A prince dismissed by his own family as a “mad old man” has emerged as a central figure in an alleged plot to overthrow the German government. He was arrested along with other alleged plotters – including a right-wing ex-MP and former soldiers – in a nationwide operation carried out by thousands of security forces on Wednesday.
Prince Heinrich XIII Reuss, a descendant of a noble family with a history dating back over eight centuries, was supposed to be installed as Germany’s new leader if the bizarre plan had succeeded, officials say.
The group are alleged members of the Citizens of the Reich (Reichsbuerger), a movement that unites far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists.
The suspected seditionists are said to have planned to storm parliament and had sketched out details of their new government.
Heinrich XIII, a real estate businessman, was arrested at his residence in Frankfurt and led out by police wearing masks. His castle in Bad Lobenstein in the eastern region of Thuringia – where his aristocratic family once ruled over a stretch of land – was also searched.
It was at this grand residence where the prince allegedly plotted with others to overthrow the German government.
The 71-year-old made little attempt to hide his extremist views, which chime with the Reichsbuerger movement’s belief in the continuation of a pre-World War I German Reich, or empire, under a monarchy.
In a rambling speech to a conference in Zurich in 2019, he lamented the abdication of the German emperor in 1918 and insisted that the modern-day German republic was illegitimate.
He referred to the “so-called Federal Republic of Germany” and said the country was “being controlled based on administrative structures installed by the Allies after World War II” who had also written the constitution.
Other descendants of the noble family have starkly different views and have long been trying to distance themselves from him.
The prince is “unfortunately, a mad old man”, the family’s current head, Prince Heinrich XIV Reuss, told AFP, adding that the family had cut ties with him 14 years earlier.
“There is no contact with this black sheep of the family.”
The prince, who is based in Austria, said he was “very shocked” to hear of his relative’s alleged involvement in the plan to overthrow the government.
“It is very bad for the family’s reputation, no question,” he added.
On Thursday, federal police chief Holger Muench said the far-right group behind the plan was heavily armed and posed a real threat.
Those arrested included “a dangerous mix of people with irrational convictions, some with a lot of money and others in possession of weapons”, he told the ARD broadcaster.
Weapons including crossbows, rifles and ammunitions were uncovered during Wednesday’s raids, he said. Twenty-five people were arrested while more are under investigation for their links to the group.
Views differ as to how serious the plot really was.
A comment piece in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily warned it would be naive to dismiss the group simply as “loonies”.
It noted the plotters included “teachers, doctors, business people”, adding: “They are people who should actually be pillars of democracy.”
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily, however, cautioned against “getting too carried away”, noting that there was no reason to believe the plot would have succeeded.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)