Elderly extremism is a concern
The arrest of the instigators of the coup project against the Bundestag and the country’s institutions has revealed an overlooked phenomenon: radicalism among the over-50s.
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On December 7, 2022, German police conducted several searches across the country in far-right circles. 25 people suspected of planning an armed attack were arrested in the capital. Hundreds of people attend, doctors, ex-soldiers, ex-members of Bundeswehr special units, police commissioners, lawyers, members of the aristocracy… They seem to be sitting well in society. Most of them are over 50 years old. We are far from the widespread view that far-right or Islamist radicalization is about young people who are left out and without prospects.
Prince Henri XIII Reuss, the leader of the group, is 71 years old. At the beginning of the plot, he wanted to seize power to restore the monarchy. His right-hand man is a 69-year-old former paratrooper. Judge Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, 58, a member of the far-right AfD party in the Bundestag, was supposed to ease rioters’ access to Parliament ahead of elections in September 2021. They appealed to him to occupy the Ministry of Justice… “The second thing that stands out in this case is the over-representation of uniformed people in their ranks, the consultant who deals with the de-radicalization association of North Rhine-Westphalia, on the condition of anonymity. . There were people from the police, army, special forces, judges, lawyers, doctors… The first reflex of a suspect is: he is a doctor, he cannot be dangerous. He can’t be a neo-Nazi! Yes, even when dealing with a government official. As a de-radicalisation community, we were not really surprised by the conspiracy surrounding Henry XIII. Nor the age of the conspirators…”
The first reflex, when in doubt, is to himself: he is a doctor, he cannot be dangerous. Well yes!
All those involved in the failed coup plot in December are suspected of belonging to the “Reichsbürger” movement, literally “citizens of the Reich,” a multi-branch movement closely watched by domestic intelligence services. They have in common a denial of the legitimacy of the Federal Republic born from the defeat of the Reichsbürger in 1945, rejecting its laws and even identity documents. They usually refuse to pay their taxes and often face endless run-ins with the law. Apart from these common points, they form a very heterogeneous group. “Their motivations are different,” explains Dierk Borstel from the University of Dortmund. There is certainly a political motivation, whether it is the pursuit of Empire, the establishment of the Fourth Reich, the revival of National Socialism, or the monarchy. In others, for example, by selling IDs or “Reich” driver’s licenses, unnecessary documents that have no legal value, we note more economic motivation, the possibility of making money, and even making a lot of money. And then, some just try to sow chaos. It becomes really dangerous for some to be armed, even trained and call for armed struggle.
Benjamin Winkler of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in the former East German city of Leipzig says: “When we talk about the ideology of the Reichsbürger, we usually talk about radicalization in the second half of life. These are not always very right-minded people. The typical path to radicalization is often through an accident in life: illness, economic downturn, family breakup… An encounter can be decisive, often online. In these difficult times, these people are especially susceptible to simplistic explanations, to conspiracy theories that avoid asking questions. You should not look for the reason for your problems with Reichsbürger in your own decisions. It comes from outside. It comes from “absolutely rotten” politicians, pluralism, gender theory, conspiracies by the West, the Jews, the US, NATO, even Bill Gates. To a lesser extent, there is the impact of the health crisis and the war in Ukraine. Demonstrations in Germany in support of Putin’s Russia have the same signs and slogans as those organized during the pandemic against health measures.
The Reichsbürger movement now has fifteen thousand members who are considered more or less dangerous by the intelligence services. Eminent theologian Frank Richter points out that “we are clearly facing a growing scene, just as we see the proliferation of groups in society that cannot be reached by more rational social communication, perhaps the world is becoming too complex. social democrat of the regional parliament of Saxony in the former GDR. In my area, these are often people who are on the fringes of society, both geographically and sociologically. What is noteworthy is the strong representation of women in them. They make up about 30%.
Benjamin Winkler recalls: “We have many de-radicalization programs in Germany. But they are mainly aimed at young people, simply because there are places where we can reach them, at school, in sports associations… It is more difficult for adults over 40 years old. To a lesser extent, they can be approached within companies, for example through continuous training. Some players, especially the unions, are really trying it. But persuading people to participate in these political education courses is not easy, they tell us. Reichsbürger, dreamy grandfathers, harmless lunatics? For domestic intelligence services and de-radicalization units, Reichsbürger’s project of armed insurgency points the finger at a phenomenon exacerbated by the health crisis: the radicalization of the uprooted fringes of the elderly.