Right-wing Populism in Germany and The “Reichsbürger” Movement

Ozgur Tufekci

Ozgur Tufekci is Associate Professor of International Relations at Karadeniz Technical University, Turkey. He is also the founder and Director-General of CESRAN International

More than 150 residences were searched by German police on December 7, 2022, and 25 people were detained in connection with an alleged coup attempt by followers of the “Reichsbürger” movement. This one was one of the greatest anti-terrorism investigations in the Federal Republic of Germany’s history (Falk, 2022).

Right-wing Populism

Right-wing populism is a political ideology that combines populist rhetoric and policies with right-wing positions on issues such as nationalism, anti-immigration, law and order, and traditional cultural values. It often involves an “us versus them” mentality, portraying the political and economic elites as enemies of the people and champions of the common man. Right-wing populist leaders often advocate for an authoritarian style of governance and emphasize the need to protect the interests of the nation or a specific group of the population.

Right-wing populism is not a recent development. Since the end of World War II, revisionist ideologies have gained traction and been embraced by neo-Nazi or right-wing extremist parties like the British National Party (BNP), French National Front/Le Front National, and Austrian Freedom Party (FP). While many of the “new” right-wing discourses bear similarities to older, well-known ideologies (Mammone, 2009), it has been argued that right-wing populism differs from those other trends in that it does not convey a coherent ideology instead proposing a mixed-bag of beliefs, stereotypes, attitudes, and related programs which aim to address and mobilize a range of equally contradictory segments of the electorate.

Right-wing populism in Germany: Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)

In the grand scheme of history, the past century has been extraordinary for Germany and Germans. A magnificent historical moment occurred in November 1989 with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Additionally, it indicated the start of a procedure. On October 3, 1990, the two German nations were united politically, but a more extensive and profound social and cultural transition had only begun.

Germany would once again have to reckon with its history, answer concerns about its identity, and struggle to define its connections, position, and duty in a changing Europe after the end of the Cold War.

Right-wing populism in Germany has evolved over the years and has had various political movements and parties associated with it. One of the earliest right-wing populist movements in Germany was the Republicans party[1], formed in 1983. They were anti-immigration and anti-EU, and gained some support in the 1990s, but have since declined in popularity. In recent years, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has emerged as a major player in right-wing populist politics.

Source: Statista, 2022

In 2013, the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) was founded as a party with a focus on economic and fiscal sovereignty problems in Germany. Before 2015, there didn’t appear to be much interest in the topic of immigrants in Germany. Yet, the tone shifted along with the refugee crisis of late summer 2015 which provided the impetus for a veritable resurrection of the demonstrations, and most Germans supported capping the number of refugees.

The AfD won 92 seats in the Bundestag and 12.6 percent of the vote in the elections held in September 2017 to become a member of the national legislature. AfD’s nationwide vote percentage decreased in the 2021 federal election to 10.3 percent from 12.6 percent in 2017, but the party still won the most seats in the states of Saxony and Thuringia and performed well in eastern Germany (Deutsche Welle, 2021).

The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party is typically regarded by the mainstream media and political scholars as a right-wing populist party in Germany. Many experts have labelled the AfD as a populist because of its emphasis on anti-immigration, Euroscepticism, and resistance to liberal democratic institutions, as well as its rhetoric about maintaining German identity. Similar to the rise of right-wing populist parties, Germany has experienced the rise of radical movements, as well. The reichsbürger movement is one of them.

Share of Eligible Voters With Populist Attitudes in Germany in 2020

Source: Statista, 2020

The Reichsbürger movement

The “citizens of the empire” (or “reichsbürger”) movement originated in Germany and shares ideas with the “sovereign citizens” movements[2] in the US, Canada, and the UK. The Federal Republic of Germany is not a sovereign state, and as a result, the laws and regulations it enforces are not enforceable, according to the Reichsbürger movement, which covers a variety of ideologies.

The Federal Republic of Germany, commonly referred to as the “BRD GmbH” (Federal Republic of Germany – Limited Liability Company), is believed by many members of the Reichsbürger movement to be a company (Kleikamp, 2015). Similar assertions are common among groups of sovereign citizens in the US who feel their nation has turned into a company, however they dispute as to whether this occurred in the 1800s or after the US abandoned the gold standard.

There is no agreement among Reichsbürgers on Germany’s final lawful form of governance, much like among their American counterparts. The Third Reich, according to certain members of the Reichsbürger movement, is still there but occupied. Some claim that the German Empire of 1871 is still in effect.

Right-wing extremist and antisemitic organizations in Germany find the Reichsbürger movement to be the perfect ally because of their historical revisionism. However, not all supporters of the Reichsbürger movement are right-wing extremists; just around 5% of the Reichsbürger, according to the German domestic intelligence agencies (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz), fall into this category.

This number, however, it may appear small, illustrates the enormous variety of philosophies and views present in the scene. Reichsbürger beliefs are less of an all-encompassing worldview than they are a piece of a growing patchwork of conspiracy-theory-based ideologies, which expanded more quickly as anti-lockdown groups gained popularity. The intelligence services believed that 19,000 persons in Germany were affiliated with the Reichsbürger movement in 2019. The amount had increased to 23,000 by 2022 (Tanno and Schmidt, 2023).

Coup Attempt and What to Expect Now?

To achieve its main aim, the members of the Reichsbürger movement attempted a coup on December 7, 2022. As a result, more than 150 residences were searched by German police and 25 people were detained in connection with an alleged coup attempt by followers of the “Reichsbürger” movement. A German noble dynasty Prince, an active-duty judge who is also a former AfD politician, an active-duty soldier, and former members of the German army are among the members of the group who were detained on allegations of organizing an armed coup attempt with an operation. With the exception of one person, who is a Russian citizen, all the inmates are citizens of Germany. They were charged with forming a terrorist organization that planned to carry out an armed coup against the constitutional order of the Federal Republic of Germany.

They were led by a businessman Heinrich XIII, Prince Reuss, and the conspirators—including soldiers, police officers, and a judge—aimed to forcibly replace the incumbent government with a new political system. These individuals share the ideological foundation of the so-called Reichsbürger (“citizens of the Reich”) ideology (Juling, 2023).

It is evident that during the previous years, the Reichsbürger movement’s way of thinkings and conspiracy theories have transitioned from an under-the-radar movement to a tangible and significant terrorist danger in the eyes of German institutions. For now, it seems that the Reichsbürger movement lost its abilities and influence. Yet, considering the right-wing populism influence in Germany, it would not naïve to expect new fringe groups to erupt in the coming days/years.


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “The Republicans”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Mar. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Republicans. Accessed on 19 April 2023.

Deutsche Welle, (2021), “Germany’s far-right populist AfD: No gains, small losses”, Accessed on 19 April 2023.

Falk, T. O., (2022), “Why Germany Is Struggling to Address the Reichsbürger Threat”, https://foreignpolicy.com/author/thomas-o-falk/.  Accessed on 19 April 2023.

ISD Global, (2021), “Sovereign Citizens”, https://www.isdglobal.org/explainers/sovereign-citizens/. Accessed on 19 April 2023.

Juling, D. (2023), “Reichsbürger: An Old German Ideology in New Clothing?”, https://www.illiberalism.org/reichsburger-an-old-german-ideology-in-new-clothing/, Accessed on 19 April 2023.

Kleikamp, A. (2015), “Hilfe, existiert das Deutsche Reich etwa noch?”, https://www.welt.de/geschichte/article143672017/Hilfe-existiert-das-Deutsche-Reich-etwa-noch.html, Accessed on 19 April 2023.

Mammone, A. (2009), “The Eternal Return? Faux Populism and Contemporarization of Neo-Fascism across Britain, France and Italy”, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 17:2, 171-192, DOI: 10.1080/14782800903108635

Tanno, S and Schmidt, N. (2023), “The far out, far-right plot that Germany is still trying to unravel”, https://edition.cnn.com/2023/03/25/europe/germany-reichsbuerger-movement-explainer-intl/index.html, Accessed on 19 April 2023.

[1] The Republicans (Die Republikaner, REP) is a national conservative political party in Germany. The Republicans’ founders were dissident members of the Christian Social Union who had protested that party’s role in arranging credit for communist East Germany. They were soon joined by members of the former Citizens’ Party outside Bavaria. The Republicans’ chairman from 1985 to 1994 was Franz Schönhuber, a former volunteer in the Nazi Waffen SS. The party called for lower business taxes, restrictions on foreign residents and an end to immigration, and an emphasis on law and order. In its first national election in June 1989, the party shocked the political establishment, winning more than 7 percent of the votes for delegates to the European Parliament. Its biggest success came in state elections that year in Bavaria, where it won nearly 15 percent of the vote, and in Baden-Württemberg (Encyclopedia Britannica).

[2] The Sovereign Citizens movement comprises a highly heterogenous anti-government ideology that originated in the United States spreading to other Commonwealth countries. Adherents are united in their belief that governments illegitimately rules over them. They live under the assumption that by declaring themselves sovereign, they are not obliged to abide with government legislation (ISD Global, 2021).

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