Germany cracking down on armed far-right Reichsbürger

Germany's government has said it confiscated firearms from hundreds of members of the Reichsbürger scene. Authorities have identified some 2,000 more people who identify with Germany's most idiosyncratic far-right group.

The head of Germany's domestic security agency on Saturday hailed efforts to disarm members of the far-right Reichsbürger scene and other groups who reject the German state, but warned the group's threat level still remains critically high.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence service, told the DPA news agency that the latest police crackdowns had seen the number of Reichsbürger with a firearms permit fall below the 1,000 mark.

A BfV spokesman confirmed the figures and Maassen's comments to DW.

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'Rejectionists' on the rise in Germany

"Successes are becoming apparent when it comes to revoking permits," Maassen said. "Nevertheless, we must keep a close eye on this movement."

The radical Reichsbürger movement ("Citizens of the Reich") subscribes to the idea that the 1937 borders of the German Empire still exist and that the modern-day Federal Republic is effectively a puppet state still occupied by the Allied powers.

Members refuse to recognize the German Basic Law, the government, police authorities and the courts, while some are also anti-Semitic.

According to the latest BfV estimates, 920 members of the far-right scene still own firearms, around 700 fewer than last year. However, that latest numbers show that up to 7 percent of suspected Reichsbürger still have a permit to own sporting or hunting rifles — far higher than the national average of 2 percent.

Read more: Germany's Reichsbürger movement out to 'delegitimize the state'

Reichsbürger numbers on the up

Despite the crackdown on armed members, official figures show the total number of Reichsbürger continues to rise, with authorities having identified around 18,400, suspected members, some 900 of whom are believed to be radical right-wing extremists.

However, Maassen stressed that the uptick in numbers also accounted for the authorities' efforts in identifying previously unknown members. "The rise in numbers in the past three months shows that our increased focus on the Reichsbürger scene is paying off," he said.

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German security services have increased their monitoring of the far-right scene over the past two years following a spate of violent attacks on the public and police.

Read more: German police bust human trafficking ring linked to Reichsbürger scene

The movement gained significant traction after a member shot dead a policeman in Bavaria in October 2016.

A few months later, a member in the southwestern city of Trier shot a soft-air rifle in a public square and threatened several passers-by. Since then, several officers have been injured in police operations against members. The most recently, last month, saw several Reichsbürger clash with police after a protest in Erlenbach in the state of Baden-Württemberg, turned violent.

Several public sector workers across Germany have also been identified as members of the far-right group.

The Reichsbürger movement in Germany

What do Reichsbürger believe?

Reichsbürger translates to "citizens of the Reich." What unites this loose movement is rejection of the modern Federal Republic of Germany. They believe the 1937 or 1871 borders of the German Empire still exist and today's country is an administrative construct still occupied by the Allied powers. Many subscribe to far-right or anti-Semitic ideologies. Their conspiracy theories have been debunked.

The Reichsbürger movement in Germany

How much of a threat are they?

The Reichsbürger scene is a disparate, leaderless movement totalling about 15,000 supporters, according to German intelligence officials. Of those, about 900 have been identified as far-right extremists and 1,000 have a license to own firearms. Authorities are concerned about some members' potential to become violent and have conducted several raids on Reichsbürger suspects to sieze weapons.

The Reichsbürger movement in Germany

Who are its members? One was Mr. Germany

Adrian Ursache, a 42-year-old former winner of the Mister Germany beauty pageant, is also a Reichsbürger member. He is currently facing trial for attempted murder after an August 2016 gun battle with police as they tried to evict him from his home. Typically, Reichsbürger refuse to recognize any state apparatus, printing their own passports and driving licenses.

The Reichsbürger movement in Germany

Jailed for murder

The case of Wolfgang P., who in October 2017 was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a police officer, is seen as a turning point for how German authorities deal with the extremist group. P., an alleged Reichsbürger member, shot at officers who were raiding his home to confiscate weapons.

The Reichsbürger movement in Germany

What are the authorities doing about it?

German authorities have been accused of long underestimating the threat posed by the Reichsbürger. Since the murder of the police officer in Bavaria, law enforcement has been cracking down on them more vigorously. In the past year there have been several raids on Reichsbürger targets. Some German police and military forces have also probed whether they may have Reichsbürger among their own ranks.

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