the "chief of staff."

Rather than helping, though, the men and their followers only created trouble in the flood zone. In the end, the city had the school cleared out. Eder was fined 3,500 euros for the unauthorized wearing of uniforms.

The retired officer grew increasingly radicalized. In November in a video filmed deep in Bavaria, he called for a coup. In it, Eder can be seen standing in the middle of the forest, in Bundeswehr camouflage, shaking a rock. If "a few determined people" got to work, the system could be shaken up, he says in it. And all this won't take much longer, the retired colonel says as if some oracle, "it will be before Christmas." Now, he is being held in pretrial detention.

Much of what the Reuss troops are accused of having planned seems like something out of a bad, feverish dream. In addition to a military arm, it is said to have had a political arm that met at least five times this year: the so-called "Council," a kind of shadow government.

The group already appears to have reached agreement on some cabinet posts. Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss was likely intended as head of state, and Judge Malsack-Winkemann as justice minister. But as in real life, there appears to have been infighting over power and posts in the shadow cabinet. According to the investigations, the leadership of the finance ministry had been especially controversial. One candidate some comrades would have liked to see on the "Council" apparently isn't liked by Prince Reuss. And the candidate designated as "foreign minister" apparently preferred to become finance minister.

The group wasn't very successful in its foreign policy ambitions. An attempt to get Russia's blessing for a coup failed. Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss and his girlfriend Vitalia B., who is from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, are said to have paid visits to the Russian Consulate General in Leipzig, but according to the Federal Prosecutor's Office, there is nothing to suggest that the Russians "reacted positively to his request." Vitalia B.'s defense lawyer initially didn't want to comment on the accusations.

Apparently, there were hardly any bounds to the insanity of the political sect. According to investigators, the group firmly believed in a supposed international secret alliance, the "Alliance." The men and women are said to have waited longingly for the "Alliance" to rush to their aid – and "clean out" the upper echelons of the Federal Republic of Germany. Then they could upend the rest of the country.

The conspirators had also already filled some rather unusual posts in their shadow government. The office of the representative for "spirituality and healing" was to be led by a doctor from the state of Lower Saxony, who reportedly gave the group 20,000 euros. Meanwhile, an astrologer from the Bergstrasse district in the state of Hesse was to be responsible for "transcommunication."

About Our Reporting

Like other media, DER SPIEGEL reported very early on Wednesday morning about the police action. Since then, we have been asked how we knew about it. The answer: through contacts and sources. When ministries in 11 states and the federal government, when dozens of Offices for the Protection of the Constitution and state criminal investigation departments and thousands of officers are involved, well-connected reporters are likely to hear about it. That’s not a peculiarity of this case, it's our job. You have to handle this kind of knowledge responsibly. We don't want to endanger anyone, because if a raid escalates, you are putting human lives at risk. We only report comprehensively, independently and unfettered when, in our view, the time is right.

Her website offers predictions for the future. The coming years will be a time of "great upheaval, economically, medically and politically," she predicts. But if you do "the right thing at the right time in the right place," then "nothing can go wrong." On Wednesday, the investigating judge also ordered her pretrial detention.

For the BKA and the federal prosecutor, Wednesday's large-scale raid was an unprecedented feat. The state security authorities had only a few weeks to conduct an investigation on a scale that has likely never been seen before in Germany. More than 3,000 police officers with the BKA, the Federal Police and the state authorities had to coordinate in order to be able to access the scene simultaneously in the early morning hours. They specified in detail which official would be where, what that official was responsible for doing and how they could be reached. In the end, the mission succeeded.

At 6:48 a.m., the word was that all the suspected conspirators had been arrested.

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