The trial of 12 men accused of planning a series of far-right terror attacks on asylum seekers, Muslims, Jews and politicians in an attempt to overthrow German democracy has opened in the city of Stuttgart.
Gruppe S (Group S) was named after Werner S, a 55-year-old junk salesman, who is believed to have established it in 2019 and been its leader. He has described himself as a “free spirit with leanings towards National Socialism”. The like-minded men he brought to the group sought to trigger a situation akin to a civil war, according to federal prosecutors.
Eleven of the men are on trial for membership of a terrorist organisation and violating weapons laws. The 12th stands accused of supporting a terrorist group.
The accused include a tiler, a nurse, security guards and an administration secretary with the police. Several of the men had links to or membership of other far-right groups including the organisation Bruderschaft Deutschland, considered to be a collecting point for rightwing extremists and counting hooligans, bouncers and martial artists among its members.
The prosecutors said the men, aged between 33 and 62, were German nationals who had an “openly Nazi attitude” to life, doing nothing to hide their anti-foreigner sentiment. Some have tattoos bearing Nazi symbols, including a swastika, an image of Hitler in uniform, the word “Aryan” and the Imperial war flag of the German empire.
In a chat group on the platform Telegram, one of the accused allegedly referred to black people as “subhuman, so up for a massacre”. The men used codenames when talking to one another on the telephone. They met for discussions and shooting practice with their ultimate aim being to establish a new societal order, according to the prosecution.
One man is said to have told his girlfriend he was prepared to “die in battle” for the organisation’s cause.
The men are also accused of arranging to purchase weapons and ammunition valued at about €50,000 (£43,000) via a dealer known to one of them. Other weapons were found during raids on the men’s homes and other properties.
One of the attacks they planned was against the co-leader of the Green party, Robert Habeck, prosecutors said.
Gruppe S’s members had connections to several rightwing extremist groupings, using the networks they built on to recruit new members, and calling on “fast, clever and brutal fighters” to join their cause.
Eight of the 12 men appeared in court hiding their faces behind case binders. They were seated behind bulletproof glass.
The group came to light after a man identified only as Paul U, an erstwhile member, became disillusioned with the group and blew its cover by informing the police. The police raided homes and properties linked to the group on 14 February last year, since when the men have been held in custody.
A bespectacled Paul U appeared in court dressed in a navy blue anorak, its hood and his medical face mask covering almost his entire face. He has been denounced by the group’s members as a traitor, and has police protection.
Paul U told the judge he could not give his address for reasons of his safety. He has told investigators the group was founded at a barbecue area on the edge of a remote forest near the town of Altdorf in Baden-Württemberg.
The trial is taking place against a backdrop of growing concern about the rise of violent rightwing crime in Germany, with the number of extremist incidents rising to a four-year high last year, according to police statistics released in February.
High-profile rightwing extremist attacks have rocked the country in recent years, leading the interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to call far-right terrorism “the biggest security threat” facing the country.
In January Stephan Ernst, a neo-Nazi, was sentenced to life in prison for murdering the Christian Democratic Union politician Walter Lübcke due to his support of pro-migration policies.
In February last year, a far-right extremist operating alone gunned down 10 people and wounding five others in the central city of Hanau.
In 2019 two people were killed after a neo-Nazi attacker tried to burst into a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
The current trial is taking place amid high security in Stammheim prison in the north of Stuttgart, where the men are being held. It is the same complex in which the Red Army Faction urban guerrilla terrorist group were held in the 1970s, as well as where their trials took place.
The trial is expected to continue until August.