Expert on "Reichsbürger": "These are people who have set themselves up in a nightmare"

Tobias Ginsburg spent several months among "Reich citizens".

Expert on "Reichsbürger": "These are people who have set themselves up in a nightmare"

Tobias Ginsburg spent several months among "Reich citizens". "If you build serious relationships with these people, listen to them seriously, then the dominant feeling is compassion," he says in an interview with "That doesn't change the fact that some of them are extremely dangerous." You spent eight months in the "Reichsbürger" scene. How should one imagine this movement?

Tobias Ginsburg: It was more than eight months. On the one hand, because it is exhausting to say goodbye to such long and intensive research, to leave people behind and then really not attend any more events. On the other hand, because I went back in 2020 when the Corona demonstrations started. Suddenly all my old acquaintances were on the street, growing their following and now operating as "lateral thinkers". I think that tells a bit about the scene.

What kind of people are involved?

It's extremely heterogeneous. There are followers of esoteric groups and sects, strange pro-Russian groups, classic neo-Nazis, but above all conspiracy ideologues deeply rooted in the bourgeoisie.

Your first reply just sounded a bit like you were having trouble breaking away from the scene.

Yes, extreme. I come from literature. i am a writer The only weapon I have against all this hate, against all this supposed madness, is empathy. I try to understand people and their fates. I'm trying to understand what makes these misanthropic ideologies so attractive to them, what draws them into the right-wing swamp. If you do that for a while, if you develop serious relationships with these people, if you listen to them seriously, then the dominant feeling is compassion. These are people set up in a nightmare. That doesn't change the fact that some of them are extremely dangerous.

When they don't want to storm the Reichstag with black, white and red flags, "Reichsbürger" come across as harmless weirdos.

This is an idea that is as wrong as it is dangerous. Perhaps we should first talk about what "Reich citizens" actually are. The term was coined by neo-Nazi Horst Mahler in the 1980s. "Reichsbürger" are conspiracy believers who believe in the good old world conspiracy. It's always the same: the world conspiracy wants to subjugate us humans, destroy the German people, maybe even destroy the entire white race. What is special about the Reich ideology is that it declares the Federal Republic to be one of its main enemies - one believes that the FRG is part of this evil, huge conspiracy and that it is not itself a real, sovereign state.

Where does this notion come from?

This idea comes from old Nazis who said after 1945: No matter what is being built here now, the German Reich cannot be replaced, the successor state is just an evil fabrication of lies by the Allies. This conspiracy myth was initially limited to the scene of the old Nazis and later the neo-Nazis. But in the 1990s and, also through the Internet, in the 2000s, this myth was also able to penetrate bourgeois milieus and the esoteric scene, including the milieus of right-wing reactionaries, crypto-leftists and eco-hippies. This right-wing extremist conspiracy theory has really made a career.

Can you explain what has to happen for someone to believe such nonsense?

Not much. We media professionals, but that also applies to politics and society as a whole, we always pretend that this scene is about silly guys with stupid hats who say: Hello, I'm the Emperor of Germany. You can laugh about it and act as if they were some confused people who have nothing to do with us. But in fact, this belief is immensely widespread: "We are being lied to by those up there." - "Isn't the FRG actually dependent on the USA, governed by NATO?" - "Don't the media actually belong to the Jews?" The shortest conspiracy theory we Germans have is "Lügenpresse". It's relatively quick that you eat your way into it and lose yourself in this world.

How dangerous are these "Reich citizens"?

Very dangerous. If you believe that the politicians, the state security people, the police officers and all the authorities are part of a great conspiracy, either as willing helpers or as "sleeping sheep", then you are facing an overwhelming enemy. If you really believe that the people should be destroyed by "the great exchange", by migration, by vaccination, by everything - then the ultimate consequence is self-defense. In fact, it is just that: an ideology of self-defense. An ideology that legitimizes every means, every violence and costs human lives.

When such people are radicalized or desperate enough, they are very dangerous to those around them. However, we should not overlook the fact that the first victims of this radicalization are the radicalized themselves. Part of the problem is that such an eco-emperor or a dopey Prince Henry XIII. not seem dangerous. But Nazis and right-wing extremists are no longer clearly recognizable, they haven't done us any favors for a long time. And even if many may only seem whimsical or harmless - they are not.

Did you know any of the characters who have now been arrested?

Not from the names that have been known so far. But the scene is also amazingly large and has grown immensely over the pandemic.

The protection of the constitution speaks of 21,000 "Reich citizens" and "self-administrators".

That's an extremely conservative estimate, just the tip of the iceberg. Suppose you become a "Reich citizen" tomorrow and believe that the state is part of a Jewish conspiracy that wants to flatten us. Then don't go public with it: if you have something to lose, if you have a job, a family or just a little brains, you don't want to get in trouble with state security and keep it to yourself. The number of 21,000 only describes the people who also identify themselves in public.

What role does the AfD play in this?

There are overlaps in terms of personnel and content, which is only logical because the AfD is a right-wing extremist party. There, too, there is the conviction that Germany is not a sovereign state ruled by puppets of foreign powers. In fact, these are Reich ideological talking points. There is this quickly forgotten e-mail from Alice Weidel, in which, if the e-mail came from her, she spoke of "puppets of the victorious powers of the Second World War" with regard to the federal government and thus actually revealed herself as a right-wing extremist conspiracy theorist .

According to the Attorney General, those arrested have also incorporated elements of the QAnon cult into their ideology. What connection is there?

Here's the good news: We don't have a problem with QAnon, and we don't have a problem with "Reichsbürger" either. The bad news: It's a lot worse. We have a problem with far-right conspiracy ideologies. The content of QAnon are the classics of right-wing conspiracy myths: from the Zionists ruling everything, to medicine meant to poison us, to the idea that anything progressive, inclusive or left-wing is the plan of a pedophile-satanic elite . The only really new thing about QAnon was the platforms through which these ideas were disseminated, on image boards and internet forums. The media acted as if the QAnon cult was something entirely new, something foreign, exotic, freshly imported from the USA. But that's not true. Basically, it's the same right-wing conspiracy myths that keep spreading.

Hubertus Volmer spoke to Tobias Ginsburg