German 'coup' prompts push to purge extremism in police and military

Police union accuses Interior Minister of presuming guilt over plan to reform disciplinary rules

Thousands of police officers were involved in the raids against suspected far-right plotters. Reuters
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Right-wing extremists could be sacked from German police ranks more quickly after the discovery of an alleged armed coup plot.

Prosecutors said they uncovered a terrorist cell including ex-soldiers that hoped to recruit from the police and military.

It was the latest in a series of alarming incidents involving alleged far-right sympathies in the German security forces.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser wants to reform disciplinary rules for public servants after last week's raids.

It would allow police to sack suspected far-right sympathisers without going through a lengthy court procedure.

But her plans face resistance from police unions and critics who accuse her of presuming guilt.

A union representing federal police posted a cartoon of Ms Faeser suggesting she was pursuing a witch hunt.

It shows a police officer being burnt at the stake and being told by Ms Faeser to prove they are not a witch.

“Reversing the burden of proof would be the real putsch,” said Georg Pazderski, a former soldier and far-right politician in Berlin.

Ms Faeser denied throwing a blanket of suspicion on police, and said the majority of officers were loyal to the constitution.

But she said “enemies of the constitution” should be removed from public service as quickly as possible.

“It’s very dangerous for extremists to be in the security forces,” she told the political talk show Anne Will.

“We want to reform disciplinary procedures so that they’re quicker and we don’t have to accept right-wing extremists in the public sector.”

Her reforms would mean a court procedure is only triggered if someone appeals their dismissal.

Ms Faeser is also open to sacking public sector employees sentenced to six months or more in prison. Current rules say they can only be sacked if jailed for at least a year.

But there is a debate over whether extremism in police and military ranks is a structural problem as some on the left claim.

Some Germans of an older generation fear a return to what was seen as overzealous scrutiny of teachers and other public servants at a time of far-left unrest in the 1970s.

Arrests in Germany over 'right-wing coup plot' — in pictures

An elite police unit was disbanded last year after officers were accused of sharing far-right content in online chats.

In another worrying case, an ex-soldier was jailed for plotting to frame Syrian refugees for a violent attack.

The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said last week that there were “more than isolated cases” of extremism.

Prosecutors said the alleged plotters were influenced by the Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) movement, which denies the legitimacy of Germany’s postwar democracy.

The fact that some suspects had access to weapons led to fears that the group could have committed atrocities even if its coup plans had not succeeded.

It has prompted a similar debate over whether Germany’s gun laws should be toughened.

“If we’re talking about the Reichsbuerger, we have to talk about systematic disarmament,” said Green MP Marcel Emmerich.

“Enemies of the constitution cannot under any circumstances have access to weapons.”

Updated: December 12, 2022, 12:34 PM