One of Germany’s most notorious far-right conspiracy theorists has been arrested in the Philippines over his calls on social media for followers to execute politicians.
Oliver Janich, considered one of the most influential and radical conspiracy ideologues in the German-speaking world with about 150,000 followers on Telegram, was arrested on Wednesday at a resort on the island of Tablas, in a major operation by Philippines security services in coordination with the German embassy to the Philippines.
In a statement to VICE World News, Philippine National Police said that Janich, who had lived in the Philippines for a number of years, had been arrested because he was wanted under a warrant issued by a court in Munich in April for public incitement to commit criminal offences.
The statement said that the raid had been instigated when the German embassy notified Philippine authorities in July that Janich was a “fugitive from justice,” and therefore posed a risk to public safety and security. Janich’s passport had been revoked by German authorities and he would be turned over to Philippine immigration officials, the statement said.
Janich, a 53-year-old former financial journalist, originally from Munich, has run his influential conspiracy media operation from the Philippines for a number of years, where he’s reportedly been involved in attempts to establish a community of German-speakers who share his worldview.
The arrest of Janich – just the latest legal drama to engulf a major figure in the German conspiracist scene – sent shockwaves among his followers.
Supporters on Janich’s Telegram channel – where the arrest was first made public on Wednesday – swiftly sprang into action, spreading hashtags calling for his release, and encouraging people to bombard the German embassy in the Philippines with calls and emails protesting the arrest.
Supporters claimed Janich was a “political prisoner” who had been “kidnapped” by the authorities in order to take him to Germany for a so-called “show trial.”
Admins of Janich’s Telegram channel shared a statement from an Austrian right-wing news outlet that had been about to interview Janich when he was arrested. The statement included a quote from Janich, who spoke of his concern that he would be deported.
“The problem is: if they deport me, I am not allowed back and my fiancée is pregnant,” he was quoted as saying.
The Philippines has no extradition treaty with Germany, but has previously deported German nationals wanted for alleged offences in Europe.
Miro Dittrich, senior researcher at CeMAS, the Centre for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy, told VICE World News that Janich was a relative veteran of the German conspiracist scene, who began building a following in the mid-2010s.
“He’s one of the most prolific and active in this space,” he said. “He’s one of the originals.”
Janich was an early adopter of QAnon and one of its biggest mouthpieces in Germany, instrumental to its rapid spread through German-speaking digital networks, where the meta-conspiracy theory is believed to have found its biggest following outside the English-speaking world. Dittrich said Janich later backed away from the conspiracy theory when Donald Trump, glorified by QAnon followers as a supposed enemy of the “deep state,” lost the 2020 presidential election.
But it was during the pandemic, which led to a massive rise in conspiracy ideology as people went down rabbit holes of online misinformation, that Janich emerged as one of the most German radical conspiracy ideologues. Janich has been monitored as a potential threat by intelligence services in the state of Bavaria, and in October 2020, he was kicked off YouTube, where he had 160,000 subscribers.
Janich is just the latest German conspiracy influencer to strike legal troubles, after Michael Ballweg, the founder of the country’s disruptive Querdenken (“Lateral thinking”) COVID-conspiracist anti-lockdown protest movement, was arrested in late June. Ballweg remains in jail while under investigation for alleged fraud and money laundering. During a court appearance in Stuttgart on Monday, hundreds of his supporters protested outside demanding his release.
Dittrich said the German conspiracist scene was “definitely going through legal issues right now, the big figures but also the little figures.”
“There’s definitely a sort of reckoning that’s happening against the scene,” he added.
Additional reporting by Alastair McCready.