German police arrest dozens of far-right extremists attempting a coup

More than two dozen people suspected of plotting an armed coup have been arrested in raids carried out across Germany. The suspects are linked to a far-right extremist group and had allegedly begun preparations to carry out a plot that included storming the capitol and executing the chancellor. Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than two dozen people suspected of plotting an armed coup have been arrested in raids carried out across Germany.

    The suspect are linked to a far right extremist group and had allegedly begun preparations to carry out a violent plot that included storming the German capitol and executing top government officials.

    Amna Nawaz has the story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Under the cover of night, an alarming plot foiled by German special forces.

  • Peter Frank, German Federal Prosecutor (through translator):

    Several members of the terrorist organization considered entering the German Parliament through the use of force.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Twenty-five people were arrested, suspected of planning a coup to overthrow the German government, all allegedly connected to the Reich Citizens movement, a far right extremist group that denies the legitimacy of Germany's postwar government.

    Germany's top security official:

  • Nancy Faeser, German Interior Minister (through translator):

    The suspected terrorist group uncovered today was founded based on coup d'etat fantasies and conspiracy ideologies.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Twenty-two of those arrested are alleged members of the group. Three others are alleged supporters. Two more were detained in Italy and Austria, and 27 others are still being investigated.

    The German newspaper Der Spiegel identified two suspected ringleaders, one a prince and well-known member of minor nobility, the other a former paratrooper. Police raids are not unusual in Germany, a country still haunted by its Nazi past, but the scale of the operation was rare.

    Prosecutors say some 3,000 officers conducted searches at 130 sites across the country. Officials say the coup plot was extensive, with a plan to set up a new state complete with a military arm.

  • Nancy Faeser (through translator):

    The investigations provide a glimpse into the abyss of a terrorist threat.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A glimpse into the group's past shows the danger it presents. In 2020, supporters attempted to storm the German Parliament. The year before, the group killed a politician. German intelligence believes about 21,000 people are involved in the Reich Citizens movement. Five percent of them are seen as extremists.

    German officials are calling the rate of success for national security. And they have made it clear that tough actions against extremism must and will continue.

    Let's take a closer look at the extremist forces behind the plot in Germany and whether the approach of the German government offers any lessons for the U.S.

    Heidi Beirich is the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. She has tracked extremist movements for more than two decades.

    Heidi, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you for joining us.

    Heidi Beirich, Global Project Against Hate and Extremism: Thanks for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, 25 arrests in this case, over 130 sites searched. What does the size and the scale of this operation tell us about the threat?

  • Heidi Beirich:

    Yes, well, this is probably one of the largest domestic terrorist operations ever undertaken by the German intelligence agencies.

    And the movement that these folks who are arrested comes from has more than 20,000 followers. That's according to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Germany. It's a pretty large movement that already has a track record of violence, including killing cops, has connections to the military, and were also involved in an attempted storming of the capitol there.

    So, this is something very serious. And it was a full-fledged coup attempt in Germany.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you know how close, how capable they were of actually implementing this plan?

  • Heidi Beirich:

    It doesn't seem clear exactly how far along they got.

    The things that we do know is that they had appointed their own minister of justice and minister of culture. They had somebody in line to lead the new military that they were going to create. We know they had weapons, and we know they did weapons training.

    How far they could have actually gone, in terms of going to Berlin and taking over government offices, I think that's very unclear and probably somewhat unlikely. But this isn't something that you want to let fester, for sure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Heidi, do you see parallels between this group, their intentions, their animating ideologies, and groups here in the United States or elsewhere?

  • Heidi Beirich:

    There's no question that the Reichsburger movement, which is who these people were affiliated with in Germany, is very similar to some of our anti-government movements.

    For example, they would issue their own driver's license, passports. They reject the authority of the federal state. That sounds like our anti-government activists here in the U.S.

    The other thing about this is, they were motivated by QAnon, which is a crazy conspiracy theory, American-created, that has migrated across the world, including into Germany. So, those links exist both on the ideological front and in terms of the aims of what these organizations are trying to achieve.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And when you say there are links there, do we know anything about communication, coordination of any kind across all of these groups?

  • Heidi Beirich:

    What we know is that, in places like Telegram and online, these people interact with each other. They share ideas.

    During the coronavirus pandemic, anti-lockdown movements went very quickly from the United States into places like Germany, and that animates this movement as well. We know that they share tactics.

    One of the things that's happening with these folks in Germany are all kinds of weird filings against judges and threats against judges and police officers. Those same tactics are used by anti-government groups in the U.S. under the banner of sovereign citizens. So, these things are certainly shared.

    And the idea that a deep state exists, that was one of the motivating things for these Reichsburger individuals in Germany. Well, of course, that's a very American idea.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, the German officials here were clearly tracking these groups. And people monitoring them worked quickly to get out ahead of this and foil this coup attempt.

    Do you see the same level of response here in the United States to the same threats?

  • Heidi Beirich:

    No.

    The United States has been sort of behind the eight ball for some time with dealing with domestic white supremacists and anti-government groups. During the Trump years and before, these threats weren't taken seriously by the federal authorities. It's changed with Biden and somewhat in the last couple of years of the Trump administration.

    But we have not, until June of 2021, clearly said we need a national strategy to deal with these domestic terrorism threats. And that's been a problem. Germany has been far ahead of us in terms of tackling this particular problem.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Heidi, when someone like you, who has tracked this for decades and knows intimately how these groups operate, sees what happened today in Germany, and you know what you do about the way the U.S. is or is not responding, what lessons should we take away from what just happened overnight there?

  • Heidi Beirich:

    Well, we need to strengthen the federal response to this kind of domestic extremism.

    The Germans have also been much more aggressive on rooting extremism out of the military, on intelligence operations focused on these kinds of threats. They also have a much more elaborate intelligence operation there to keep track of these individuals and organizations. All of those are things that the American government could learn from, because these threats are not going to be disappearing anytime soon.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

    Heidi, thank you for joining us.

  • Heidi Beirich:

    Thank you for having me.

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