8 December 2022
Putsch Back to 1871
Germany and the Reich movement.
By Neil Tidmarsh
This week, Germany’s chancellor Scholz was widely criticized for declaring that he’d be willing to reset his and Germany’s relationship with Putin and Russia back to the good old days of 2019 once the Ukraine crisis is over. If Putin’s invasion of Ukraine looks like a violent bully beating up the woman next door for rejecting his advances, Scholz’s declaration sounds like the bully’s desperate and delusional wife, having left him on witnessing the horrific violence, now saying that she will take him back – and that their marriage can once again be happy and rewarding – as soon as he stops beating up his innocent victim.
Scholz isn’t the only German who seems to want to put the clock back, however. According to prosecutors and police, there are scores or hundreds or even thousands of Germans on a dangerous mission to turn the clock even further back, one and a half centuries back, all the way to the year 1871. In the last twenty-four hours, three thousand police officers have raided 130 sites across the country (and in Austria and Italy) and arrested 25 suspected extreme right-wing terrorists (27 more are under investigation) who were allegedly planning a violent putsch to overthrow the German government, destroy the country’s republican constitution and reinstate the monarchy.
The suspects appear to belong to the Reich Citizens Movement (Reichsburgerbewegung), which refuses to recognise the modern German state. The movement’s adherents insist that the Federal Republic of Germany has no legitimacy, claiming that the German Reich established in 1871 still exists because its apparent replacement in 1945 was illegally imposed on the nation by the Allies. The BfV – Germany’s domestic intelligence agency – has estimated that the movement has as many as 18,000 followers; 950 of them are considered to be right-wing extremists. The movement consists of a number of loosely associated but often competing groups, embracing racism, antisemitism and conspiracy theories such as QAnon’s belief in a deep state. More than one of them claim to have formed a provisional government or Kommissarische Reichsregierung (KRR), claiming authority over all territories within the country’s pre-war borders and issuing currency, stamps and official documents such as passports and driving licences. One, by its own admission, has apparently issued 1000 warrants for the arrest of German officials who have rejected such documents as invalid.
Some Reichsburger activists have refused to pay taxes and fines in recent years and an increasing number of them have resorted to violence. Two police officers and an activist were shot in a confrontation in Reuden in 2016; in the same year, three policemen were shot (one of them fatally) while trying to confiscate an arsenal of firearms from an activist in Bavaria; in 2018, press reports claimed that one group was smuggling arms into the country and creating an armed militia; in April of this year, members of another group were detained on suspicion of planning to kidnap the German health minister and to launch bomb attacks on power stations prior to attempting to overthrow the government.
The group broken up by this week’s security operations (the biggest anti-terrorist operation ever launched in the Federal Republic’s history) was allegedly planning an armed attack on the Bundestag and a destabilising terror campaign of murder and violent disruption to create a condition of civil war in which they could overthrow the government, destroy the democratic constitution and reinstate the German Empire of 1871. The gang apparently includes serving soldiers and policemen as well as ex-military personnel from Special Forces units. Suspected leaders include a former AfD MP and judge, a former paratroop commander and a German aristocrat – Prince Heinrich XIII of the House of Reus – who presumably was to be crowned emperor.
Prosecutors claim that the group’s leaders, with the help of a Russian woman now under investigation, have contacted Russian officials in an attempt to win support from Moscow for their plans and for the new order they hoped to create. No doubt they were mindful that Bismarck, on forcing through the creation of a unified Germany and the crowning of the Prussian king as its emperor in 1871 following the victory over France in the Franco-Prussian war, was anxious to keep Russia on-side, aware as he was that his eastern neighbour (which he considered indestructible) might feel threatened by Germany’s sudden pre-eminence. Moscow has denied any involvement with the conspiracy.
Meanwhile, coincidentally, Putin of course is himself also trying to turn the clock back to 1871 by pursuing a dream of past imperial glory. His attack on Ukraine is the nightmarish product of his impossible ambition to recreate the pre-Soviet Russian empire by restoring the territories it controlled and the power it enjoyed before World War I. No doubt he hoped to go down in history as a modern-day tsar, a true successor to the nineteenth century’s Alexanders and Nicholases; a hubristic absurdity which has proved catastrophic for Russia as well as Ukraine.
Like Russia, Great Britain was at the height of its wealth and power in 1871. Queen Victoria was half-way through her 63 year reign. She had just regained the popularity that she’d lost when she’d withdrawn from public life following the death of her husband Prince Albert ten years earlier. She would shortly be crowned Empress. It was the age of political giants, of Gladstone and Disraeli, of the Pax Britannica, of the unchallengeable global supremacy of the Royal Navy. Rule Britannia! If only we could return to those days! Perhaps, if we… No, no, no, don’t even consider it. Don’t even dream it. Germany and Russia are living proof that such fantasies can easily turn into poisonous nightmares.