Two judiciary vans, each carrying defendants, drive in a courtyard...

Two judiciary vans, each carrying defendants, drive in a courtyard before the start of the trial against members of the "United Patriots" grouping at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. Five people go on trial in Germany on Wednesday accused of planning a far-right coup and plotting to kidnap the country's health minister. Credit: AP/Sebastian Gollnow

BERLIN — Five people go on trial in Germany on Wednesday accused of planning a far-right coup and plotting to kidnap the country's health minister.

The four men, aged 44 to 56, and a 75-year-old woman are accused of founding or being members of a terrorist organization and treason.

Federal prosecutors say the group is linked to the Reich Citizens scene that rejects the legitimacy of Germany’s postwar constitution and has similarities to the Sovereign Citizens and QAnon movements in the United States.

Prosecutors say they intended to create “conditions similar to civil war” by using explosives to cause nationwide blackouts, then kidnapping Health Minister Karl Lauterbach — a prominent advocate of strict coronavirus measures.

There were no indications the group, which called itself United Patriots, was close to launching a coup. But prosecutors said the group’s procurement of weapons and money showed they were "dangerous criminals who wanted to implement their plans.”

The men, whose names weren't released for privacy reasons, were arrested in April last year. Police at the time seized 22 firearms, including a Kalashnikov rifle, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, as well as large sums of cash, gold and silver.

The woman, who was arrested six months later, is alleged to have drafted numerous documents for the group including an ‘arrest warrant’ for Lauterbach. The retired teacher also wrote letters addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Judiciary vans, each carrying defendants, drive in a courtyard before...

Judiciary vans, each carrying defendants, drive in a courtyard before the start of the trial against members of the "United Patriots" grouping at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. Five people go on trial in Germany on Wednesday accused of planning a far-right coup and plotting to kidnap the country's health minister. Credit: AP/Sebastian Gollnow

Lauterbach told German weekly Der Spiegel that he hopes for a “hard, fair verdict” that would deter others from planning similar plots.

The case is separate from that of the more than two dozen people arrested in December, also for planning to topple the government. Among the plotters was a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

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