OFF THE GRID: GERMANY’S REICHSBURGER MOVEMENT

OFF THE GRID: GERMANY’S REICHSBURGER MOVEMENT

When frustration with the system boils over, some vote for populist parties and politicians. But as my colleague Alex Kliment explains, other more imaginative types go a step further: they reject government authority altogether and set up their own self-styled states, some of them complete with their own flags, passports, and even currencies.


That’s what thousands of disaffected Germans have done as part of the loosely affiliated “Reichsbürger Movement,” established on the principle that the German government created after World War Two is illegitimate and that the German Empire is still legally in force. Near the city of Wittenberg in the former East Germany, a local man has crowned himself monarch of the “Kingdom of Germany,” a would-be state of 250 people who no longer pay German taxes or carry German identification papers. There are dozens of other such entities scattered across the country.

The Reichsbürger  (literally, “Reich citizens”) movement dates to the 1980s, but its ranks, mainly rightwing sympathizers, have nearly doubled to 16,500 people since 2016 as broader anti-establishment sentiment has grown throughout Germany. The authorities say that about 900 members are considered extremists and that gun ownership rates in the movement are more than triple the national average of 2 percent. Last year, a Reichsbürgermember was given a life sentence for killing a policeman.

On the one hand, the Reichsbürger – like the “Sovereign Citizens” movement in the US, the “Freemen-on-the-Land” throughout the former British empire, or even the nice Norwegian lady who established the short-lived enclave of Niceland – are a weird sort of curiosity. Peter I of the Kingdom of Germany is recognized by no other governments or states.

But in a world where every level of political organization seems to be chafing against the authority of the level above it – countries against multinational unions, regions against countries, states against federal governments, and even cities against their surrounding regions and countries – they are the ultimate, if quixotic, expression of individual sovereignty. The “Reichsbürger Movement” involves thousands of people and continues to grow.

In a world where social media helps citizens with grievances find one another more easily than ever, where the Internet can give alternative narratives of sovereignty a new kind of authority, and where even guns and bullets can now be printed at home, we can expect more of these sorts of movements around the world in the coming years.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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