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Germany puts failed ‘coup’ leaders on trial

Alleged organizers of “Reich Citizens” face up to 15 years behind bars for the 2022 plot

A hereditary aristocrat, a former lawmaker and a retired general went to court in Frankfurt on Tuesday as alleged ringleaders of the supposed “Reich Citizens” plot to overthrow the German government.

German police detained two dozen suspects in December 2022, alleging they had amassed money and weapons to overthrow the constitutional order and restore the monarchy established in 1871.

Prince Heinrich XIII Reuss of Thuringia, now 72, was allegedly to be installed as the new emperor. He is also accused of trying to make contact with Russia via his “partner,” named only as Vitalia B. The Russian embassy in Berlin has denied having any contacts with the plotters.

Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a judge and a former MP for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, allegedly helped the group plan an armed attack on the Bundestag. The military wing of the plot was led by the 70-year-old Ruediger von Pescatore, a disgraced former Bundeswehr general.

The 617-page indictment claims that the “Reich Citizens” believe that the current Federal Republic of Germany is an “occupation” government and that the German Empire was never actually dissolved in November 1918, with the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

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According to the prosecutors, the plotters came together in November 2021, a month after the parliamentary elections won by the ‘Traffic Light coalition’ of current Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The suspects allegedly tried to recruit supporters in the police and the military to seize power by force and declare martial law.

German authorities got wind of the alleged plot in August 2022 and launched dozens of raids across the country in December, with over 3,000 police involved.

The first trial related to the plot began in Stuttgart last month, featuring nine defendants charged with buying weapons and recruiting fighters for the alleged coup. Two defendants also face gun violation charges, while another has been accused of attempted murder and resisting arrest. Eight more defendants are scheduled to be tried in Munich in June.

The Frankfurt trial is considered the main event, however, since it features the nine alleged ringleaders of the plot. In addition to Prince Heinrich, Malzak-Winkemann and Pescatore, the defendants include former Hannover police officer Michael Fritsch; Maximilian Eder and Peter W. formerly of the Special Forces Commando (KSK); Hans-Joachim H. who allegedly funded the coup to the tune of €160,000 ($174,000); “anti-vaxx activist” Johann F.-J.; and the aforementioned Vitalia B.

Prosecutors are asking for up to 15 years in prison for some of the defendants. 

The ruling coalition has sought to link “Reich Citizens” with the AfD, but the party has disavowed the movement. According to the Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bpb), the “Reich Citizens” range from people who seek to restore the monarchy of 1871 to people who deny the Holocaust and believe Adolf Hitler survived the Second World War and fled to Antarctica.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has estimated the number of “Reich Citizens” to be as high as 23,000.


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