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A 75-year-old woman who led far-right extremists accused of an elaborate coup plot to topple the German government

Business Insider India logo Business Insider India 28-01-2023 Isobel van Hagen
  • Five members of a German extremist group were charged with treason for a coup plot.
  • Authorities say the plot included causing nationwide blackouts and kidnapping a government official.

Germany's Federal Public Prosecutor's Office charged five suspected members of a terrorist group with plotting an elaborate coup against the German government, the office announced earlier this week.

Authorities believe that the 75-year-old retired schoolteacher — identified as "Elisabeth R.," also known in the German press as "terror granny" — is the leader of what German law enforcement is calling a domestic-terrorist group.

German authorities accused "Elisabeth R.," along with four men, of formulating a "highly treasonable" violent plan to trigger "civil war-like conditions" across Germany to topple the federal government, according to the statement prosecutors made.

Authorities said the group began devising their three-step plan of action to take over the state in January of last year.

The plan included destroying the power supply to set off countrywide blackouts and kidnapping Karl Lauterbach, Germany's health minister — an unpopular figure among anti-vaxxers in the country

Police seized assault rifles and handguns

Finally, the plot involved having an actor pose as the country's president or chancellor to address the country in a television broadcast to "announce that the federal government had been deposed and that the constitution of 1871 was in force again," the statement said.

Three members, named in the indictment as Sven B., Thomas K., and Thomas O., organized themselves into a "military branch" — whose tasks included "procuring weapons and explosives" from "the former Yugoslavia" — while Elisabeth R. and Michael H. were the "administrative" segment of the plot.

Authorities arrested the four men when undercover police seized assault rifles and handguns from the suspects, according to The Washington Post. Police arrested Elisabeth R., from the eastern-German state of Saxony, later that year in October.

Calling themselves the "Vereinte Patrioten," or "United Patriots" in English, the members say they want to reinstate an authoritarian-style government reminiscent of the 19th-century German Empire — also known as the Second Reich.

This belief ties in with the country's nascent Reichsbürger movement, or "Citizens of the Reich," which does not recognize Germany's current parliamentary democracy as legitimate.

The movement, while initially obscure and with members being written off as "conspiracy theorists," has increasingly attracted followers with misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic as they refuse to adhere to any restrictions by federal or state authorities.

As of 2022, there are approximately 23,000 Reichsbürger members in Germany, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution estimated. Like many other present-day far-right movements, the group often uses the internet to spread their worldview, which includes an "affinity for weapons" and "openly antisemitic conspiracy theories," the office said.

This week's indictment follows another widely reported coup attempt — one that the principles of the Reichsbürger movement also guided. Led in part by a 71-year-old German aristocrat named Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, German authorities arrested in Berlin last December as they, too, hoped to overthrow the country's democracy.

While this most recent plan may appear fairly cartoonish, it is clear that the German investigators are "taking their threats seriously," Holger Schmidt, an expert on terrorism, told a German television network, according to The Guardian, especially after "they were found to have been in possession of heavy weapons and were trying to get hold of explosive material," Schmidt said.

The multiple coup attempts and the rise of the Reichsbürger movement point to a growing trend of extremist ideology in Germany and across the European continent.

Given the country's history with far-right extremism, politicians are focused on quelling any support of these ideologies. "Far-right extremism remains the biggest extremist threat to our democracy," Nancy Faeser, Germany's interior minister, said last summer. "We see a high degree of openness to violence here."

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