The “Reichsbürger” and developments around the far right internationally

Takis Yiannopoulos

The revelation about the past and present activities of the “Reichsbürger” (Citizens of the Reich) in Germany has certainly shocked many people around the world. A plan for a far-right coup in the most powerful country of the EU and one of the G7 (the group of the 7 most powerful economies of the West) at first sight looks more like a sci-fi scenario rather than a realistic development. Yet, it is true and it is another episode in the series of the growing threat of the far right on an international scale.

Let us just remember that:

  • In France, one year ago, a group of 20 generals and 1,000 active and retired servicemen sent an open letter to President Macron in which they were essentially threatening him with a coup. Among the reasons they stated for this project was the state of disintegration in which the country had fallen into. Marine Le Pen, a candidate for Presidency who received 41% of the vote in the last presidential election, invited them to join her party.
  • On January 20, 2021, a mob of far-right Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol undisturbed by the police, claiming that the elections were rigged and Biden stole Trump’s victory.
  • In Brazil, Bolsonaro’s defeat was a close call; he got 51 million votes and his supporters also attempted a similar attack to Trump’s in Brasília.
  • In Italy, now ruled by Mussolini’s past admirer Georgia Meloni, together with the far-right League and Berlusconi, a group of Forza Nuova neo-fascists attacked the offices of the country’s largest workers’ confederation (CGIL) in Rome in April 2020.
  • In Ukraine, the fascists have a clear influence in the government and the armed forces.
  • In Russia, Putin openly collaborates with fascists like A. Dugin and V. Zhirinovsky and retains links to far right parties internationally.
  • In other countries (e.g. Austria, Sweden, Estonia, etc.) the far-right participates in governments, while in Hungary the far-right Orbán is the longest serving president in any EU country.

These are just some examples that show that the far right in various forms is on the rise internationally. The political establishment and the ruling class media might pretend to be shocked every time there is a new success of the far right, but when they manage to enter into office, it is business as usual.

The far right is adaptive and flexible

During the 1990s, the mainstream media and the capitalist governments appeared to be “shocked” by the rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen (the father of Marine Le Pen) in France, or Gerhard Heider in Austria and Gianfranco Fini in Italy. Yet, they gradually not only accepted them, but actually adopted much of their xenophobic and reactionary political agenda.

Even more so today, they pretend to be shocked by Meloni’s victory in their speeches, but in practice the Italian industrialists, with media tycoon Berlusconi in the lead, supported her rise and then allied themselves with her. Today, all European politicians – including Charles Michel – are discussing with her in a relaxed way, as if she was yet another head of state.

Of course, Meloni has also been keeping a low profile after her electoral victory:

  • she has not yet taken any steps towards banning abortion (which was one of the promises of her campaign),
  • she has forced the country’s education minister to rephrase his statement that humiliation is a “fundamental factor in growth and character formation” 
  • she agreed to allow the first migrant ships to moor in Italian ports,
  • above all, she is clearly supporting the EU and NATO choices, especially on the issue of the war in Ukraine.

This is, of course, only one of the faces of the far-right. Another, rather hardline, part is contemplating coups and dictatorships. Some of them are even trying to organise them. 

Alt-right – “Alternative Right”

What is called alt-right internationally, i.e. the alternative right, is mainly characterised by adapting its positions to the current framework and by constantly attempting to diligently conceal its Nazi origins. This strategy aims at softening aspects of its anti-Semitic, homophobic and racist positions, in order to appear as just another normal political force claiming a place in the political scene.

This policy was initiated years ago by Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France; this was the origin of her conflict with her father (and founder of the party) and led to changing the name and the statutes of the party.

For example, the hard line calling to expel all foreigners was softened by a position of accepting “legal” immigrants and asking to deport the “illegal ones”. At the same time, they are portraying themselves as been patriots who love their country and not nationalists.

It is now possible to see homosexual or even black politicians in the leadership of far-right organisations.

In addition, they have now broadened the political issues on their agenda. Apart from the traditional ones (nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) they have also developed positions against the right to abortion, against the theory of the evolution of species, sex education and religious studies (i.e. the study of different religions instead of propaganda for one religion) being included in the national education program, etc. For today’s far-right, the climate crisis is a myth, while mining is the main solution to the economic problems of the countries from which each far-right organisation/party originates.

This strategy has been adopted by most far-right parties, first in Europe and then internationally. Pure Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece, NPD in Germany, etc, after their initial successes, tended to stagnate or become marginalised, which led them to splits, court cases, loss of members and influence.

At the same time, the far right is making use of the poor knowledge of history that the younger generations possess, as well as the long years separating them from the end of World War II. For example, according to a survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany conducted in all 50 US states in September 2020, about two-thirds of US young people are unaware that six million Jews died during the Holocaust, while more than one in ten believe that Jews were responsible for it.

As the Guardian reports, 48% of adults between 18 and 39 years old, who participated in the survey, were unable to name a single Nazi concentration camp from the World War II era, while nearly a quarter of participants (23%) claimed that the Holocaust is a myth or an exaggerated narrative. Total ignorance of Nazi crimes against the Jews of Europe is scored by 12% of the same age group, who told the survey that they had not heard or did not think they had heard of the Holocaust.

The “International” of the far right

The far right is trying to coordinate internationally. A few years ago, Steve Bannon, a close associate of Donald Trump, attempted to build a pan-European network based in Italy. Matteo Salvini and Marine Le Pen organised international meetings with the participation of sixteen European far-right parties. Similar meetings were organised by the Spanish VOX in Madrid, which among other things is trying to unite Latin American far-right groups.

If the different political groups who shelter far-right parties in the European Parliament are added up together, the far-right becomes the second force on the basis of the current balance of forces.

Meanwhile, on November 20 last year, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held in Mexico. This 51-years-old far-right movement was launched by ultra-conservative politicians in the USA. The following salutation sent by D. Trump is indicative of the anti-communist ambience of the conference:

“We must stop the spread of socialism and not allow it to continue to drive us from our lands…”

Among the participants were José Antonio Kast, a Pinochet dictatorship supporter from Chile, who lost in the second round of the presidential election to Gabriel Boric; former Brazilian president’s son and senator, Eduardo Bolsonaro; Keiko Fujimori, the former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori’s daughter; the daughter and representative of the Hungarian President Orbàn; Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish far-right party VOX, etc.

How we respond to the far right today

The far right is evolving, mutating, adapting and developing in all its possible versions. From its more moderate to its most hard-line forms.

Obviously the threat to the people’s democratic rights and freedoms is evident. The financial crisis and the political vacuum we are witnessing, coupled with a growing tendency to question ideologies and actually reason itself, and most of all the lack of a convincing political alternative from the Left are leaving the road open for the far right to increase its forces.

In the last two years in Greece for example, eight new far-right parties have been created, apart from the already existing ones. In a recent poll, four of them combined scored 9.3%.

The views of the far-right – inside and outside the government – on a number of issues, such as refugees, the LGBTQI community, Greek-Turkish relations, how to deal with increasing crime, etc., seem to be welcomed by a wide audience. According to a survey, although the hard core of the far right is at 7.5%, it seems that they can reach percentages as high as 23% and have a potential audience of around 43%!

We need therefore to respond to the far-right arguments with patience, well-founded counter-arguments and solid knowledge of history. We need to be able to expose the hypocritical anti-systemic propaganda of the far right and to constantly intervene in a methodical way in any possible field: schools, universities, workplaces, neighbourhoods, sports events, the media, the internet, etc.

It is also crucial to promote a coherent alternative social model and an alternative vision of society. The far right is taking advantage of the distortion and falsification of real socialist ideas by the Social Democratic and Stalinist parties and this is how it builds its anti-communism.

When responding in detail and with arguments to each of the issues raised by the far-right agenda, we should link them to the struggle for the overthrow of the capitalist system, and that is the point on which the far-right and the Nazis are exposed.

Fascists pretend to be on the side of the people and to be anti-capitalist. Yet, you can hardly find anything anti-capitalist in their positions. Of course there is not a single shred of analysis in their programs as to what exactly their “anti-capitalism” entails.

After all, Adolf Hitler, their mentor, came to power and entered into parliament, with the lavish support of German capital.

We need to explain in detail that the further strengthening of the far right represents a risk for dictatorships and wars. It will also promote even greater immunity and more brutal attacks by capital, as well as further impunity, corruption and wealth accumulation for the political elite. And, of course, a stronger far-right will only contribute to the crushing of what is left of the democratic rights and freedoms, which we have won through decades of struggle. Ultimately this is their real political program.

The anti-fascist movement and the revolutionary Left are faced with historic tasks. They can fight off the Nazis and the right-wing if they are united, militant and patient.

The history of the “Reichsbürger”

The “Reichsbürger” used to be a loose coalition of nationalist organisations throughout Germany since 1980. In recent years it has been transformed into its current version, still including key members of the former alliance.  

Their basic position is that modern Germany and its political institutions are controlled by a puppet government installed by the winners of World War II, and this is supposedly rendering this government illegitimate. Many members of the “Reichsbürger” argue that the Third Reich (which ended in 1945 with the defeat of Germany) should return to its pre-1937 borders, which included large tracts of land in Poland, the Czech Republic and other neighbouring countries.

The organisation has become increasingly visible since 2010, with some members displaying violent activity since 2013. The BfV (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) estimated that more than 10,500 criminal offences were committed by members of the organisation between 2015 and mid-2017.

In 2017, further to a relevant question from Focus, the BfV (charged with, among other things, monitoring extremist organisations) replied that the number of members of the movement had reached 15,600 in January 2016; that was an increase of more than 50% in one year. Most of the extremists were in Bavaria, where they were estimated at about 3,500. Next comes Baden-Wuerttemberg with 2,500 and then North Rhine-Westphalia with 2,200, followed by 1,400 in Lower Saxony and 1,300 in Saxony.

The first murder by a member of the Reichsbürger was recorded in 2017: this member killed a police officer during a house search. Incidents started to increase after 2020, when the “movement” managed to penetrate demonstrations against pandemic restriction measures.

However, the emergence of far-right cells in the armed bodies of the state is not a recent affair. The then Defence Minister Anegret Kramp-Karebauer in 2020 disbanded an entire unit of the special forces because they used Nazi symbols. Further to the murderous activities of the neo-Nazi NSU, it was also revealed that the secret services had infiltrated the organisation but were not interfering to… protect their informants. 

According to intelligence and also academic research, some 21,000 people are involved in the Reichsbürger, 500 of who legally carry weapons.

According to German MPs, the organisation intended to create 286 units aiming to assist in the coup by capturing and executing enemies. Preparations had already started in Saxony, Thuringia and Baden-Württemberg. Furthermore, more than 400,000 euros were found in cash, gold and silver coins, as well as gold bars worth six million euros. The close circle of conspirators also had satellite telephones assuring secure communications.

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