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part 5

a tangled re-telling

IN THE WAKE of what became known as the “Storming of the Reichstag,” Kirschbaum’s life fell apart. Shunned by other activists and forced out of Germany’s QAnon scene, she was accused of being a double agent who orchestrated the run on the Reichstag to derail the so-called “resistance.” She never expected her allies in Qlobal Change and the “resistance” to turn on her.

In July 2021, Kirschbaum greets me warmly at her home in Roetgen. We gather at an outdoor patio on seating made from wooden pallets, and she offers me homemade flavored water as a refreshment while we talk. She asks me to remove “that” — my face mask. Kirschbaum says she has not worn one since the pandemic began.

Since our first conversation in late 2020, her story about the lead-up to the storming of the Reichstag has changed. Kirschbaum originally said she was supposed to be the last speaker on stage that day, but went up early, after a man told her he saw Trump in Berlin. Now she tells me that the plan had always been to storm the Reichstag; those who invited her to speak that day chose her to go onstage and announce the run on the building due to her “charisma.” The plan was also to actually enter the building, she says. But after going on stage — earlier than planned — Kirschbaum says she deliberately avoided advocating this, telling the crowd only to take some “pictures for other people in other countries” from the steps, because she sensed it was a trap.

In her tangled retelling, the whole storming was a false-flag operation. “My opinion,” Kirschbaum says, “is that when we go in, they shoot. I think the twenty-ninth [was meant to] be the blueprint for January 6, in [the U.S.] Capitol.”

Trying to understand what she means, I ask if the supposed operation was carried out by the same people who, in Kirschbaum’s thinking, masterminded the events in Washington D.C. on January 6. “Not the same people, but the same group of people — antifa, BLM, [the] deep state. And, I think they want to stop the whole resistance on this day. Because if we had gone in, there would be many dead people,” she says. “I think they would have shot us like at Capitol Hill.”

While Germany’s parallel QAnon and COVID-skeptic movements continued to evolve after the storming of the Reichstag, Kirschbaum’s activism ground to a sudden halt. She says she went into hiding in an apartment in Berlin for three weeks after August 29, along with Gunar and her daughter.

“They broke me, really,” she says. “I had the feeling I would dissolve. I became lighter, the skin was almost translucent. I wasn’t really there anymore.” Gunar and her daughter corroborate her story. “For two days I wasn’t really there at all, it was strange,” Kirschbaum says. “I was lighter. And that’s something people have before they die.”

“If we had gone in, there would be many dead people,” Kirschbaum says. “I think they would have shot us like Capitol Hill.”

Upon returning to her village, Kirschbaum’s neighbors and patients shunned her, she says. Police were posted at her house, while social services probed her parenting of her children, which she recounts to me in floods of tears.

Through all of this, though, Kirschbaum has not lost faith in QAnon. I notice that she and Gunar are still wearing yellow wristbands with an acronym of QAnon’s slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.”

Her views on COVID-19 have become more extreme since our earlier conversations, too. She said previously that she didn’t doubt COVID-19’s existence, but that its severity had been exaggerated. Now she tells me the vaccination program is really part of a genocidal plan, and vaxxed people will soon start dropping dead. She hints darkly at an underground movement to challenge the government and restore freedom to Germany, but she won’t reveal anything on the record about who her sources are for this, or what the plan might be.

In the aftermath of the storming, one of the only people willing to relay Kirschbaum’s version of events is Jürgen Elsässer, the editor-in-chief of Compact, a far-right and fiercely anti-migrant magazine that is ubiquitous at COVID-skeptic protests. In a September 2020 interview on Compact’s YouTube channel, Elsässer asks Kirschbaum whether she was an agent provocateur who stormed the Reichstag to undermine the resistance, which she denies. Kirschbaum, sitting next to Gunar, looks wild-eyed and unstable in the video. At times sympathetic to his guest, Elsässer suggests that the storming was a false flag operation, even if she wasn’t involved. Kirschbaum replies that she didn’t have time to think about this in the moment. When I speak to Kirschbaum at her home 10 months later in July 2021, she has embraced Elsässer’s conspiracy theory as fact.