Legal arguments against the existence of the FRG

A central feature of the Reich Citizens’ Movement is the extensive study of legal texts. Their own texts are always enriched with numerous references to and quotes from legal texts as well as compilations of paragraphs taken from legal documents. They use juridical terminology, introduce basic legal principles and quote different legal documents from, for example, the current German constitution, the old German constitution, the German Civil Code, rulings of the Constitutional Court, international law, UN resolutions and so on. Everything is lumped together in order to make a certain argument. The language is often extremely complex, imitating the formal language of the legal system. Thus, their argumentative style mimics the language of law and tries to establish the credibility of counter-factual and conspiratorial readings of the German past.

As a result, it is unsurprising that their arguments are void of meaning, but it is worth recognising that they are earnestly attempting to imitate the authority of the legal system. They do not argue that the principles of the legal system are ridiculous, inhuman and created by the ruling class. Rather, they argue, with the help of the legal system, against the current power relations. The law gives hope and promises to protect the people from the powerful or as a prominent lawyer of the German radical right put it:

Resistance involves remembering the law ... The law is objective in every situation ... No one is authorized to place himself above the law and to make himself the master of the people. Freedom and domination are irreconcilable. The struggle for justice never ends.

(Schachtschneider, 2019)3

While current laws are usually regarded as instruments of power for the ruling class, the ‘old’ laws still carry a mysterious power that promises salvation. In that sense, the detailed study of legal texts resembles a biblical exegesis. Within this movement, a large number of workshops are organised with the intent to teach members how to interpret certain legal texts. The movement does not fabricate arcane laws that do not in fact exist; rather, it invents an idiosyncratic interpretation of real legal texts. Take, for example, Article 146 of the Basic Law (GG,

Grundgesetz, the German constitution), which is of great importance for Reich Citizens. It states:

Article 146 [Duration of validity of the Basic Law]

This Basic Law, which since the achievement of the unity and freedom of Germany applies to the entire German people, shall cease to apply on the day on which a constitution freely adopted by the German people takes effect.

(Bnndesregierung, 2020; official translation provided by the Federal Government)

This paragraph states that the Basic Law could theoretically be replaced by another constitution following a democratic process. For Reich Citizens, however, this article proves that the Basic Law is only a provisional solution. It is the Americans alone who prevent the Germans from finally getting their ‘own’ constitution.

In many cases, it is not so much a question of what the laws say, but of the formal errors in the application of laws. For example, the Nazi regime never officially surrendered, and the Third Reich was never officially dissolved. Therefore, to members of the Reich Citizens’ Movement, all subsequent administrative acts are invalid. The approach of the Reich Citizens reminds one of the underdog lawyers in movies. They have their backs to the wall, and the situation seems hopeless, but they do not give up. They go through documents all night long, finally stumbling across a small detail that promises to change everything.

Their way of thinking entails both fatalistic pessimism and naive optimism. They propagate the idea that there is a perfidious conspiracy, a vile plot that dominates us all. Nothing is as it seems. In reality, we are merely employees of a private company. The state is not a state at all, and all current laws are unlawful. However, despite all this, acts of resistance are possible. As powerful as the ruling elite may be, the Reich Citizens are full of hope. They are convinced that they can break their chains and that for every problem, there is a solution. The Reich Citizens’ conspiracy theories are more than theories, as they contain concrete instructions for actions of resistance. In the Reich Citizens’ Movement, conspiracy thinking is closely linked to an ideal lifestyle, one that evades or subverts current power relations.

Certainly, this applies to many conspiracy theories. For example, those who believe that the conspirators are poisoning the drinking water will avoid drinking normal tap water. Timothy Melley describes this feature of conspiracy theorists with the concept of agency panic. Facing an increasingly confusing and complicated modern world, people are concerned about their power to act. By resisting the almighty conspirators, the conspiracy theorists preserve the idea of agency (Melley, 2002: 57 ff).

Reich Citizens are particularly affected by this agency panic, and they pursue a variety of different ways and possibilities to resist. They are best known for founding their own states, governments in exile or kingdoms. This includes the creation of their own identity cards and other official documents. Some Reich Citizens have already served prison sentences for distributing these identity cards. Some Reich Citizens are very militant and have purchased weapons in order to prepare themselves for battle against the German authorities. For this reason, in March 2020, German authorities decided, for the first time, to ban a group of Reich Citizens due to its high level of militancy. Repeatedly, large-scale raids have taken place, such as in May 2020, when the apartments of twenty-five Reich Citizens were raided. Hundreds of combat knives, axes, firearms and countless fantasy documents were confiscated.

Another common practice is to harass civil servants, in either their offices or everyday situations. When asked by the police to show their IDs, many Reich Citizens refuse to do so. Frequently, employees of citizens’ offices are bombarded with phone calls or letters of complaint. Reich Citizens explicitly call on their supporters to participate in this ‘paper terrorism’. They list questions with which to confront officials on the phone, or they upload sample letters to be emailed to local offices. On the website, for example, there is a tab called ‘Sample Letters’ where the addresses of important institutions (such as the addresses of the embassies of the Allies) are listed, as well as legal evidence of the Federal Republic’s lack of legitimacy. Employees of these institutions are often confronted by this evidence. The website contains templates for various forms of complaint aimed at employment agencies, citizens’ offices, ministries, governments, embassies or international organisations. Some Reich Citizens even film themselves when they call certain authorities and bombard them with questions or simply harass them. In recent years, harassment has increased to such an extent that the citizens’ offices are now offering seminars for their employees on how to deal with Reich Citizens. Employees learn the basics about the Reich Citizens’ theories as well as about their psychological motivations in order to develop effective communication strategies (see Kommunales Bildungswerk). In the small town of Wittenburg, the Reich Citizens’ Movement is so active that the town hall may now be entered by appointment only. The situation has become so severe that sharp or heavy objects that could be used as weapons in disputes between officials and Reich Citizens have had to be removed from employees’ desks (Aid & Kooroshy, 2016).

Furthermore, Reich Citizens often refuse to pay either certain taxes, such as those meant to support public broadcasting, or, in some cases, all taxes. Often, this leads to foreclosures and/or confrontations with bailiffs and police officers, occasionally resulting in violence. In 2012, the Reich Citizens founded the Deutsches Polizeihilfswerk (‘German Police Support Organisation’) to support fellow Reich Citizens in these confrontational situations. Members of this organisation wear uniforms that are very similar to those of the police and are supposed to evoke authority. In case of confrontations with authorities, fellow Reich Citizens may call the Deutsches Polizeihilfswerk for help. In 2012, the group prevented a bailiff from carrying out a foreclosure against a Reich Citizen by tying him up (Bartsch, 2012). The men involved were arrested, and the organisation has not been active since 2013. Even though the Deutsches Polizeihilfswerk existed for only a very short time, it demonstrates the firm determination of Keich Citizens to challenge the state’s physical monopoly on the use of force.

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