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German Special Forces arrest 25 people for a plot to overthrow the government

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

German forces have arrested numerous people for allegedly plotting to overthrow the German government. The suspects in this coup attempt are members of a number of far-right extremist groups that allegedly are Qanon followers influenced by ideas from the United States. NPR's Esme Nicholson is in Berlin. Hi there.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are you learning?

NICHOLSON: Well, Germany's federal prosecutor has so far confirmed that a group of 52 people are suspected of plotting a violent coup against the government. That was to include targeted killings of state representatives. He also says there are indications the group was planning to storm the Bundestag, the lower house, with a small army. Police have detained 25 suspects who come from a number of far-right political groupings, including the so-called Reichsburger, the Reichs citizens who don't recognize the modern German state and want to abolish democracy. Others are members of the so-called Querdenker scene, which is a Qanon-inspired movement which sprung up during the pandemic and consists mainly of radicalized corona deniers who adhere to conspiracy theories. And one of those detained is a Russian citizen suspected of supporting the group.

INSKEEP: Now, of all those things you said, the thing that leaped out for me the most was the idea of storming the Bundestag, because that sounds like the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. It sounds like from the other things that you said, that people were influenced by movements in the United States, at least partly.

NICHOLSON: Yes, that's true, partly, as you know, based on the information we have so far. On the other hand, far-right extremists in Germany have a long history. And there is a broad church, if you will, or a broad spectrum of of far-right extremists. The federal prosecutor today actually spoke about the group's alleged leader, a 71-year-old man who goes by the name of Prince Heinrich XIII of Reuss, who is a descendant from German royalty, which, of course, was abolished a century ago. Allegedly, this man was going to be installed as the new leader of Germany as part of this coup. The federal prosecutor went on to say that this man was starting to nominate ministers for a post-coup government, including a former German army paratrooper as head of its military wing. So, yes, there's a mix of of influence from the U.S., but a lot of this is homegrown.

INSKEEP: Is it clear to you from what the prosecutor general said anyway, if this is a serious plot that had serious chances of doing damage as opposed to someone's fantasy?

NICHOLSON: At the moment, investigations are undergoing. And it isn't clear at this stage just how capable the group would have been in their aims to stage a coup and - or just how many weapons they had amassed. German domestic intelligence estimates there are about 21,000 so-called Reichsburger who reject the modern German state and democracy. But only a very small percentage are considered to be violent and are considered to be a threat to democracy, which will be about 5% to 10%. It's not insignificant, certainly, but it's really not clear how successful they would have been. That said, there is serious concern. And the interior minister, Nancy Faeser, has condemned this group. And since taking an office a year ago, she's really cracked down on the far right. By contrast, her predecessors focused much more on Islamist extremism and the far left.

INSKEEP: Esme Nicholson is in Berlin. Thanks for the update.

NICHOLSON: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Esme Nicholson