German coup planners approached hundreds for armed militia

Far-right movement had advanced plans to ‘arrest and execute’ enemies as part of alleged coup

Germany’s far-right Reichsbürger movement had advanced plans for armed militia members to “arrest and execute” enemies as part of an alleged coup d’état plot revealed last week.

At emergency Bundestag meetings in Berlin on Monday, MPs said they were “alarmed” to hear that countrywide raids had turned up hundreds of non-disclosure agreements, allegedly signed by people who had been approached to join so-called “homeland protection” militias.

Some 280 such armed groups were planned around the country, according to investigators, and were particularly advanced in three federal states.

“Even if a coup wasn’t likely, the injuring and killing of people was,” said Günter Krings, MP with the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and head of the Bundestag justice committee.


A key figure in the militia plans is believed to be Peter Wörner, a former German special forces officer who ran survival courses in Norway where, he told a local newspaper in 2010, he “turns boys into men”.

Some 3,000 police and special forces were involved in last week’s co-ordinated swoops on suspected so-called Reichsbürger, a loose group of an estimated 23,000 people who dispute the legitimacy of the modern German state.

As well as €400,000 in cash and gold bars, these militias already had access to large quantities of firearms, crossbows and other weapons.

On Monday, the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, home to one in five Germans, said it is aware of 123 suspected Reichsbürger with gun permits. In 2022 alone, Bavaria says it has seized more than 900 weapons from people with Reichsbürger affiliations.

Amid news of a larger circle of sympathisers than previously suspected, German politicians have conceded that 25 key suspects now in custody for allegedly planning the coup may have learned in advance about last week’s raids.

So many people – from politicians to journalists – were informed in advance of the raids that the surprise swoops may not have been such a surprise after all. That raises questions about whether suspects, hearing of the raids ahead of time, could destroy evidence of their alleged plot to topple German democracy.

“That certainly wasn’t the plan,” said Nancy Faeser, federal interior minister, when asked whether the raids were an open secret.

German media outlets who released detailed reports on the key suspects have faced criticism, with some accused of effectively producing police PR.

In response, investigative journalist Florian Flade, briefed in advance about the raids, said the reports were based on good research. He told German television on Sunday: “We weren’t played by any state body or ministry.”

ARD public television has confirmed that some of its investigative journalists knew about the raids ahead of time.

“Whether suspects got wind [of the raids] through research cannot be confirmed for sure at present,” said Michael Götschenberg, ARD terrorism expert. “The fact is that all suspects were accounted for and all warrants enforced.”

Opposition politicians have questioned whether suspects were tipped off in advance, including by Reichsbürger sympathisers within police structures.

Among last week’s alleged putsch suspects are a serving police officer and two retired army officers. On Monday, criminal police in Lower Saxony confirmed that they had suspended an officer with alleged Reichsbürger links who had worked in the department that observes extremist groups.

In recent years, at least 100 police in western Germany have been investigated as part of a suspected far-right grouping with xenophobic and neo-Nazi views.

For opposition Left Party leader Janine Wissler, the Reichsbürger raids make it irresponsible for politicians in Germany to insist far-right police officers and soldiers are “bad apples”.

“The talk is always of individual perpetrators and never about the structures behind them,” she said. “It is clear we have a structural problem [in the police] with right-wing networks.”

Senior government ministers at state and federal level have hit back at such sweeping claims. At the same time they have promised tighter checks – and simplified disciplinary proceedings – against civil servants, police and army officers suspected of holding extremist views.

“It should be seen as normal that someone who works for the state cannot also be working against the state,” said Mr Lars Castelucci, a Social Democratic Party (SPD) MP and member of the Bundestag domestic affairs committee.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin