A hereditary prince and co-leader of a right-wing terror cell was plotting to overthrow the German government. How did a minor member of a noble family go from real estate to the center of an extremist plot?
More than a century ago, the ancestors of Heinrich XIII, Prince Reuss, held sway over the city of Gera and its surroundings in what is now Germany’s eastern state of Thuringia.
If Heinrich, a minor member of the family, had gotten his way, all that and much more would have been his, following a planned coup against the government in Berlin. On Wednesday morning, German police arrested the prince and 24 alleged accomplices to this plan at locations across Germany.
“Meet the man who wanted to become Germany’s king” was a tweet gleefully shared on social media, for example by Left Party leader Dietmar Bartsch.
The suspects who were arrested, authorities have said, belong to a network of so-called “Reichsbürger” (sovereign citizens of the Reich) conspiracy theorists.
A once-fringe group that is estimated to have 21,000 affiliates, the Reichsbürger contend that the German government has been illegitimate since the end of World War II. They believe that the German constitution, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and the Bundestag are part of a system created by the Allies at the end of the Second World War to make Germany a vassal state to their interests.
Golf, real estate, and global conspiracies
The prince, 71, split his time between Frankfurt, where his property development company is located, and his hunting lodge in Thuringia. It was at this lodge that he hosted Reichsbürger sympathizers, as well as the “Princely Hickory Golf Club Reuss.”
Between organizing golf clubs for local elites and selling real estate, Heinrich XIII found time to give a speech on these topics at the World Web Forum in Zurich, Switzerland 2019.
Heinrich reiterated the belief that because there was no peace treaty at the end of World War II, the current democratic Federal Republic has no valid basis. He then trotted out several well-worn antisemitic tropes before concluding that the only logical next step was to return Germany to the time of the Kaiser, who had been removed from power more than 100 years ago against the wishes of the people, he claimed.
Horrified attendees either booed or left the speech, which the prince had been invited to give at the global conference for business, tech and political leaders at the last minute when someone else dropped out.
Suing the German government
Heinrich XIII, who was married to a model and is a lover of motor racing, campaigned for years to have his family’s mausoleum in downtown Gera reconstructed.
Like other members of the family — the prince has five siblings — Heinrich XIII has sought compensation from the German state for expropriated art and cultural assets. In 2017, as a result, the group of heirs received €3.1 million.
But subsequent attempts by Heinrich to sue the German government to try and regain lands and properties he claims are his birthright failed. He spent large sums of money on this crusade and began to claim that there was a conspiracy against him in the judicial system.
At the same time, he was coordinating a “homeland defense troop,” which according to security services had a few dozen members planning an armed overthrow of the government. Among his fellow suspects are former and current members of the military and the police.
According to local media, people who knew the prince said they had no idea he was the ringleader of a far-right terrorist group. However, his family distanced themselves from him in the summer of 2022. A spokesman for House Reuss, whose history goes back at least 700 years, said that Heinrich was a confused old man who believed “erroneous conspiracy theories.”
After World War One (1914-1918) Germany’s first democratic constitution officially abolished royalty and nobility, and the respective legal privileges and immunity appertaining to an individual, a family, or any heirs. Today, German nobility is no longer conferred and the constitution stipulates that the descendants of German noble families do not enjoy legal privileges.
Russia denies involvement
The prince’s fellow suspects include both men and women and are mostly German, authorities said. They had already created an “outline,” for the organization of the German government after the coup, they added, on top of which Heinrich XIII would sit as head of state.
Reuss’ alleged partner, the Russian Vitalia B., was also arrested during the raid. According to the attorney general, she is strongly suspected of having “supported the association, in particular by assisting the accused Heinrich XIII P. R. in establishing contacts with representatives of the Russian Federation.”
The Russian Embassy in Berlin has denied allegations that they are tied to the Russian woman accused of helping facilitate the plot.