The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

German coronavirus protesters accused of plot to kidnap health minister

Authorities said the group had planned to attack power infrastructure and trigger ‘civil war’

Protesters hold signs saying, “The worst virus is blind obedience,” as they demonstrate April 2 against Germany’s covid-19 policies. (Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images)
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BERLIN — German authorities on Thursday said they had arrested four people in connection to a plot to kidnap the country’s health minister and destroy some power infrastructure with the aim of triggering a “civil war” that would lead to the collapse of the country’s democratic system.

Those involved are linked to the “corona protest scene” and the Reichsbürger movement, which rejects the modern German state in favor of the German Reich, police and the public prosecutor’s office in Koblenz said in a news release. Three people were arrested on suspicion of the “preparation of a serious crime endangering the state,” and a fourth person is charged with financing terrorism.

All four are accused of planning to attack substations and power lines across the country, while simultaneously kidnapping Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, and then subjecting him to a show trial, according to Christopher do Paço Quesado, a senior prosecutor. The suspects discussed that they would have to “deal with” the minister’s bodyguards, he said.

Germany security agencies have struggled to contain an increasingly hardened anti-vaccine movement stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, as its far-right scene has attempted to weaponize frustration against restrictions to gain recruits.

The arrests were made following an undercover operation in which officers posed as weapons dealers. Raids on 21 houses and apartments on Wednesday across nine separate German states led to the seizure of weapons, including 14 rifles, seven handguns and a Kalashnikov, authorities said. They also said they seized gold bars, silver coins and more than $20,000 in cash.

Officials have warned that online extremism is increasingly spilling offline. Late last year, a group of more than two dozen demonstrators, some carrying flaming torches, descended on the house of Petra Köpping, state minister for social affairs in the eastern state of Saxony.

Days later, police disrupted an alleged plot, following online threat, to harm or assassinate the state’s prime minister, Michael Kretschmer.

The suspects in the plot against Lauterbach are accused of being part of a Telegram chat group called the United Patriots. Eight people are being investigated in relation to messages on the group, prosecutors said.