Michigan Coup Averted

A right-wing militia's hairbrained scheme to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer has been foiled.

Now, here’s a headline you don’t see every day.

Detroit News (“Feds say they thwarted militia plot to kidnap Whitmer“):

The FBI says it thwarted what it described as a plot to violently overthrow the government and kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and federal prosecutors are expected to discuss the alleged conspiracy later Thursday.

The alleged plot involved reaching out to members of a Michigan militia, according to a federal affidavit filed Thursday.

The court filing also alleges the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer’s personal vacation home and discussed kidnapping her to a “secure location” in Wisconsin to stand “trial” for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election.

“Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit. “The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.”

The affidavit was filed hours after a team of FBI agents raided a Hartland Township home Wednesday and comes amid an ongoing investigation into the death of a Metro Detroit man killed during a shootout with FBI agents.

It’s never quite obvious to me with these foiled plots how close we came to fruition. That is, it’s not clear how serious these people were, much less whether they had the manpower, expertise, and capability to get past statehouse security, kidnap the governor, and seize control of the government.

Or, indeed, what that would even look like. Armed yahoos holding the governor hostage would be a big deal, of course. But who would take their orders? And, of course, one imagines that even President Trump would order the state’s National Guard federalized and have the junta dispatched.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    and capability to get past statehouse security,

    From what I’ve read, they were planning to take her from her vacation home. She’d still have a security detail there but I imagine it would be scaled back to a minimum.

    ETA: there was also talk of “blowing up” the home and blowing up a bridge to slow down persuing cops.
    They did go beyond “tuff guy bar talk” when they had a “training wkend” in which they supposedly tried to learn how to make a bomb.

    8
  2. reid says:

    Many of us probably are already aware, but Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” at some point. Seems relevant when discussing this.

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  3. mattbernius says:

    General question– beyond their general whiteness — why are these folks getting a sheen of legitimacy by being referred to by the term “Militia” (which, for better or worse, is used in the US Consitution).

    This is an in-country terrorist or insurrection cell–or simply a gang–and should be called such.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    As with many supposed terrorist plots, I wonder how much of this was real and how much essentially entrapment by the informer. I raise the possibility because I have trouble picturing these militia types as having either the organizational ability or the stones to actually do something like this.

    2
  5. Jay L Gischer says:

    One of my favorite movies is “That Thing You Do”. It’s a bit of fun fluff. Steve Zahn has a memorable line that applies here:

    “How did we get here, Skitch?”

    That’s what I’m wondering these days. How did we get here?

  6. reid says:

    @reid: I’ve also read that that particular tweet and others attacking the governor are being deleted. What are the odds that that will be his only response to this?

    2
  7. CSK says:

    @reid:
    I’m more interested in what Cult45’s reaction will be. So far, there’s been silence.

    4
  8. gVOR08 says:

    @mattbernius:

    why are these folks getting a sheen of legitimacy by being referred to by the term “Militia” (which, for better or worse, is used in the US Consitution).

    I don’t mind the term, but in the spirit of the Federalist Society, I take an originalist view of militias. As I recall, the Founders had a low opinion of militias, based on their poor performance during the revolution. They were regarded as fit only to keep the darkies in line and stir up unnecessary trouble with the Indians.

    2
  9. Mister Bluster says:

    And, of course, one imagines that even President Trump would order the state’s National Guard federalized and have the junta dispatched.

    If these dopes were wearing MAGA hats Trump would invite them to the White House for cheeseburgers and covid casserole.

    5
  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: tweets with pictures of some of the court documents. You can judge for yourself how serious they were.

    1
  11. Jen says:

    You don’t have to be talented to pull of one of these schemes, it’s more…luck, I think, than anything else. Thankfully, the FBI knows that and works off of the notion that a threat is a threat. Clearly, they were far enough along in the planning that the FBI decided they serious.

    In a position like theirs, there is no room to be wrong.

    @gVOR08:

    As I recall, the Founders had a low opinion of militias, based on their poor performance during the revolution.

    I genuinely don’t remember learning too much about militias, but vaguely recall that they were to be in place of a standing army (either we didn’t trust a standing army after dealing with the British, or we couldn’t afford one?). Always makes me wonder about the “well-regulated” part–sounds to me like they wanted militias to basically be National Guard. Which we have already, so no need for these yahoos.

    3
  12. Mu Yixiao says:

    It’s never quite obvious to me with these foiled plots how close we came to fruition. That is, it’s not clear how serious these people were, much less whether they had the manpower, expertise, and capability to get past statehouse security, kidnap the governor, and seize control of the government

    .

    From the BBC story:

    The accused held weapons training in several states, and at times attempted to create bombs that were faulty, the FBI says

    So… not very likely, I’m guessing.

    1
  13. Gustopher says:

    Or, indeed, what that would even look like.

    I suspect that it would be very hard to distinguish a terrorist attack upon the governor from a protest where gun toting right wing lunatics storm the capital.

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    It is what it is?

    6
  14. Hal_10000 says:

    Gonna hold off comment until I see if this was an actual plot or the Federal Playbook on Muslims: finding some idiot, creating the plot for him, giving all the materials and then arresting him.

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  15. mattbernius says:

    @Hal_10000, you posted that while I was starting a response to @Mu Yixiao.

    From the initial details, this actually sounds like this plan was much further along than the cases you are thinking of. However, to your point, non-functioning weapons (or not getting out of the ideation stage) has never been a big speedbump for Federal Investigators in past prosecutions of Muslims.

    1
  16. Mikey says:

    @Hal_10000: The criminal complaint is available online. I read it. It’s pretty obvious these bozos needed no “encouragement” from the feds. It’s fortunate their competence wasn’t at the same level as their ambition.

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  17. Kylopod says:

    @mattbernius:

    why are these folks getting a sheen of legitimacy by being referred to by the term “Militia” (which, for better or worse, is used in the US Consitution).

    That’s one way of looking at it. But another is that the term “militia” has taken a beating due to its association with violent paramilitary extremists–especially after Oklahoma City. When most Americans hear the word, they think of people like McVeigh rather than, say, the National Guard. So I think the ultimate effect is not that it’s legitimizing the extremists, but that it’s delegitimized the word in most people’s eyes.

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  18. Mu Yixiao says:

    I genuinely don’t remember learning too much about militias, but vaguely recall that they were to be in place of a standing army (either we didn’t trust a standing army after dealing with the British, or we couldn’t afford one?).

    As I recall (and have had reinforced by some reading over the years), that’s essentially right. The “militia” was “every able-bodied adult (white) male”. And “well-regulated” meant “able to step up and fight when called upon” by the government.

    The modern yahoos that are threatening to overthrow the government are just yahoos–despite what they call themselves.

    (The Kingdom of Talossa, however, is totally real. Really.)

    2
  19. Kathy says:

    @mattbernius:

    I prefer to call them white Christian terrorists.

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  20. Liberal Capitalist says:

    wow… as a former Michigander: wow.

    And not at all surprising. Militias in Michigan have a long, racist, and well-armed history.

    And yes, some are VERY organized, and fully expect to spill the blood of tyrants and cut down the tree of Liber Tea in the harboring freedom fighters while waving a Gadsen flagsen or what they got at the local flea market and gun swap show in trade for an old chevy smallblock.

    I dont care what they are called, even if they end up being as talented as the gang that didn’t shoot straight… this shit has to be put to an end in civilized society.

    No bail, no plea bargains, hard jail time. Nice people on both sides of the prison wall… they can be on that inside for a while.

    And of course, a read of the comments in the Detroit News (the conservativeDetroit paper) are in full denial mode, saing the arrents are noting more that Trump Derangement Syndrome and fake news.

    Goddam! I say GODDAM! This is gonna be a great freakin election!

    6
  21. flat earth luddite says:

    @mattbernius:
    But as we’ve had demonstrated numerous times in the past, different rules of engagement at the federal level for Muslim vs. “White Nationalist/Proud White Boys” types. Can’t think of one they’ve gone after aggressively since McVeigh.

    1
  22. CSK says:

    Update:
    Thus far, a plurality of Cult45 members seem convinced that the militia was set up by the FBI/Homeland Security/Democrats, all of whom are working diligently to sabotage Donald Trump.

    3
  23. Kathy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    We should count ourselves lucky most of these savages are graduate so the Hollywood Academy of Action Movies and TV Shows.

    3
  24. Teve says:

    Remember those armed protests at the state capitol in Michigan in May? At least one of the people indicted in this plot, William Null, is in photos of that event.

    7
  25. Jim Brown 32 says:

    This could get alot worse– Now that ISIS is mostly out of business–their technical experts like bomb makers, saboteurs, and planner are available for pay.

    The dirty little secret of global terrorism is that the true believers are not self-sufficient in waging a fight–the logistics, planning, and tradecraft are supplied by a network of people that simply work for the highest bidder. If Im one of these shitheads and read this story–I see a growth oppportunity.

    All that needs to happen to throw this country into an warm civil war is for people with the means to connect with people that have the motivation. We are in a dangerous position.

    10
  26. Teve says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    This could get alot worse– Now that ISIS is mostly out of business–their technical experts like bomb makers, saboteurs, and planner are available for pay.

    I can’t see the groups overlapping really.

    “Hey, ISIS? This here’s Jimmy Wilcox of Beef Stick, Michigan. My boy Clem told me y’all got some a that Semtex. You be interested in swappin for a lift kit to a Ram 1500?…” 😀

    2
  27. Kathy says:

    And, of course, one imagines that even President Trump would order the state’s National Guard federalized and have the junta dispatched.

    I honestly can’t say I’d be surprised if, were a coup like this or other kind of armed rebellion to take place in any state led by a Democrat, that Trump would do much more than what he thinks would benefit him personally the most.

    If that is to use troops to put the thing down, he would. But if that is to criticize, harangue, belittle, and otherwise be his trumpy self towards that state’s government and do nothing useful for anyone, he’d do that, too.

    Oh, and either way, he’d blame it on the Democrats and Antifa.

    5
  28. CSK says:

    @Teve:
    I think JB32 is speaking of mercenaries, guys with some expertise in munitions, demolition, combat, etc., who’ll go anywhere for money.

    3
  29. mattbernius says:

    So it now appears that at least 3 of the arrestees were part of the armed Michigan capital protests that took place in April.

    Also, it’s sad to note that some predictions around “Liberate Michigan” made here seem to be playing out: https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/liberate-minnesota-michigan-and-virginia/

    3
  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: Are you implying that when the founders stated that “a well-regulated Militia being the foundation of a free state” that they were intending to use militias in cases where they wouldn’t want the fingerprints of the government on the enterprise?

    I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you. This is my shocked face– 😐

    1
  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The group talked about creating a society that followed the Bill of Rights where they could be self-sufficient.

    The first thought that came to my mind was that they should look up “juche” in Wikipedia and then ask North Koreans how that self-sufficiency thing was working out. [sigh] 😐

    2
  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Hal_10000: Probably a decent enough approach, but the guy identified as “Franks” sounded a serious enough to me that if I were a co-conspirator, I’d have been watching my back and not wanting him behind me.

    My take was that he’s in it for the shooting the governor part, not the political statement or movement goals.

    1
  33. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jen:

    Consider the term in the context of the Militia Acts of 1792, the Militia Act of 1795, the Militia Act of 1808, and the Militia Act of 1862. They were very much the equivalent of the National Guard, and were supplanted by the Militia Act of 1903 (which actually created the National Guard).

    1
  34. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @CSK:Yes, most of the Jihad technical experts are Eastern Europeans…Bubba would have no problem communicating with these types.

    2
  35. Blue Galangal says:

    @Teve:
    @mattbernius:
    It is also being reported that some of them met with MI Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey privately at the time of the protests. You know, the guy who says that there’s no point in gun control laws for the Capitol building.

    It’s also worth reminding all the people on this thread dismissing and downplaying this that a RWNJ just killed a federal judge’s son when he answered the door in a plot to kill her.

    1