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German conspiracy kings attract growing following

After this week’s arrests, security services say they fear a much larger circle of informal Reichsbürger sympathisers

Locals in Wittenberg, 100km southwest of Berlin, were surprised to learn this week of alleged plans to topple German democracy and install a monarchy because, as far as they were aware, they already had a king.

Dawn raids on Wednesday ended with 25 people remanded in custody, accused of membership of a terrorist organisation, including Heinrich XIII Prinz zu Reuss.

The 71-year-old aristocrat is allegedly linked to the Reichsbürger movement, which disputes postwar Germany’s legitimacy. Heinrich XIII – backed by a new cabinet and an armed militia – allegedly had notions of being Germany’s new king.

But Reuss is a pretender to the throne. Nine years ago Peter Fitzek – a charismatic eastern German karate teacher with gelled-back hair and a ponytail – crowned himself, draped in an ermine stole, “supreme sovereign of the Kingdom of Germany”.

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In the decade since locals in Wittenberg have looked on with amusement as their local monarch opened his own “Reichsbank”.

For a minimum payment of €50, people can become a subject of a kingdom that promises “peace and friendship with all peoples, a pharma lobby-free health system, all-round education, truthful media reporting and protection of the earth”.

Within a year Fitzek says his Reichsbank had collected €1.2 million in deposits. The decade since has seen him collect a remarkable record of convictions, suspended sentences and some short prison terms, mostly for driving without a licence – but he continues to attract followers.

“My state has grown to 5,500 subjects who pay no taxes in the federal republic,” said Fitzek this week, launching banknotes with his image and coins featuring famous figures from Mozart to Rudolf Steiner. “It makes sense to have our own currency as we have our own firms, property, health insurer and bank.”

Now 56, Fitzek denies direct ties to the Reichsbürger movement. In recent years, though, he and his supporters have had open connections to Covid deniers and other conspiracy theory groups in the Reichsbürger world – many of whom working now to capitalise fears around the cost-of-living crisis.

With an estimated 20,000 active Reichsbürger in Germany – and 1,100 considered extremist and dangerous – security services said after this week’s arrests that they fear a much larger circle of informal Reichsbürger sympathisers.

A diffuse organisation with no central structures, what unites Reichsbürger is a refusal to recognise the modern German state, with the Fitzek group demanding a return to the borders of 1937.

Many Fitzek followers have given their life savings or sold their homes and, with the proceeds, moved into a growing number of “Common Good” Fitzek communities around eastern Germany: a disused hospital, a former hotel and, most recently, a run-down castle in the village of Boxberg, 100km northeast of Dresden.

Locals in Boxberg say the new arrivals are mostly young families with alternative views and self-sufficiency lifestyles, but that the community has the air of a sect.

Former mayor Achim Junker says he has never met Fitzek but had a bad feeling when his visit, to welcome the new arrivals, ended with a curious conversation with the caretaker.

“I reminded him to register the people’s new address in the town hall and he said that wouldn’t be happening, that they have their own registration office for things like that,” Junker told The Irish Times. “These people clearly are looking for a leadership figure and have found it in Fitzek.”

Online, “Kingdom of Germany” chat groups accessed by The Irish Times buzz with conspiracy talk, jargon and warm words for their supreme ruler.

“Peter comes across as very authentic and warm,” wrote Tanja in one chat group. “I look forward that more people find their way to us and build up parallel structures of a new society.”

This week’s Reichsbürger raids have unsettled many in Boxberg, in particular because the “Kingdom of Germany” group has been placed under observation by Saxony’s constitutional protection (intelligence) office (LfV).

Last year alone the LfV registered a 66 per cent jump within 12 months Reichsbürger members in its state, to about 1,900.

“The corona pandemic offered conspiracy theorists – and Reichsbürger – a rich breeding round for their crude theories,” said Dirk-Martin Christian, Saxon LfV president.

His office has issued an “urgent warning” to people that investing in Peter Fitzek’s schemes could see them lose everything.

Unlike the 25 suspected Reichsbürger group members now on for remand for allegedly planning a coup d’état, Peter Fitzek is careful to skirt legal limits.

Germany’s financial regulator BaFin has taken on Fitzek over his illegal bank but concedes that “as an administrative body” it “cannot lead criminal proceedings” to close down his financial schemes.

Nor have this week’s arrests had any effect. This weekend, an online Kingdom of Germany seminar promises practical advice on avoiding “the Great Reset”, a popular online conspiracy that claims a global elite is using the coronavirus pandemic to dismantle capitalism and enforce radical social change.

King Peter I’s urgent message: become a subject to “exculpate oneself and [help] establish our own economic system”.