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Morning news brief


We're going to start in Germany this hour where authorities disrupted a plot by a far-right extremist group to overthrow the government.


In one of the country's largest anti-terror raids, police on Wednesday arrested 25 people in many different locations. Many belong to a movement known as the Reich Citizens. The revelation of their alleged plot adds to concerns about anti-democratic movements around the world.

MARTIN: Reporter Esme Nicholson has been following this story since the news broke a day ago, and she joins us now. Hey, Esme.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: How much more do we know at this point?

NICHOLSON: Well, the investigation is widening, and authorities say they expect to make further arrests in the coming days. But currently, 25 people, as you say, were detained yesterday and are being questioned. Among them is a minor aristocrat and apparent ringleader who was allegedly going to install himself as the next leader of Germany. They also arrested a Berlin judge and former lawmaker, a serving armed forces Achberg (ph) soldier and former police officers. None of these fit the typical terrorist profile. They appear to come from all sections of society. Many are professionals. Some are wealthy. Others have experience with weapons, which they appear to have been stockpiling. Prosecutors also believe that former police officers were attempting to recruit from the force and from the armed forces, which is particularly worrying given the details of their alleged plot, which, as you say, was to stage a violent coup, killing politicians and bringing down the power grid to cause panic and chaos. Finally, Germany's federal police chief says the network behind this plot is probably much larger and that the so-called Reichsburger, or Reich Citizens, are a major part of it.

MARTIN: So a lot in there to absorb, but let's unpack what that means. The Reich Citizens - who are they?

NICHOLSON: It is actually a reference to the Second Reich, when Germany still had a monarchy, and many Reichsburger refused to accept the abdication of the Kaiser after the first world war. Now the Reichsburger movement has various regional variations, but they all believe that modern-day Germany is either illegitimate or doesn't exist. Some even believe that Germany is still occupied by the full World War II Allies, so the U.S., Great Britain, France and Russia. And in rejecting the current state, rejecting the state, many of these groups refuse to pay taxes, and they even issue their own currencies and passports. A small minority is considered to be particularly violent, and among them are many ex-soldiers.

MARTIN: So, I mean, it's not just these so-called Reich Citizens, but there are QAnon-inspired conspiracy theorists in this group. I mean, Germany's far right is a diverse crowd, Esme. Explain how this group fits in.

NICHOLSON: Yeah, that's right. As you say, they are a diverse bunch, and authorities believe that they're starting to mix with one another. In fact, we saw this during the pandemic, when corona deniers and those protesting against lockdown measures were joined by men - and it is mainly men - carrying flags from the Second Reich, the Reichsburger. We also saw that - what a dangerous mix this is when, in the summer of 2020, these protesters tried to force their way into the Bundestag unsuccessfully. But as you say, this threat is not - it's just one of many. Neo-Nazis never really went away, and authorities have been rooting out police officers and soldiers with far-right sympathies for a number of years now. So the security services have a lot to keep track of, not least within their own ranks. And they know this, and that's why their main focus is now far-right terrorism instead of Islamist terror.

MARTIN: NPR's Esme Nicholson, reporting from Berlin, thank you so much.

NICHOLSON: Thank you, Rachel.


MARTIN: OK, Saudi Arabia has a whole lot of oil. China has a whole lot of everything else, which means the countries' leaders will have a lot to talk about.

INSKEEP: Yeah. China's leader, Xi Jinping, is on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia and is expected to meet with Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful crown prince, along with some other leaders from around the Persian Gulf. So what would a closer relationship between those nations mean for the United States?

MARTIN: NPR's international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam is with us. Hey, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What do the Saudis, what do the Chinese, what do each camp want through this summit?

NORTHAM: Well, broadly, it's an opportunity to help cement relations between the two countries. And the Saudis say they're going to sign a strategic partnership with Xi while he's in Riyadh, as well as some energy deals. The two nations have strong ties. Saudi Arabia is one of China's largest suppliers of oil, and China is the kingdom's biggest trading partner. Chinese companies, you know, have major infrastructure projects in Saudi Arabia, such as ports and telecommunications, and are looking for more investment opportunities. But equally important is the symbolism of Xi's visit, which shows that Saudi Arabia has other options than the U.S., and it may be recalibrating its foreign policy.

MARTIN: I mean, Xi's visit to Saudi Arabia comes just months after President Biden was there. Explain the difference between the U.S. and Chinese approaches to Saudi Arabia.

NORTHAM: Well, both Beijing and Washington are competing for influence in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf region. China's approach to the kingdom is more transactional. And as I mentioned, Xi's visit will be geared to opening more investment opportunities and securing an important energy source for China. On the other hand, U.S. presidents traditionally have had personal relationships with Saudi kings, and that's not true with President Biden and the crown prince. They have quite a frosty relationship. But even so, the U.S. and Saudi relationship has been built for decades on security strategy, like regional stability and opposing Iran. And you can't underestimate that. But over the past few years, especially since the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, became the de facto leader, you've seen Saudi Arabia indicate that it doesn't want to be beholden to the U.S. It considers itself a modern and rich nation that wants to make its own decisions, and that goes for the other Gulf nations - you know, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar. They want to keep their options open and go where their interests lie.

MARTIN: Neither China nor Saudi Arabia are democracies, right? Does that endear them to each other in a way that could undermine democracy elsewhere?

NORTHAM: Well, both men are considered autocrats. Xi Jinping recently locked in his position as China's leader for the third term, and the crown prince is expected to be king one day. You know, the two leaders probably won't be discussing human rights during this visit. Unlike the U.S., China isn't going to bring up the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents a few years ago. But, you know, having said all that, there is a place for the U.S. still, and it could depend on who is president. The crown prince had a very strong relationship with former President Trump, and who knows if and how relations could change depending on who's in the White House.

MARTIN: NPR's Jackie Northam. Thanks, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thanks, Rachel.


MARTIN: For generations, Iowa and New Hampshire have gone first in picking presidential nominees, but Democrats want to upend that tradition.

INSKEEP: President Biden and the Democratic National Committee put forward a new calendar the other day in which South Carolina would go first, which is, of course, raising a lot of questions.

MARTIN: To answer some of them, we've got NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro with us. Hey, Domenico.


MARTIN: Before getting to the consequences of this change, remind us what the White House and the DNC are proposing.

MONTANARO: Well, they want to kick Iowa out of the first states, demote New Hampshire and elevate South Carolina and a few others. South Carolina would go first on February 3, 2024. Three days later, Nevada and New Hampshire, then Georgia a week later, and Michigan two weeks after that.


MONTANARO: Well, the Iowa Democratic Party, frankly, botched their vote-reporting in 2020. But I have to say, that's just sort of the last crack in the dam. You know, this was a long time coming. Iowa has started to move more solidly into Republicans' column in presidential elections. And more importantly, it really doesn't reflect the growing demographic diversity of the Democratic Party. And that's a point that was emphasized by Donna Brazile, the longtime party activist and member of the committee that pushed this through. Here's what she told me.

DONNA BRAZILE: It's like going to a dinner party, and everyone has been served an appetizer and had the full menu. And when it comes time for dessert, we say, well, we're out of food. That's not the way we should do it in the Democratic Party.

MONTANARO: She also said the Democrats are looking at potentially reassessing the calendar now every four years.

MARTIN: So there are going to be people who don't like this plan. South Carolina clearly jumps out as a state that helped propel Joe Biden to the nomination. It's not exactly a swing state.

MONTANARO: Yeah, and there are people who are saying exactly that. You know, that's a point that Faiz Shakir, who was Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign manager and who is the voting DNC delegate - that he made to me. He says that he won't be voting for this proposal because he sees South Carolina as too culturally conservative, that it's not going to go blue anytime soon and that it strikes him as something else.

FAIZ SHAKIR: I think that President Biden made a decision that smacks of political favoritism. I can respect and appreciate that the president feels fondness toward South Carolina. Those are all appropriate feelings. However, none of those feelings are strategically the reason why South Carolina should go first.

MONTANARO: You know, lots of others who do support this plan point out that South Carolina in a primary is made up of 60% Black voters. And Black voters, of course, are a key demographic group for Democrats. Shakir says that his point, though, is strictly about competitiveness and that there are sizable Black populations in swing states like Georgia and Michigan. Beyond demographics, though, others have really warned against having too many big states frontloaded in the calendar because it could eliminate retail politics, you know, when voters get to test candidates up close, and that's the very thing that Iowa and New Hampshire were so good at.

MARTIN: Yeah. So critics are making their voices heard because this is not a done deal, right?

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's definitely not. You know, this is far from solidified. States have until January 5 to go back to the DNC with a plan that shows that they'd actually be able to do this. Already, Georgia looks like it might not be able to because the secretary of state's office runs elections and is insisting on having both parties primaries on the same day. And Republicans already voted on their calendar, and Georgia's not in the top several states. New Hampshire, which has held the first primary for more than 100 years, is going to fight this tooth and nail and very well may go first anyway, despite some promised penalties, including candidates who campaign there could be kept off debate stages. One thing, though, that's probably for sure - Iowa is probably out. No more talk of butter cows, at least for a while with the Democrats.

MARTIN: All those fried foods at the Iowa State Fair.

NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks.

MONTANARO: Hey, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.