He appeared live before the world on YouTube in 2012, when he was “crowned” while wearing a red and white faux ermine robe. At the time, he seemed just another small-time manipulative conman with a narcissistic personality disorder.
But the group he appears to represent is now seen as a threat.
In the eyes of the German Security Service, Fitzek is a “Reichsbürger” (imperial citizen) and thus part of a loose scene that, since January, has been investigated as a “serious extremist danger.”
It’s made up of several thousand Germans who believe in some variation of the conspiracy theory that there was foul play after the capitulation of the Wehrmacht, the German army, in 1945, and the Federal German Republic that replaced the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler is actually a limited-liability company in Frankfurt that is being controlled by a Jewish world government based in the United States.
Reichsbürger conspiracists have made it their mission to “reactivate” the German Reich with the borders it had before World War II.
In an interview last week, public prosecutor Peter Frank warned that a new terror cell may have developed within the Reichsbürger scene, and he cited a growing tendency to “surpass simply rejecting the state.” They “are trying to commit violent acts against the state or against state organs,” according to Frank.
The president of Germany’s domestic spy agency (the BfV) said at a press conference in January that there are currently 10,000 Reichsbürgers in Germany and that 500 to 600 of these were right-wing extremists—but these figures are, according to terror expert Dr. Gideon Botsch, “wild estimates.”
“Not every Reichsbürger drives around with a self-made license plate or passport,” Botsch tells The Daily Beast. “There are definitely also people in Germany who follow the law, but still believe in this theory that the German state is illegitimate.”
Such are the gray areas that there have even been some suspensions of police officers accused of being too close to the ideology.
Although the so-called Reichsbürgers are not an organized group, Botsch predicts, “As the mood continues to radicalize in certain parts of the [political and social] spectrum, we expect to see more armament and more propensity towards violence.”
Looking back, it was in 1978 that the Neo-Nazi terrorist Manfred Roeder became the first person to declare himself president of this non-existent Reich. Two years later, he was an accomplice in an arson attack on an asylum home that killed two refugees from Vietnam, which was carried out by the extremist German Action Group where he was also a leading member.
Nevertheless, for years after that Reichsbürgers were dismissed for the most part as self-validating eccentrics— middle-aged men who tend to be bureaucratic headaches, but not life-threatening. More recently, handbooks were issued to various bureaucrats telling them how to deal with the influx of bizarre complaints and threats being sent by wannabe kings, princes or various other regimes-in-waiting from all over the country.
But as the pseudo-legal ravings have gotten a bigger audience online, and as people have become more estranged from mainstream political parties, German security services and the Minister of Justice have noted the growing number of followers, and their increasingly aggressive actions.
In October, a 49-year-old loner identified by the courts as Wolfgang P. opened fire on four police officers when they came to his house with orders to confiscate his collection of 31 hunting rifles. The district administration had decided that Wolfgang P., who has a homemade flag showing two lions hanging in his yard, along with a sign reading “District Wolfgang—my word here is law here,” was no longer fit to possess the guns.
Wolfgang P. seemed to be expecting them. Wearing a bullet proof west and clutching a rifle, he started shooting without warning. One officer was hit just outside his protective vest. The bullet pierced his lung and he died in the hospital the next day.
Local authorities had already taken note of Wolfgang P. earlier that year, when he tried to surrender his passport and ID card at the town hall, claiming they didn’t suit him anymore. He didn’t pay taxes, and a video clip online shows what happened when the tax collector tried to get in touch with him:
“First of all, lets talk about how you are now entering foreign state territory,” Wolfgang P., a bald and stocky man, is seen yelling at the casually dressed bailiff who is standing in front of his house, flanked by two police officers.
“No, we aren’t going to talk about that now,” says the bemused functionary.
“Yes, we are talking about it!” Wolfgang P. screams, and continues to rant until all three officials back off the premises.
In Wolfgang P’s case, it is unclear what his political convictions were (his Facebook page was a mess that included posts about supposedly hushed-up crimes by asylum seekers, deadly vaccines and, of course, a lot of gun propaganda).
Still, authorities are worrying that the Reichsbürger scene is playing a role in attracting and perpetuating elements of the hardcore extreme right, especially because Germany already saw a dramatic surge in crimes committed by far-right extremists last year.
Back in January, nationwide police raids against the Reichsbürgers led to the arrest of a 62-year-old man called Burghard Bangert for being at the center of what is currently being investigated as a right-wing terror group.
Unlike Peter Fitzek, this guy didn’t think he was a king—instead, he called himself an “independent druid.“
Druids, the healing magicians immortalized in fairy tales and comics like “Asterix and Obelix,” are supposed to be the good guys. But Bangert would dress up in a white nightgown and log onto social media to post hate comments against Muslims, Jews, police officers and journalists.
Bangert and his circle of fellow “Celtic druids” (as they called themselves on messenger chats) are now being accused of plotting attacks on asylum homes, police officers and Jewish centers over the last year. (Fortunately, none of these were carried out). They had gathered weapons and ammunition. In one member’s garden, officers dug up 1,200 rounds, an imperial war flag, a passport to the nonexistent empire, and several homemade guns.
Before his arrest, Bangert had enjoyed minor celebrity status as the token weirdo in his neighborhood in Schwetzingen (a cookie-cutter Bavarian city), where he would lead hiking tours and organize archery sessions. Some people liked him. Certainly no one took him seriously, until the cops came to pick him up.
And King Fitzek? The former tattoo parlor owner?
He set up what he called a Reichsbank in a pedestrian zone in the small city of Wittenberg to finance his “state.” Some 574 easy-going strollers agreed to put their savings into it. For whatever reason, they thought it seemed a better bet than Deutsche Bank and other legit institutions—until the Kaiser stole all their money.
For the four years of his reign, Kaiser Fitzek’s fantasy kingdom had seemed contented. He had set himself up in an old hospital, where he passed a smoking ban and made all the tenants eat vegetarian food.
So, when the judge read out the verdict against him in court two weeks ago, which sentenced the 51-year-old to three years and eight months in prison for embezzling 1.3 million euros from his so-called subjects—several of whom were present at the hearing to stand in solidarity with their “ruler”—Fitzek was absolutely outraged.
“Joke!”, “Scandal!”, “Lies!” he kept interrupting the judge, crying out in protest.
Nope, no one knows where the money is, but it’s definitely not invested in the collective
Reich project, as Fitzek’s defense lawyer claimed.