Participants display QAnon flags in Dresden, Germany on October 17, 2021. (Photo by Matthias Rietschel / picture alliance via Getty Images)
Participants display QAnon flags in Dresden, Germany on October 17, 2021. (Photo by Matthias Rietschel / picture alliance via Getty Images)

Inside the Far Right QAnon Plot to Overthrow the German Government

 “A hardcore of believers think that now they don’t have any chance besides violent action.”

German investigators sent shockwaves across the country, and the world, when they unmasked a suspected far-right terror network on Wednesday that includes a minor aristocrat, special forces soldiers, and a former lawmaker, who had drawn up plans to violently overthrow the German government.

For anyone who has paid any attention to the rising far-right extremist problem in Germany in recent years, it came as no surprise when the prosecutors revealed that the members of the network they uncovered subscribed to the radical Reichsbürger or “Citizens of the Reich” movement, a decades-old sovereign citizen group that believes the modern German state is illegitimate.


It may have come as a surprise, however, when prosecutors stated that the group was inspired by “QAnon ideology.”

Despite QAnon’s U.S.-centric narrative focusing on former President Donald Trump, the conspiracy movement has now spread across the globe. German-speaking communities have become the largest non-American audience for QAnon, finding a ready audience in the Reichsbürger movement, which falsely believes that Germany is still an occupied country because, they claim, there was never a formalized peace treaty with Allied forces after World War 2 (there was).

One reason QAnon was adopted so widely in Germany is that there is a strong overlap between QAnon’s conspiracy narratives and those shared by the Reichsbürger movement, including the belief that the pandemic was created by the “deep state” as part of a long-running conspiracy to control the population.

Now, experts believe that the merging of the Reichsbürger movement and QAnon could lead to a dramatic increase in the potential for violent extremism committed by conspiracy adherents.

“[This case] could be the most significant QAnon terror group and plot worldwide,” Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute in Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation Studies, told VICE World News on Wednesday about the foiled plan to overthrow the German government.


The plot, which included a plan to violently attack the German parliament building known as the Reichstag, is worrying those tracking the far-right in Germany, given the number of people involved and the fact it included members of the security forces. Far-right experts in the U.S. have voiced similar concerns about QAnon followers, who played a central role in the storming of the Capitol because they believed they had no other option.

 “A hardcore of believers think that now they don’t have any chance besides violent action,” Miro Dittrich, the co-founder of CeMAS, a think tank specializing in conspiracy ideology and right-wing extremism, told VICE News. “Because if you actually believe that there’s a genocide happening against your people by an evil almighty enemy, and you have proof that the government has been taken over and you can’t change anything with elections, the militant believers now start doing violent plots.” 

Conspiracists in Germany have long promoted QAnon. Within weeks of the first ever “Q drop” on 4chan at the end of October 2017, German conspiracy theorists picked up on the nascent movement. One of the very first people to promote QAnon to a German-speaking audience was Oliver Janich, one of Germany’s most notorious far-right conspiracy theorists, who posted a YouTube video about it on Nov 25, 2017. One important channel for disseminating QAnon content in Germany became an account called Qlobal-Change, which translated English-language Q posts into German.


 “A hardcore of believers think that now they don’t have any chance besides violent action.”

Still, throughout 2018, QAnon remained a relatively fringe conspiracy in Germany, as it did in the U.S., though signs bearing QAnon symbols and slogans were seen at election rallies during local elections in Bavaria that year.

QAnon really took hold in Germany in the first half of 2020, as COVID-19 restrictions came into effect. In the first six months of 2020, there was a massive spike in views of videos posted to the Qlobal-Change YouTube channel.

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German QAnon promoters were also migrating to Telegram, where follower counts rose significantly; the Qlobal-Change channel grew from 20,000 subscribers in March 2020 to more than 100,000 just two months later.

The pandemic brought a new raft of German-specific QAnon conspiracies, as well. The most popular one centered on the false narrative that the NATO Defender-Europe 20 exercise, scheduled to begin during this time, was part of Trump’s plan to destroy the deep state in Germany and free the nation and Europe as a whole. When the exercise was canceled because of COVID, QAnon believers spread the baseless claim that then-Chancellor Angela Merkel had deliberately created the pandemic to thwart Trump.  

These narratives combined elements of the Reichsbürger scene with QAnon conspiracies, suggesting that Germany remained ruled by Allied occupation forces—predominantly the U.S.—due to the supposed lack of a peace treaty after World War II (the Allied Forces Paris Peace treaties were signed in 1947). As a result, many Germans latched onto QAnon during Trump’s time in office because they believed that he was secretly ruling Germany.


The conspiracies also appealed emotionally, experts told VICE News. Like the Reichsbürger movement, QAnon conspiracies seem to offer solutions to its followers’ problems.

“What brings them together is that they both offer practical options of how to get out of this feeling of powerlessness,” Dittrich said. “In QAnon, it’s being part of the digital army, fighting against the evil people, and in the sovereign citizenship movement, you can create your own state or try to get back some sovereignty by doing a military dictatorship or asking foreign powers to take over.”

By the middle of 2020, the QAnon, Reichsbürger, and anti-vaxx movements had aligned and carried out multiple protests in cities across Germany. In August, a protest in Berlin turned violent when a QAnon believer named Tamara K. told a group of protesters that Trump had landed in Germany to take control of the country, and they had to show their support for him by attacking parliament. 

“In QAnon, it’s being part of the digital army, fighting against the evil people, and in the sovereign citizenship movement, you can create your own state or try to get back some sovereignty by doing a military dictatorship or asking foreign powers to take over.”

In response, hundreds of far-right activists managed to break through a police barrier and attempted to storm the Reichstag, waving the black, white, and red flag of the pre-1918 German Empire, which once inspired the Nazis. Police managed to get the situation under control quickly, but the incident marked a significant escalation in the far right’s actions in Germany—and eerily predicted the storming of the U.S. Capitol just six months later.


Though Trump lost the 2020 election and Q went silent for months, QAnon has continued to thrive in both countries over the last two years. An analysis of the QAnon community in Germany conducted this year by CeMAS, a think tank specializing in conspiracy ideology and right-wing extremism, found six German-speaking QAnon channels on Telegram that have more than 100,000 subscribers and a total of 115 channels with at least 1,000 subscribers.

QAnon conspiracies not only flowed from the U.S. to Germany, but in the opposite direction too.

In 2020, during the height of the election fraud conspiracies pushed by Trump and others in the Republican Party, a QAnon channel in Germany claimed without evidence that a computer server in Frankfurt belonging to election software company Scytl was seized by the U.S. Army and held evidence of election fraud perpetrated by President Joe Biden.

The conspiracy quickly spread from Germany to the U.S. where Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert shared it on social media, while right wing TV stations Newsmax and One America News also promoted it despite the claim being completely false.

More recently, a conspiracy that something big was about to happen on September 24 originated in German QAnon channels based on a misstatement by a German lawmaker in the Bundestag. The conspiracy, which involved an episode of the Simpsons, quickly jumped from German QAnon channels on Telegram to popular U.S. channels.


And German groups continue to be directly influenced by what is happening in major U.S. QAnon channels. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, U.S. QAnon groups praised Russia’s authoritarian President Vladimir Putin, and it appears the German network unmasked on Wednesday took a similar view. 

While investigators have yet to share full details of the violent plot to overthrow the German government they unmasked this week, they revealed Wednesday that the group was looking to Moscow for help.

Prosecutors said the network was looking to establish contact with the Kremlin in the hope Moscow would help them achieve their goals by creating an alliance that would help the insurrectionists remain in power. One of the 25 people arrested Wednesday was a Russian national identified only as Vitalia B.  

“What members of this group specifically believed is that there could be an alliance of Russia and the U.S. to liberate Germany from the deep state,” Jakob Guhl, a researcher at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue who focuses on far-right and conspiracy communities, told VICE News.

But despite repeated conspiracies about Trump returning to power soon, the former president remains out of office. And the expected “red wave” failed to materialize during November’s midterms, again puncturing the QAnon belief that Trump was somehow secretly in charge.

As a result of five years of failed promises and prophecies, QAnon adherents in the U.S. and in Germany have slowly moved away from the mantra of “trust the plan,” and instead embraced the idea that they need to “become the plan,” Guhl said. 

“You have adherents now wondering what to do about it, the deep state still appears to get power, so it may be up to us to do something about that,” he added.

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