reich citizens movement germany
© AlamyMembers of the Reich Citizens' Movement organize a lift at the Lustgarten in the city of Berlin.
Reichsbürger movement aims to establish parallel societies by infiltrating schools, clubs and public offices.

A strategic rural land grab by rightwing extremists is taking place across Germany with the concerted aim of creating communities independent of the state, according to the domestic intelligence agency and government ministries.

Authorities and NGOs monitoring far-right groups say the members of the Reichsbürger movement who reject the post-1945 German state are making a targeted effort to establish parallel societies and infiltrate existing structures including schools, clubs and public offices.

According to a recent request for information to the federal interior ministry by Martina Renner of the opposition leftwing Die Linke party, rightwing extremist organisations have bought 40 properties across Germany in the past two years.

The figure indicates an acceleration of a pattern observed for more than a decade, in which hard-to-sell houses, pubs and farmland properties are being snapped up and used by the rightwing groups for everything from living space to birthing houses, sport halls and party venues.

"The properties are of less interest to Reichsbürger and the far-right scene as investments; rather they are utilised for establishing their parallel societies and creating spaces of fear for all those who don't share their view of the world," said Renner.

Among the most prominent organisations is the Königreich Deutschland (kingdom of Germany) or KRD, founded in 2012 in an elaborate ceremony, and boasting its own currency and constitution that gives it a state-like structure.

It has been pursuing expansionist aims by acquiring what it refers to as "national territory" by buying up land and real estate.

German authorities use the term Reichsbürger (citizens of the empire) to talk about all far-right groups that reject the Federal Republic of Germany and aim to overthrow the government, including the KRD, although it rejects the term.

Followers dream of toppling modern German state

The snug and secluded village of Rutenberg, a 90-minute drive north of Berlin in the state of Brandenburg, has become one of the latest targets of the KRD's attempts to establish an autonomous community, or what its leader, the self-styled "King" Peter Fitzek, has labelled a Gemeinwohldorf (common good village).

The KRD first bought up a derelict farm grange in the centre of the village, named the Naturscheune or "nature barn", with a view to it becoming a "public enterprise" to provide the KRD with organic food. According to the BfV domestic intelligence agency , it has plans to expand on to an adjoining 44 hectares (108 acres) of land on the edge of the village.

The self-governing KRD was established in 2012 by Fitzek, a former cook and karate teacher, on the grounds of an old hospital in Wittenberg, Saxony Anhalt. Fitzek had himself crowned "Peter I" in a ceremony complete with sceptre, orb, ermine gown and crown.

He and his followers - estimated to number between 2,000 and 5,000 - openly reject the modern German state and dream of taking it over and replacing it with their own realm. To this end the KRD already issues its own passports and has its own currency, the Engelgeld (angel money), and bank.

It offers those interested in how to become what it calls a "system drop-out" seminars in how to do so for upwards of €340 (£295), and promises of freedom - including from paying taxes - as well as six-hour working days, and homeopathy rather than conventional medicine. Intelligence authorities have described the offering as a "huge scam." People are encouraged to part with their money in exchange for Engelgeld and are then unable to change it back, they say.

BfV officers say they have been watching the KRD and its "anti-democratic expansion ambitions" in Rutenberg since early 2022. They warn of its plans to buy up further properties and entice people sympathetic to their cause to move in.

They also report its strong connections to the Anastasia movement, a cult-like new age organisation with antisemitic leanings. Anastasia started in Russia in the late 1990s, and has been spreading elsewhere.

The BfV says similar "Völkisch" (folkist or ethno-nationalist) land grabs are happening elsewhere in Germany, often in abandoned areas and neglected villages where life goes on largely unobserved.

The pandemic lockdown only served to facilitate the group's quiet arrival in some parts.

But Rutenberg is far from neglected, and a large number of its 200 residents, a mix of locals, retirees and Berlin weekend blow-ins, have taken up the fight against the settlers. Visitors to the village are met by defiant messages from its Democracy Alliance.

Homemade banners on everything from the fire station to trees on the village green, to the 14th-century village church, read: "No Kingdom, No King, No Sects", and "Rutenberg's over 700 years old - never will it be a kingdom".

Marita Berckner, a Rutenberger by birth, said she had been shocked to discover that the people who had moved into the grange nursed ambitions other than leading a simple, self-sufficient life. A BfV officer had briefed villagers at a meeting at the local church, she said.

"We were stunned and speechless. It was like seeing the world break down in front of my own front door," she said. "We have nothing at all against people wanting to grow organic fruit and veg, but not people who intend to overthrow a democracy."

The Democracy Alliance, said Berkner, had "brought the village together like never before".

'How is it possible in the middle of Germany that a state within a state can emerge?'

At almost exactly the same time that Rutenbergers were reeling from the discovery about their new neighbours, an altogether bigger revelation was making headlines around the world. German authorities announced that a separate armed rightwing extremist Reichsbürger group headed by the self-appointed Heinrich XIII, Prince Reuss, had planned a putsch, intending to storm the Bundestag, kidnap MPs and topple the state. In December, German prosecutors filed terrorism charges against more than two dozen people in connection with the plot, including Heinrich XIII and a former far-right lawmaker.

Comment: This is the mainstream line on the group, but there's evidence that this was a set-up by the authorities.

"A massive police raid foiled extremist plans to topple Germany's government. But the timing of the plot and its absurdity raised questions about a state security role in instigating it - something seen many times in Germany's past."

See: No surprise: Suspicions of state security set-up in Germany's far-right 'coup'

Authorities estimate there are about 25,000 Reichsbürger and supporters of self-governance in Germany, and that numbers are steadily growing. "What drives someone to overthrow a democracy? How is it possible in the middle of Germany, that a state within a state can emerge?" said Berckner.

The alliance has also approached estate agents warning them to be on the lookout for people acting as middlemen on behalf of the KRD. Local people are also debating whether they can afford to buy the long-derelict local pub, Dorf Krug (village pitcher), which is up for sale, through crowdfunding, to save it and other properties from being seized by the KRD.

Carola Gundlach, the mayor of Rutenberg, did not respond to requests for an interview, but at a meeting between regional and state representatives from the interior and education ministries and the police, she reportedly said she was taking the situation seriously.

"If the Kingdom of Germany manages to gain a foothold here, by misusing the cooperative concept for their extremist ends, it is capable of spreading its radical worldview," she reportedly said.

"That is not tolerable in the long run, either from a municipal community perspective or with regards to tourism," pointing out that the region, where Angela Merkel also has a holiday home, could not afford to become known as the "region of Reichsbürgers".

A spokesperson for Brandenburg's education ministry rejected claims that authorities had failed to use the force of the law to resist the group. He referred to regular meetings between different agencies, including the school authorities, youth welfare office and the domestic intelligence agency, who "exchange ideas about ways to deal with developments in the area and have agreed to inform each other and coordinate closely". This included a focus on "enforcing compulsory schooling for parents who keep their children away from school permanently," he said.

But Brandenburg's state premier, Dietmar Woidke admitted that authorities had been too hesitant to clamp down on the far-right. "Brandenburg was too sluggish and tardy in openly confronting right-wing extremism. The attitude in the 90s (after the collapse of communism) when they first started settling, was that these were just a few wayward youths with an attitude wanting to pick a fight," he told the Guardian. But now he said, the far-right, including the populist AfD, was recognisably damaging the reputation of the state, and "poses a bigger threat to our economic development than anything else".

Fitzek, who considers himself to be the reincarnation of the Archangel Uriel, as referenced in esoteric European medieval literature, gives interviews only on the understanding that the exchange is filmed by his own team. He has repeatedly rejected the accusations levelled at the KRD, denying the organisation is extremist, and insisting it stands for "willingness to take responsibility, for cooperation and international understanding".

In a recent interview with a Swiss anti-mainstream media social media channel, Fitzek sat on a gold-coloured sofa at his castle in Wolfsgrün, in the Ore mountains in Saxony. Continuing attempts to prosecute him would not dissuade him from fulfilling his vision to "serve God and humanity" and to free Germans from a "postwar minority complex" based on a "massive guilty conscience" relating to the crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany, he said.