Key figures behind alleged far-right plot to overthrow the German government

<span>Photograph: Boris Roessler/AP</span>
Photograph: Boris Roessler/AP

Heinrich XIII, Prince of Reuß

The 71-year-old aristocrat, who was arrested in Frankfurt’s West End district on Wednesday morning, has been described by prosecutors as the ringleader of the terrorist group plotting to overthrow the government. If their plan had succeeded, he had envisioned installing himself as the leader of a revolutionary government.

A descendant of the House of Reuß that ruled parts of Thuringia, in eastern Germany, for about 800 years, Heinrich in 2019 delivered a 16-minute speech at a digital business summit in Zurich infused with far-right conspiracy theories.

“After thousands of years of rule”, he complained, his dynasty had been “dispossessed” after the first world war, a conflict brought about by “foreign powers”. He claimed the dark driving forces behind the 20th century’s great wars were the Rothschild dynasty and Freemasons.

“Ever since Germany surrendered, it has never been sovereign again,” he said. “It has only been made an administrative structure of the allies.”

In August, the head of the House of Reuß-Greiz, Prince Heinrich XIV Reuß of Greiz, distanced himself in strong terms from his relative, describing him as a “confused old man” who left the family 14 years ago.

German media reported Heinrich XIII to have recently earned his living with property deals and the production of sparkling wine.

Thousands of police carried out a series of raids across Germany
Thousands of police carried out a series of raids across Germany on Wednesday morning. Photograph: Reuters Tv/Reuters

Rüdiger von Pescatore

The 69-year-old retired army officer has been described by prosecutors as the aspiring leader of the terrorist group’s “military arm”. Between 1993 and 1996, Von Pescatore was a commander at paratrooper battalion 251, which was later submerged into the Special Operations Forces Command (KSK). He was reportedly expelled from the military over the unauthorised sale of weapons from the stocks of the old East German army.

In 2019, an internet user bearing Von Pescatore’s name made comments on a website that claimed to expose secret Freemason plots behind major events in world history. “The truth will only become accessible to mankind after the system change,” wrote the commenter, who said he was writing from Brazil.

Federal prosecutors said 3,000 officers conducted searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany’s 16 states
Federal prosecutors said 3,000 officers conducted searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany’s 16 states. Photograph: Tilman Blasshofer/Reuters

Birgit Malsack-Winkemann

In the post-coup “shadow cabinet” that the terrorist group had allegedly started to plan, the crucial justice ministry was to be reserved for Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, 58, whom police arrested at her apartment in Berlin’s Wannsee district on Wednesday morning.

Malsack-Winkemann has been a member of the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) since it was formed on an Eurosceptic ticket in 2013. As a member of the Bundestag between 2017 and 2021, the trained lawyer once claimed immigrants were causing “billions in excess costs” to the German health system because they were unable to read instruction leaflets on their medication, a claim dismissed by pharmacists as lacking a basis in fact.

Other parliamentarians described Malsack-Winkemann as a supporter of conspiracy theories, with a particular obsession with the QAnon cult, the newspaper Die Zeit reported. A holder of a gun licence, she is understood to own two firearms.

As recently as October, a disciplinary tribunal rejected a Left party plea to stop Malsack-Winkemann from returning to her former, supposedly impartial role as a judge at a Berlin district court. At the time, her spokesperson had insisted she was part of the “very moderate” wing of the AfD. ​​