Bloomberg Businessweek


PETER FITZEK IS THE KING Of GERMANY. AT 54, HE HAS THE ponytail and square jaw of an ’80s-movie terrorist—or perhaps a karate instructor, which in fact he was before ascending to the throne. Like other monarchs, Peter tends to be identified by his first name. His dominion offers its own passport, currency, and health-care plan, and it boasts more than 1,300 subjects, some of whom lived, until recently, in a sprawling compound in Wittenberg, 60 miles southwest of Berlin. Most important, he rose alongside a woman tabloids called his queen: Annett Ullmann, a model and waitress who was brunette and beautiful and wore lavender silk shirts to his court appearances.

When he meets journalists, Peter brings a binder of legal documents to support his claim to the throne. It’s smaller than the meter-high stack he typically lugs to court, where he’s found himself for violations such as speeding and the illegal possession of nunchucks. He records his conversations with reporters, a habit developed after a comedy troupe cat-fished him into a confrontation in the lobby of a Frankfurt hotel. (He ended up in a fistfight before stunned tourists.) His microphone has a sticker proclaiming that it’s owned by one of his followers, placed there so German tax authorities wouldn’t seize it to compensate some once-loyal subjects from whom he was accused of embezzling more than €1.3 million ($1.4 million).

Presented with a recorder, Peter talks and talks. He talks about how he healed an ex-girlfriend who was abused as a child by Satanists, using only his hands. About how a cabal of shadowy elites, including Rockefellers and Orthodox Jews, spread Covid-19 to boost drug profits and compel Germans to accept implanted biosensor chips. How a sniper once shot his car on the autobahn, but divine intervention caused the bullet to only nick the windshield. (He knows what you’re thinking, but a policeman friend told him there’s no way it was a rock.)

King Peter’s subjects are adherents of the Reichsbürger movement, whose members believe Germany doesn’t exist. The republic, they contend, is a limited liability company controlled by the Allied victors of World War II—and, according to the more anti-Semitic, the Rothschild family. Reichsbürgers print their own passports, often refuse to pay taxes, and clog courts with paperwork, along the same lines as the U.S. “sovereign citizen” movement.

And like their other American kin, QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory alleging a “deep state” plot against Donald Trump—they’re products of the digital age of unreason. Reichsbürgers are indoctrinated by low-budget YouTube talk shows hosted by

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