Max Weber defined the state as an entity that successfully claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Pierre Bourdieu (2014) expanded this definition, suggesting that states also hold a monopoly on symbolic violence. The state can give value to profane things, such as titles or currencies, resembling a priest who can consecrate any object. Reich Citizens rebel in a radical way against this monopoly on symbolic violence, building their own symbolic order and celebrating their resistance. This is what makes them so fascinating for the German public. Their practices of resistance range from paper terrorism to insulting officials to founding states to inner exile and to emigration, but they also erupt in the concrete use of violence.
Interestingly, the Keich Citizens primarily use legal arguments to make their case. While legal arguments play only a minor role in other conspiracy theories, in the case of the Reich Citizens the activities of the conspirators are not only illegitimate but also formally illegal. No matter how inhumane the conditions may be, the law shines like a sun over everything and promises salvation. But the heterogeneity within this movement is enormous. I have tried to identify two basic currents within this chaotic assemblage of actors: reactionary and individualistic Reich Citizens. The former wants the German people to reactivate their cultural heritage and destiny to come (back) to power, while the latter wants to rule over themselves.
Europe is an ‘empty signifier’ (Laclau, 2005) in that its borders, its cultural identity and its political connotations are highly ambiguous and contested. In the attempt of different actors within this movement to fill this semantic openness with meaning, different currents and ideological sub-groups become apparent. For some, the current order of Europe means the destruction of a golden age. They long to return to an old Europe that has been spared from modernisation processes. For others, the present order of Europe means the suppression of a glorious future. They do not wish to return to old geopolitical orders, but rather to escape state orders in general. Europe is seen as a super-state and the spectre of the United States of Europe is regarded as the ultimate danger of one’s individual liberties. Europe does not need to be rediscovered through the resurrection of old states. Instead, one must leave Germany, Europe and the worldwide order of states, either nominally by deregistering from the FGR or, if one can afford it, by emigrating.
For the reactionary Reich Citizens, there is always a positive point of reference in the form of the roots and traditions of the German people. This form of thinking can be described with Zygmunt Baumann’s concept of Retrotopia (Bauman, 2017). The classical utopias depicted distant spaces upon which explorers accidentally stumbled. Globalisation makes this idealised image appear unlikely, while the real world appears to be everywhere permeated by a fundamental sense of uncertainty. The only safe place is no place at all, but a time - the past. While the utopias of Marxism placed their hopes on the future, today’s society is increasingly turning to the past. Reactionary Reich Citizens attempt to institutionalise and materialise these ‘retrotopias’, seeking to resurrect the past or create contemporary images of the past, respectively, by reactivating former states and everything inherent to them (currencies, flags, symbols, documents, etc.).
Individualistic Reich Citizens, on the other hand, look ahead, dedicated to fighting for their freedom and to escaping from the oppression of the state. They do not condemn modernity; rather, they represent modernity. They draw on modern narratives, on the idea of the autonomous individual and her/his power to shape the world. A number of authors have already pointed out that conspiracy theories are permeated by modern logic - for example, questioning hege monic knowledge or drawing on the notion of rationality or teleological thinking (Aupers, 2012; Byford, 2011). Individualistic Reich Citizens do just that.
When they criticise the status quo, they draw on modern scripts, especially the notion of an independent and self-responsible subject.
The divisions within the Reich Citizens’ Movement mirror more general, older divisions within the (German) right-wing scene. Already in the Weimar Republic, an antagonism between restorative nationalists and revolutionary nationalists had emerged (Sontheimer, 2004). The first group was concerned with restoring the order of the German Empire, whereas the second group sought to establish a completely new national community beyond the current Weimar Republic, a project the respective activists propagated as a ‘conservative revolution’. This antagonism between the currents of preservation and revolution can also be found within the Reich Citizens’ Movement.
Considering these internal differences, the question arises as to what extent the Reich Citizens can be characterised as a coherent social movement. Ideological undertones vary greatly. One side argues strongly in a nationalistic way, while the other side draws heavily on libertarian elements and concepts. The very same conspiracy theories can be used for very different arguments. In general, conspiracy theorists do not tend to draw strong boundaries between them, although they sometimes hold contradictory beliefs (some believe in the existence of the German Reich, some do not). Quite the contrary: while the public takes con-spiracists literally but not seriously, the opposite is true among conspiracists: they take each other seriously but not literally (Buchmayr, 2019). The same holds true for Reich Citizens who coexist peacefully even though they have very different beliefs and promote different practices of resistance. What holds them together is their opposition to hegemonic knowledge, the legitimacy of the German state and current geopolitical orders.