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Who are the ‘Citizens of the Reich’? Movement explained after member arrested hiding children in cellar

The i 30/01/2023 Claire Gilbody-Dickerson
Members of the far right Reichsburger movement at a protest against coronavirus restrictions in Berlin in 2021 (Photo: Adam Berry/Getty) © Provided by The i Members of the far right Reichsburger movement at a protest against coronavirus restrictions in Berlin in 2021 (Photo: Adam Berry/Getty)

A British-Austrian man who was arrested last week after he was found living with his family in a wine cellar in Austria is a member of the notorious far-right Reichsbürger group, police said.

The 54-year-old “disaster prepper”, named as Tom Landon, was discovered in Orbitz, north of Vienna, with a 40-year-old woman and six children aged between seven months and five years.

Mr Landon was arrested after allegedly pepper spraying two social workers who visited the premises after they were called by neighbours. A gun and crossbows were found in the cellar.

The IT worker is thought to have lived in the cellar for around nine months with his family. The children are now in the custody of social services.

Mr Landon is said to have embraced conspiracy theories during his time underground, and the politics of Reichsburger, the “Citizens of the Reich”.

What is the Reichsbürger movement?

The Reichsbürger movement came to prominence last December when its followers were implicated in a plot to overthrow the government of Germany.

Part of the alleged plan, which saw 25 suspects detained, was to replace Germany’s chancellor with a former member of a German royal family, identified as Heinrich XIII P. R. under Germany’s privacy law.

The group is believed to have more than 20,000 members spread across several countries with Germany and Austria its strongholds.

Germany’s domestic intelligence service Verfassungsschutz put the Reichsbürger movement under observation in 2016, shortly after one of its members shot dead a policeman during a raid at his home.

What do they believe in?

“Eliminating the existing state order in Germany…using violence and military means,” according to German Attorney General Peter Frank.

 The far-right group encompasses different sub-groups who all believe the Federal Republic of Germany is not a state, Jakob Guhl, senior manager of policy and research at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told i.

Mr Guhl said many of them want the German Empire to be restored as it was in either 1871 or 1937.

“Since Reichsbürger adherents believe they live under occupation by hostile, illegitimate powers, many see separation from or resistance against the state and its representatives as legitimate.

“This can take different forms: from printing their own passports to the declaration of kingdoms or other spaces of sovereignty on private properties, refusals to pay fines, harassment of civil servants and political representatives all the way to taking violent action,” he said.

Some Reichsbürger demand the enthronement of the great-great grandson of Emperor Wilhelm II, forced to abdicate in 1918 as a consequence of the First World War, as new German emperor.

Other members of the Reichsbürger argue Germany is still occupied and under military occupation. The leader of that part of the movement was arrested in 2021 after issuing “death sentences” against politicians and journalists on Telegram, the Verfassungsschutz said.

How dangerous are they?

The Verfassungsschutz estimates there are 21,000 members of the movement but does not consider them all to be violent extremists.

Around 10 per cent are prepared to use violence to reach their goals, according to a report by the agency published in 2021.

But the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said the Reichsbürger movement has grown in recent years and posed a growing threat.

Miro Dittrich, a senior researcher of CeMAS, a research group focused on far-right extremism, told the New York Times the Covid-19 pandemic helped strengthen the Reichsbürger as he pointed to how it also includes armed members.

He said the movement “has established itself as the biggest far-right extremist danger in Germany, via the pandemic.

He added: “It’s dangerous not just that you have armed and trained members of the military and police in the group, but that the number of gun permits has gone up and several people in this group had such permits.”

Additional reporting by agencies


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