A so-called “Nazi druid” who allegedly denied the Holocaust and called for the murder of Jews went on trial in Germany on Friday, charged with sedition and violation of gun laws.
Karl Burghard Bangert, a bearded, longhaired 71-year-old who styles himself as a mystical Celtic druid under the alias “Burgos von Buchonia,” is facing trial along with three other men, who are all considered to be right-wing extremists by German security services.
The four defendants, who are all allegedly Reichsbürger (“citizens of the Reich”) – members of Germany’s anti-establishment, sovereign citizen conspiracy movement, who believe the government is illegitimate – are charged with illegally hoarding an arsenal of weapons, ammunition and explosives between 2015 and 2017, when they were raided by authorities.
Prosecutors say the group were preppers, seeking to arm themselves ahead of the imminent collapse of society; according to reports, Bangert sought to set up an armed compound with other like-minded people, where they would survive after the fall of the state.
Among the weapons recovered in the raids were a flamethrower, a semi-automatic self-loading pistol, and self-made single-shot handguns.
Bangert is also charged with sedition over a series of social media posts in which he denied the Holocaust, called for the murder of Jews, and incited hatred against refugees, according to prosecutors.
He appeared in Mannheim district court wearing a shirt with a Celtic logo and a necklace of what appeared to be pagan charms.
Bangert is a former insurance agent who, after reinventing himself as a druid, developed a modest profile in local media for his eccentric appearance. According to DW, in a TV news segment that aired on Bavaria’s state broadcaster in 2008, the self-styled druid claimed he was born 2,500 years ago, and raised by his uncle, “the great wizard Merlin," after his mother died in childbirth.
He was known to give guided tours of the Rhone region, and perform New Age ceremonies, said Nicholas Potter, a far-right expert at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin.
But along with the belief in New Age spiritualism, he also harboured vehemently racist views – including the “virulent antisemitic, conspiracy-driven worldview that Jews have been waging a secret war against the German people for centuries,” said Potter.
Jan Rathje, a far-right expert at the Center for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy, said that Bangert presented himself “on the one hand as a druid and on the other as a far-right and antisemitic resistance fighter - especially via social media.”
“There, he spreads hatred against Jews, migrants, journalists, and politicians,” he said, adding that his group believed in the racist "Great Replacement" myth. He added that the group had been mobilised to try to set up his armed compound at the height of the panic over migration into Europe around 2015.
While New Age and far-right beliefs might seem unlikely bedfellows, extremism experts say that there is a long tradition of esoteric far-right conspiracy beliefs in Germany.
“Back in the imperial era, certain esoteric groups and the [ethnonationalist] Völkisch movement were linked by their anti-modern, racist, and antisemitic ideas,” said Rathje.
“These included the belief that there was a hierarchical ‘natural order’ to the world that was threatened by liberalism, socialism, democracy, science, and minority rights.”
Nazi ideology contained a pronounced esoteric strand, and new age movements continue to play a role on the far-right fringe to this day, said Potter.
“Nazi ideology was a bizarre potpourri of Nordic myths, Indian symbolism and occult rituals. Fast-forward to the last few decades and the esoteric world has proved a fertile soil for conspiracy narratives such as the Reichsbürger movement,” he said.
“Both adopt an anti-authoritarian and anti-state mindset that challenges the established view of the world, be it regarding medicine, politics or the media.”
He said the connections between new age and far-right ideology had become particularly visible during the pandemic, with the rise of the COVID-denying Querdenken (“lateral thinkers”) conspiracy movement, which united neo-Nazi hooligans with people from the new age, spiritual and wellness spheres.
“An esoteric worldview that denies the existence of COVID and the effectiveness of vaccines has been able to unite yoga teachers, Reichsbürger and Nazi skinheads in their goal of wanting to overthrow the state, which they frame as a dictatorship,” he said.
The trial has been adjourned until April.