Two different types of Reich Citizens
So far, commonalities between the Reich Citizens have been emphasised. They all employ pseudo-juridical arguments and assume that the FRG - for whatever reason - is not a sovereign state. In addition, their critical attitude towards the state very often translates into concrete practices and behaviours. But apart from these similarities, there are also very big differences between them. In the following, two different streams within the Reich Citizens’ Movement will be discussed.
On the one hand, there are Reich Citizens who are nostalgic about past political orders. Their arguments are very nationalistic in their emphasis on the need for the German people to rebel against the (post-1945) occupation. They long for an old European order untouched by modernisation processes. On the other hand, there are those Reich Citizens who want independence from any state structures. Values of individual freedom and autonomy are highly regarded by this group. In the literature, these different currents within the Reich Citizens’ Movement are also recognised. Individualistic Reich Citizens are often referred to as Souverdnisten (’sovereign citizens’, compare this also with the US-based ’sovereign citizen movement’) (Herrmann, 2019) or as Selbstveiwalter (‘self-governed’) (Keil, 2015; Caspar & Neubauer, 2015; Schönberger & Schönberger, 2020), a term that is also used by the German Intelligence Agency (Deutscher Verfassungsschutz, 2019). However, the extent to which these groups differ in their argumentations, ideological backgrounds, constructions of conspiracy theories, and references to Germany and Europe as geopolitical spaces has not yet been discussed in depth. This will be done in the following sections.
Reactionary Reich Citizens
The archetype of this group of Reich Citizens is the late Wolfgang Ebel (1939-2014), who was one of the first Reich Citizens in general. Ebel worked in Berlin for Deutsche Bahn (‘German Railways’) as a dispatcher until he was dismissed in 1980. He subsequently became obsessed with the idea that he was an official of the German Reich. Ebel claimed that the Allies had revealed to him that the German Reich still existed but was leaderless. From this point forward, he became dedicated to filling this vacancy and, in 1985, he founded the Kommisarische Reichsregierung (‘Provisional Government of the German Reich’), making himself Reich Chancellor. He very quickly gathered a stable following and proceeded to appoint secretaries for all the different governmental departments. He also offered seminars in which his followers could become official civil servants of his government. However, disputes soon arose. The secretaries of the different departments were dismissed, resigned or founded their own Reich governments. Despite Ebel’s death in 2014, disputes between different followers about who should be his legitimate successor continued, ultimately causing a schism among his loyalists. Today, it is no longer possible to determine how many Reich governments there are in Germany. Ebel differed from later Reich Citizens in that he claimed that the Allies had entrusted him personally with the administration of the German Reich. Nevertheless, the decisive legacy of Wolfgang Ebel is the groundbreaking idea of simply founding (or reactivating) a state, by now a basic script within the scene of the Reich Citizens.4
One major ‘rebellion’ against Ebel was the founding of the Exilregierung Deutsches Reich (‘Exile Government of the German Reich’) by Norbert Schittke in 2004. Due to Schittke’s strong internet presence, the arguments made by his group of Reich Citizens can be illustrated quite well. First of all, resistance is always framed ethnically. It is about the suppression of a collective, the German people, and attempts to colonise it.
The Exile Government of the German Reich rejects any enslavement, colonization or occupation of another country ... and is willing and able to secure the German borders against attacks by foreigners.
(Exilregierung Deutsches Reich)
But what are the foreign powers that have secretly occupied Germany up to? The answer is simple: they want to destroy the cultural identity of the Germans. The roots of the Germans and their traditions are to be suppressed.
The German Reich will not allow any other country, any other faith or race to suppress or extinguish the German culture with its long tradition.
(Exilregierung Deutsches Reich)
The Reich Citizens vow to fight foreign colonialization efforts and speak of themselves as ‘indigenous peoples’. The victim is not the individual, but the collective - the German people, who have to overcome oppression: ‘Only through all of us can the homeland be revived’ (Exilregierung Deutsches Reich). For them, having basic human rights and having access to one’s own cultural roots are the same thing. At present, they are stateless (because the FRG as a sovereign state does not exist) and therefore without rights. But in their imagination, it is possible to overcome this state of lawlessness by resorting to their ‘hidden’ nationality. As the German Reich still latently exists as a layer of political and legal reality beneath the FRG, it is possible to reactivate their citizenship from that time:
You all possess a nationality, but this has been concealed from you since the Weimar Republic. You, therefore, possess a latent ‘hidden’ nationality ... automatically inherited from your ancestors ... you are stateless and you have no rights, you can’t invoke them anywhere, because there is no Federal Republic of Germany.
In order to ‘get your rights back’, citizenship has to be reclaimed which offers the only protection against ‘the abuse of power’. Invoking a classical rhetorical figure, Reichsmeldestelle also makes a wake-up call: ‘You have to awake from your deep slumber and thus also awake the German Empire from its coma’ (Reichsmeldestelle). In this case, the Reich Citizens consider themselves to be citizens of the former German Empire (1876-1918), implying that the order imposed by the Treaty of Versailles has no legal validity. In order to become an official citizen of this state, formal registration is required. On the website reichs-meldestelle.org (‘Registration Office of the German Empire’), people can officially register as a citizen of the German Empire. First of all, one has to trace one’s German ancestry back to 1914. Only if one can prove that one’s ancestors were Germans at the time of the German Empire, according to the rules then in force (Nationality Act of 1913), will citizenship in the German Empire be granted by the Registration Office for the German Empire.
The bureaucratisation of this retro-fantasy state has progressed substantially. Reich Citizens can obtain a number of documents from the German Empire: a certificate of citizenship (€70), passports (€100), passports for children (€40), a driver’s license (€50), civil status certificates (€50) and a certificate of registration (€5), as well as notarisations of official documents (€5 each). Interestingly, the imitation of the German bureaucracy goes so far that due to the large number of requests, there may be delays in the issuing of documents.
Sometimes the focus rests on past local identities. Thus, one can also apply to become a citizen of a former federal state of the German Empire, like the Free State of Prussia, the People’s State of Bavaria, the Federal State of Saxony, the People’s State of Württemberg or the Republic of Baden. But the attention of Reich Citizens is not attracted to fantasy documents alone. A real document, the so-called Gelber Schein (‘yellow certificate’), is also very popular among them. This document is a certificate of citizenship. The reason why this document is actively sought by Reich Citizens is that it existed during the German Empire, making it legitimate proof of German origin. The problem is that offices do not always want to issue this document. Nowadays, the yellow certificate is intended to be issued only if the German citizenship of a person must be confirmed but cannot be confirmed otherwise. However, such confirmation is hardly ever needed these days, since regular identity cards also include information about one’s citizenship. This is a problem, though, for Reich Citizens, who do not recognise these identity cards, thus making the yellow certificate a popular means to document their nationality. Many conflicts occur due to this predicament. Reich Citizens apply for this document, but their applications are refused. One Reich Citizen filed a complaint against this practice, which was rejected by an administrative court. On a website dedicated exclusively to the acquisition of the yellow certificate (gelberschein.net), various tips are given to trick officials into approving applications for the certificate.
At the same time, a glorification of the economic condition of the German Empire (before 1918) is taking place. Reich Citizens romanticise the ‘good old days’, a time when modern economic sorrows did not exist, and everyone lived in peace and harmony. Reichsmeldestelle asserts that the German Empire had ‘unsurpassed social legislation’, protected ‘companies and businesses in an exemplary manner’, a low tax rate and a legal system ‘in which justice still existed and arbitrary acts were excluded’. There was no excessive bureaucracy or regulatory ‘madness as it is in all areas today’. Moreover, the German Empire offered societal cohesion, every man was enabled to take care of his family, ‘firmly integrated into their community’. Shared values contributed to creating strong communities: ‘Respect, honor, and dignity were self-evident, as well as mutual help, a sense of community, a sense of family’ (Reichsmeldestelle).
Often, powerful capitalist actors are criticised as well, but only in a national context, because the capitalists are those who interfere with the autonomy of the German people.
The maximization of profit leaves no room for any societal values. Private high finance, oligarchs and tycoons work with deliberate fraud, such as compounded interest. A peaceful development of peoples and nations means loss of control and is therefore odious to them.
The classic nation-state is opposed to capitalism ‘because it has the power to protect and safeguard the interests of the people ... For this reason, law has been privatized’ (Friedensvertrag). Thus, a critique of economic power relations takes place, but always in a reactionary mode. It is not the unequal distribution of resources that is directly criticised, but instead the loss of an old order, down-to-earthness, roots, and communal security. However, not only the German people but also other European peoples are considered to be endangered by evil forces. According to reactionary Reich Citizens, the political Europe (the EU) jeopardises the independence of all European people. For them, the EU signifies ‘the beginning of the enslavement of the European peoples by dissolving the nationalities’ (Reichsmeldestelle). They imagine the EU as an American project to oppress the people of Europe. At the same time, the EU is imagined as a continuation of the Nazi regime (see also Molder and Tsotsou in this volume). In this view, the EU is considered the ‘Fourth Reich’, or ‘One people, one empire, one euro’ (in reference to ‘one people, one empire, one Fiihrer’). The goal of this dark empire is to dissolve the independence of all European people. Thus, it is not only the Germans but also other European people who are affected by the loss of an old, beloved order. It comes as no surprise that this group of Reich Citizens also supports and spreads the conspiracy theories of the Umvolkung, the ‘Great Replacement’ (see Bergmann, Gualda and Onnerfors in this volume). When it comes to these kinds of worries about migration, the Reich Citizens always talk about both Germany and Europe. Both entities are imagined to be the victims of an American conspiracy. One group of Reich Citizens founded the Europäische Aktion - Bewegung für ein freies Europa (‘European Initiative - Movement for a free Europe’), the aim of which is to fight against the illegal oppression of nations and peoples at the European level. This group represents ethnopluralist views and demands the independence of all European peoples, echoing the views of Renaud Camus (see Önnerfors in this volume).
The future of Europe can only lie in a truly united Europe of independent people.
Only Europe as a whole is strong enough today to shake off foreign rule. There will have to be an alliance between strong, self-confident European nations, held together by common ideas, values, and myths.