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Germany’s Nazi Problem Never Went Away

In December, a significant coup plot aimed at overthrowing the German government was uncovered resulting in dozens of arrests. The suspects were associated with the Reichsbürgerbewegung movement, commonly known as Reichsbürger, a far-right group known for rejecting the legitimacy of the current government and denying the end of the German Reich in 1945, according to reporting by the Washington Post.

According to the BBC, the Reichsbürger movement, rooted in anti-Semitism and racism, has been under investigation for engaging in violent attacks in recent years. The uncovering of this recent plot highlights the persistent problem of active neo-Nazi and far-right groups, both domestically and globally, as well as the German government’s lenient attitude towards such groups. It serves as a stark reminder that these dangerous groups have continued to operate and have largely gone unnoticed by authorities. If left unaddressed, these groups pose a serious risk, potentially transforming democratic governments into fascist regimes once again.

The coup plot involved an estimated 50 individuals, including influential figures such as parliamentarians, judges, police officers, and military personnel. Some members were affiliated with QAnon, a group that was also involved in the January 6th insurrection in the United States, as well as the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.

The group’s leader was reported to be German businessman Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuss, whose family was once a prominent aristocratic family, who would have assumed control had the coup succeeded. The plan envisioned the establishment of a military arm and a government model inspired by the tradition of the German Reich. During the investigation, the police conducted searches of 130 properties across 11 states, resulting in the discovery of weapons in several of them.

Alexander Gauland, founder of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)
Alexander Gauland, founder of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). (James Rea/​Flickr)

Given the involvement of individuals from the military and law enforcement, along with their willingness to recruit more personnel from these institutions, General Prosecutor Peter Frank regarded the plot as a genuine threat. Although some may consider the success of such a coup unlikely, recent events like the January 6th insurrection demonstrate that with sufficient coordination and knowledge of the military, an armed coup d’état is indeed possible.

Germany, often lauded for its efforts to combat right-wing extremism and Nazism, has struggled with the lingering presence of fascist beliefs since 1945. Several key factors have contributed to this.

First, following the war, both the United States and the Soviet Union relocated Nazi war criminals and scientists to their respective countries, including individuals directly involved in operating concentration camps and developing superweapons in underground bases known as Mittelwerk, where victims of the Nazis were forced into labor.

Second, the Nuremberg Trials only targeted a small number of high-ranking Nazi officials, leaving many senior and low-ranking officers without facing trial for their crimes. Numerous Nazi officials were also retained in positions within the government, including law enforcement and intelligence divisions.

Lastly, within a society deeply ingrained with hatred and propaganda even before the Third Reich’s rise to power, many individuals maintained the belief that the regime did nothing wrong and even profited from its existence.

During the Cold War, Germany’s intelligence efforts primarily focused on left-wing and communist groups, neglecting the reemerging neo-Nazi movements in the region. In recent decades, the country has displayed greater leniency towards far-right groups, including granting seats in the Bundestag to the aforementioned far-right Alternative für Deutschland party.

According to the Washington Post, Germany has witnessed a significant increase in neo-Nazi attacks and “propaganda crimes,” such as displaying Nazi symbols and promoting hatred towards Jews, Muslims, and migrants. Only recently has Germany started implementing stronger measures to counter right-wing extremism. German intelligence also failed to uncover a large neo-Nazi cell called the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which operated for 11 years and was responsible for the murders of nine immigrants. Additionally, there have been reports of immigrant killings, targeted attacks against pro-immigrant politicians, and the 2019 Halle synagogue shooting.

Despite Germany’s ongoing efforts to combat neo-Nazism, these extremist groups continue to gain influence and pose a significant threat, with some even planning to seize power and find support within the ranks of the military and police. As far-right groups and conspiracies gain traction worldwide, it is crucial to recognize and address the dangers of fascism and hatred in all its contemporary forms.

Preventing the suffering and loss of life inflicted by these groups requires actively combating the infiltration of Nazi ideologues into positions of power and eradicating them from institutions. In a country that has experienced the full horrors of Nazism, it remains a real possibility that these forces may take root in the descendants of those who were never held accountable for their crimes.