This event directed a lot of attention by the public, the media and the authorities towards the growing and escalating phenomenon of the “Reichsbürger” (Citizens of the Reich) and can be considered a watershed moment for this German variation of the freemen/sovereign movement, similar to the Austrian Walkner standoff (see here).
Here I want to start a series of closer looks at the German Reichsbürger movement, kicking it off with this more general overview, touching on history and ideology; similarities and differences with the US/UK freeman theories; important cases, players and groups as well as general information and sources.
Right at the beginning I want to point at several extremely helpful publications and websites that were created within the last few years in response to the growing phenomenon and that provide the foundation for this post.
The state with probably the most Reichsbürger activities, Berlin-Brandenburg (for orientation), published a well researched 200-page book simply called “Reichsbürger - A Handbook” with information and guidelines by several authors, freely available here
Two books mentioned by the judge in my translation of a German court case about a month ago (in this post) I have by now also found downloadable on the net:
Vorwärts in die Vergangenheit (“Back into the past - A view into some reich-ideological spaces”, a extremely detailed, 400-page look, especiall at arguments and counter-arguments, as well as a listing of hundreds of sources, collected and written between 2008 and 2015) can be downloaded here
Wir sind wieder da (“We are back again - Citizens of the Reich: Convictions, Risks and Strategies”, a nice 30 page summary) can be downloaded here
These last two links are provided by “Sonnenstaatland” (Sun-Nation-Country, often just “SSL”) https://www.sonnenstaatland.com, a German community-based website (started August 2012 as a satirical answer to the “foundation” of the “Republic Free Germany”) that keeps a critical eye on Reichsbürger activities. Especially its Quatloos-like forum, its Wiki and its official facebook account are of enourmous help in keeping up to date with the different individuals, groups and events within the movement.
Finally, the site KRR-FAQ (created by two individuals in 2001) is worth mentioning for its early work (pre 2010) and its still available archived information from a more historic point of view (KRR comes from “Kommissarische Reichsregierung” - “Temporary National Gouvernment”, one of the earliest Reichsbürger groups, by now used as a more general term). Its current activities are limited to a blog).
Technically, the term “Reichsbürger” identifies a specific sub-group of the German freemen movement, claiming to be citizens of the “German Reich” and not the Federal Republic of Germany, but by now it is commonly used as a more generic term, for all those that follow freemen-like ideas. It should be distinguished between the following trends within the movement:
The “Kommissarische Reichsregierungen” (“Temporary National Governments”), the oldest form, going back as far as 1985, are groups that claim that the Federal Republic of Germany does not exist - for some reason or another - and that there is still a “German Reich” (based on varying historic versions and constitutions - 1871, 1913, 1919, 1937, ...), usually represented by a self-declared cabinet.
The “Staatengründer” (“State Founders”) are groups that also deny the existence of the current German state but try to replace it with new, self-defined fantasy nations like “Germanitien”, “Freies Deutschland” (“Free Germany”) or “Freistaat Preußen” (“Free State of Prussia”), based on the usual curious interpretations of history and/or law.
The “Einzelgänger” (“Loners”) are individuals with a more vague agenda, generally also denying the nationhood of Germany, but with less of an alternative solution, who are either content with spewing their believes on the net or, at best, follow through with it when they see a benefit for themselves (not that the other groups don't do that, too).
The “Selbstverwalter” (Sovereigns - literally “self-administrators”), that come probably closest to the US/UK freemen idea, are often hooked on sovereign or oppt theories like cooperations, contract law and person versus human, but usually still with a German and sometimes esoteric touch.
The “Milieumanager” (“Milieumanager” - hey, that works in both languages) are people that have their own, egotistical interest in the destabilization of the German political, financial and social system - their choice of theories is rarely ideological. They are seeking publicity and attention, give lectures and stir up fear. They earn money with that, selling legal and financial advice, seminars and lectures, investment opportunities, newsletters and other media.
Note to “German Reich”
Technically, the term “German Reich” (“Deutsches Reich”) goes back as far as the year 962, to the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”. Much later the unified, imperial Germany, between 1871 and 1918, used it and it was usually translated to “German Empire”. When that nation turned Republic after the First World War it was started to be called “German Reich” in English-speaking countries (although the German term didn’t change), even in treaties, with “Reich” no longer translated to “Empire”, because in english “Empire” has a monarchic co-notation and there was no better literally translation for it. So in the Reichsbürger context “Deutsches Reich” could either mean the German Reich or the German Empire (but usually not the earlier Holy Empire or the later “Third Reich”, although there are exceptions).
The aforementioned “Reichsbürger - A Handbook” has a whole chapter comparing the US and German scene. I think that is an especially interesting subject for this site, as it’s focus is naturally on the US situation. The following texts are mostly translated extracts from that chapter (I present just the “Germany” side, because I assume the US situation is known to the reader).
A lot of themes and devices of the US freemen can be found with the “Reichsbürger”, but the reverse is not true. That and the earlier emergence of the movement in the US makes it clear that the foundation of many methods come from there and usually appear in Germany much later. While the origin of the “Reichsbürger” movement has specific reasons in the German history of the 20th century, they adopted many argument patterns and stylistic devices from the US scene. There is of course a significant cultural difference between the two countries, especially in the areas of individuality and freedom of choice. That the state is influencing and regulating most spheres of life is much more present in Germany than the US - and much more accepted, no matter the political camp.
World view and Conspiracy theories:
„Reichsbürger“ usually assume that the German Reich continued to exists after the collapse of 1945, while being occupied and controlled by the Allies (the focus is usually on the USA) and it is enough to simply reorganize it - or it had dissipated without successor and can now be newly created. The current “Federal Republic of Germany” is seen as either illegal, occupied, a trustee of the Reich or simply a private company. Because of that people believe they can organize their own administrations and simply “quit” the “BRD GmbH” (“Germany Ltd.”). This leads necessarily to illegal actions, including unpaid taxes, ignoring of official notifications, creation and use of fantasy papers and forged ID’s, fraud and violent threats, resulting in numerous conflicts with state authorities.
Law and Authority:
While the anglo-american legal system is primarily “case law” (based on precedence) the German jurisdiction (like most continental european legal systems influenced by the Napoleonic civil code) is based on “civil law” (or “code law”), extensive law texts that leave the individual judges little room for interpretation, with every case decision based anew on those laws. The idea to fall back to a “common law” is also foreign. “Reichsbürger”, having grown up in this tradition need written law as orientation for their theories and constructs. Therefore most ideas somehow point at earlier governments and constitutions, like the first democratic constitution of 1919 or the 1871 monarchy of the newly founded German Empire (often using the constitution in the version of 1913).
Like in the US it is common to separate between “person” and “human being” - but here often interpreted as a difference between “employee” (of German Ltd. - “BRD GmbH”) and “citizen” (as a strong evidence for their theory they like to point out that the classic government issued ID is called “Personalausweis” in German - while this would translate literally to “personal identity card” for every sane person, the German word “Personal” has also the meaning of “personnel” or “staff”, clearly a sign that this ID is really just an “employee card”). Name structures are similar to the US, like “Heinz of the family of Müller”. The supposed legal difference between upper and lower case letters can also be found in a way - all upper case letter are supposedly only used for “employees” of “German Ltd”.
There are no numbers available for the whole of Germany, but the state Brandenburg (with about 3% of the population of Germany) in 2014 estimated several hundred “Reichsbürger” in their territory alone, with numbers sharply rising. Former East-German states like Brandenburg have higher numbers than the rest of Germany, though (because of their greater economic and social problems after reunification). The scene in Germany is still growing, a number of different motivations provide a large group of potentials and the internet amplifies the attraction. It could be argued that the strong social safety net in Germany actually adds to the problem, because many “Reichsbürger” are long-term unemployed, that can spend most of their time online, “educating” themselves about the non-existence of Germany while living of government paid social benefits (the term “Hartz IV” pops up regularly, it is the common name for the minimum - but not time-limited - government support that is paid in Germany after a year of unemployment benefits).
“Reich” governments are usually strictly hierarchically structured, try to network nationwide and claim national relevance, sometimes with a revisionistic view (claiming the borders of the Greater German Reich). Individuals usually have only local aspirations.
Look and Presentation:
On license plates the emblem of the European Union is often covered by the colors of the Reich (black, white and red - these were the colors of the flag of the German Empire, but also of the Third Reich, contrary to Germans current flag of black, red and gold).
“Reichsbürger” are fundamentally revisionist and partly extremist, with a strong competition among them. Sovereigns, on the other hand, are usually politically dissatisfied or in financial troubles, with some amount of solidarity. There are of course also some intersections between these groups.
Connections with Extremism:
Many “Reichsbürger” have ideological or individual connections to right-wing extremism (fascism) in Germany. This is often expressed in radical anti-semitism, racism, militant xenophobia and their believe in a “Greater German Reich” either within the borders of the old German Empire or the ones from 1937. German Sovereigns (“Selbstverwalter”) are usually less involved in that scene.
Active, militant groups are the exception in Germany, the most notable one is the aforementioned “Deutsches Polizei Hilfswerk”.
Especially “Reich” governments create fictitious courts and send out decisions and documents - even death sentences - to civil servants and officials, sometimes to their private addresses.
Germany doesn’t know the term “paper terrorism” but the methods are quite similar. In long documents, national and international laws and verdicts are quoted extensively. If there is no reaction to their claims in time (usually 21 days), they assume that their position has been accepted - their act of self-administration, for example retiring their citizenship, became legal. Authorities are also often asked to provide specific legitimization.
The usual claim here is the “proclamation of the natural person according to §1 BGB” (German civil code - actually, §1 simply states “The capacity of a human being to be subject of legal rights and duties begins with the completion of birth.”). Afterwards the “Reichsbürger” believes that he or she is no longer citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany. Others refer to other federal or international laws like the “Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land”, the UN charter or UN resolutions - or simply “quit” their job at “German Ltd.”.
In the creation of fantasy credentials there are no real differences between the US and Germany. Vaguely claiming those documents were issued by “Germany” can (and has) lead to counterfeit charges.
Spreading the Word:
Similar methods are used here, spreading the respective theories through lectures and the internet. “Reich” governments try to give themselves a more respectable flair with “cabinet meetings” and press releases. Most groups still rely mostly on personal contacts.
Money for lectures as well as the selling of “official documents” and respective pamphlets are the main source of income. Some organisations have tried to create their own economic system (like the “Königreich Deutschland” - “Kingdom of Germany”) somewhere in the grey area between “Reichsbürger” and sovereigns.
In some cases authorities have tried to argue with “Reichsbürger”. The verdict of the administrative court Frankfurt on July 12th, 2011, made clear that this is not necessary (I love the the last of the 39! motions that the “Reichsbürger” made in that case - “The constant smiling of the judge gives me the impression that he doesn’t listen to my lecture. I believe that I am denied a sympathetic ear.”) - “these motions or claims are obviously abusing the legal system to spread their ideology and so they are missing the need for legal protection that is the prerequisite for a court to handle a case”. The rising number of activities by “Reichsbürger” increases the burden on the authorities and brings up safety issues (by the often present crowds of “witnesses” Reichsbürger bring to hearings). While criminal offences - and especially physical violence - is less likely in Germany than in the US, it can’t be ruled out and an escalation is noticeable. The theories of the “Reichsbürger” are more and more turning into ideology and can’t be stopped by administrative punishment and fines.
From a historical point of view we have to go back to 1985 to find the earliest (and very colorful) example of a “Reichsbürger” - Wolfgang Ebel. Born 1939 he grew up in East-Germany and started working for the “Reichsbahn”, the nationalized East-German railway company, in 1965. He led a local railway worker strike in 1980 (strikes officially didn’t exist in the communist “workers paradise”) and lost his job because of it. He fled to West-Germany and there he tried to get himself acknowledged as a civil servant (including the respective pay and privileges - like life-time employment). One problem with that was that East-German railway workers weren’t civil servants in the first place. His stories became stranger and crazier, including a claim that his appointment as civil servant - by Hitler himself - goes as far back as 1945. Some people dared to point out that he was just 6 at the time.
Finally in 1985 he stepped onto the stage as the first “Reichsbürger”. He claimed that the “allied occupying forces” have appointed him chancellor of a “Kommissarische Reichsregierung” (“Temporary National Government”), sending a self-made certificate to the mayor of Berlin on September 12th. Surprisingly he found other people - even in this pre-internet time - that played along with his delusions. He formed regularly changing cabinets and was quite active until his death. He sent a lot of letters and declarations to the US embassy, the US military command in Berlin and even the UN in New York, assuming his actions were “sanctioned” when there was no answer within 21 days (there never was). He created a “Reichs” court which harassed officials with endless series of warrants and sentences, sold IDs and driver's licenses, gave lectures and sold titles, provided advice in legal matters, handed out permits and eventually leased a Berlin property to another fantasy country (“Principality Sealand”) - without the actual owner’s approval or even knowledge. While many of his activities were clearly illegal he mostly got away with it, because the courts declared him “mentally incompetent”, a psychiatric evaluation found him suffering from schizophrenia.
He reached a slightly wider audience when the right-wing esoteric magazine 2000plus (“Magazine for spiritual and supernatural Themes”) published an extensive interview with him, after he appointed owner Ingrid Schlotterbeck cabinet minister. On December 29th, 2014, he died, leaving behind a plethora of different “national governments” and a legacy of elements that can still be found in many current “Reichsbürger” organizations. Many of his theories and actions are still copied today and the abbreviation of “Kommissarische Reichsregierung” - KRR - has become a common term for similar activities.
While the rise and fall of other “Reich” governments, organizations and individuals will be the subject of future posts, the next phase that was important for the entire Reichbürger movement began in 2006. The “Interim Partei Deutschland” (“Interim Party Germany”) formed and for the next few years, especially because of the growing importance of the internet for the movement, the party and it’s web presence became a melting pot for all the different groups and individuals. Many ideas and arguments that are now standard for the “Reichsbürger” ideology have developed and matured there. The two leading figures where Holocaust-denier and self-proclaimed “First mayor of the Free City of Hamburg” Edgar Romano Ludowici and Manuel Kraschinski, who was front-runner of the party in 2009 state elections (he won 858 votes). In 2010 a power struggle between the two lead to a split and the different “Reichsbürger” organizations returned to focus on their own interests and fight over the one real truth against each other.
Today there exists an ever growing number of groups and individuals, a mess of ideas and ideologies. The Wiki of the aforementioned website Sonnenstaatland provides lists of fantasy governments and organizations (updated March 2016) with the respective “leader”:
Deutsches Kaiserreich (“German Empire” - Norbert Schittke) - refers to 1871
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Markus Noack) - refers to 1933
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Alexander_Schlowak) - refers to 1913
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Frank Schmidt) - refers to 1919
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Peter Lidt) - refers to 1919
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Volker Linke) - refers to 1919
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Stefan Görlitz) - refers to 1919
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Erhard Lorenz) - refers to 1871
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Matthes Haug) - refers to 1919
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Peggy Trabger) - refers to 1919
Deutsches Reich (“German Reich” - Jörg Storm) - refers to 1919
Deutschland (“Germany” - Dagmar Tiertsch) - refers to 1871
Deutschland (“Germany” - Karina Richter) - refers to 1919
Deutschland (“Germany” - Dagmar Tiertsch) - refers to 1871
Freies Deutschland (“Free Germany” - Peter Frühwald) - refers to 1919
Freistaat Lichtland (“Free Nation Lightland” - Helmut Schätzlein) - independent
Freistaat Preußen (“Free Nation Preussen” - Thomas Mann) - independant
Freistaat Preußen (“Free Nation Preussen” - Bäbel Redlhammer) - independant
Fürstentum Germania (“Principality Germania” - Jessie Marsson) - independant
Fürstentum Sealand (“Principality Sealand” - Johannes Seoger) - independant
Germanitien (“Germanitien” - Ulrike Kuklinski) - refers to declaration of human rights
Heiliges Römisches Reich (“Holy Roman Empire“ - Gerhard v.d. Heyden) - independant
Königreich Atlantis (“Kingdom of Atlantis” - Wilfried Laurig) - independant
Königreich Deutschland (“Kingdom Germany” - Peter Fitzek) - independant
Königreich Deutschland (“Kingdom Germany” - Jürgen Nemitz) - independant
Republik Freies Deutschland (“Republik Free Germany” - Heinz Oppel) - refers to 1919
Staatenbund der Königreiche Wedenland (“Commonwealth of the Wedenland Kingdoms” - Thomas Patock) - independant
Staatenbund Deutscher Völker (“Commonwealth of German People” - Uwe Voßbruch) - pending
Staatenbund Österreich (“Commonwealth of Austria” - Monika Unger) - pending
Zweites Deutsches Reich (“Second German Reich” - Volker Ludwig) - refers to 1919
Deutsche Nationalversammlung (“German National Convent” - Ferdinand Karnath)
Deutsches Polizei Hilfswerk (“German Auxiliary Police Organization” - Volker Schöne)
Deutsches Amt für Menschenrechte (“German Authority for Human Rights” - Mustafa Selim Sürmeli)
Freiheit für Deutschland (“Freedom for Germany” - Detlef Spaniol)
Heimatbund Chiemgau (“Native Coalition Chiemgau” - Josef Eiglsperger)
Justiz-Opfer-Hilfe (“Help for victims of the legal system” - Marion Benz)
Kommission 146 (“Comission 146” - Norbert Gogolin)
Staatenbund 1871 (“Commonwealth 1871” - Stefan Weinmann)
Staatenlos (“Without Nation” - Rüdiger Hoffmann)
Verband Deutscher Rechtssachverständiger (“Group for German Legal Experts” - Ralf Mauring)
Zentralrat Deutschland (“Central Council Germany” - Heino Janßen)
That's a lot of material for future posts ...