On Thursday, law enforcement authorities announced a foiled a plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The terror plot involved months of planning including a rehearsed kidnapping to grab the Michigan governor from her vacation home. The kidnapping was thwarted with the help of undercover agents and informants.
1. The plot aimed at curtailing Governor Whitmer’s “uncontrolled power,” calling her a “tyrant.”
During the Covid-19 lockdowns, Whitmer was heavily criticized for putting what were considered excessive restrictions on the economy and on personal movement. The anger at Whitmer was further exacerbated after her husband was caught violating the lockdown orders.
By mid-May, the Michigan capitol made the headlines with heavily armed protesters arriving on scene to protest the stay-at-home order during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Michigan Attorney General’s Office confirms that the first and third men (from left) in this April 30 photo of armed men in Senate gallery are among the 13 men charged in a plot to kidnap @GovWhitmer.@SenPolehanki took this photo.https://t.co/iFJ82gxPY8
— Chad Livengood (@ChadLivengood) October 8, 2020
Based on early findings, capitol protests may have been at least part of the timeline leading to the attempted kidnapping. So far, a total of 13 indictments have been made over the latest plots, which doesn’t include the total number of people involved in the attempted kidnapping of Michigan Governor Whitmer.
2. The Michigan plot was a network, not a cell or a couple of random extremists.
The group discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police away from Governor Whitmer’s vacation home, and also purchased a taser to use during the kidnapping. Seven of the 13 accused were part of a paramilitary group called the the Wolverine Watchmen, part of the Boogaloo Boys.
Six of the 13 men were charged in federal court for conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer, for planning to storm the Michigan capitol and spark a “civil war.”
The other seven are facing state terrorism charges. According an affidavit, both groups of men trained and plotted together.
One of the men charged by federal prosecutors for the violent kidnapping plot was pardoned in April 2019 by Delaware’s Democratic Governor, John Carney.
A statement released by Governor Carney’s office said:
“The charges brought in Michigan are disturbing, and everyone charged in this plot should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This is also another warning sign about the growing threat of violence and radicalization in our politics.”
3. The militia hoped to spark an armed revolution against the government to “create a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights.”
Among the first six of the men charged, the plot included the end-goal of creating a “self-sufficient” society free from “unconstitutional state governments.” The group discussed both peaceful and violent options. Plans included taking hostages when storming the Michigan State Capitol. The latter seven wanted to target police and help plan the kidnapping along with instigating civil unrest.
According to an FBI affidavit, “The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.”
As the Associated Press reports,
“Michigan became known for anti-government paramilitary activity in the mid-1990s, when a number of loosely affiliated groups began organizing and training in rural areas. They used short-wave radio, newsletters and early internet connections to spread a message of resistance to what they contended was a conspiracy to impose world government and seize guns. They gained notoriety after reports surfaced that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, convicted in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, had met with group members, although their connections were murky.”
Michigan has a militia history, and extremism analysts are closely watching how that history is converging with today’s hyper-polarized narratives pitting citizens against each other. While the militia leaned on Far-Right narratives, one terror conspirator is an Antifa-type anarchist.
Furthermore, the Far-Right group’s anti-police agenda is arguably influenced by Far-Left anti-police rhetoric. What makes the Michigan plot stand out is that there is not one group or ideology; it’s a cocktail of extremism.
According to Ryan Mauro, director of Clarion Intelligence Network,
“The Michigan plot’s ideology was partially produced by the hyper-partisan demonization factories that poison our country… The delineations between ‘Far-Left terrorism’ and ‘Far-Right terrorism’ are very blurry, usually nonsensical and unnecessarily polarizing.”
4. The Boogaloo movement and anarchists were brought together in the Michigan terror plot likely by an overlap in today’s political landscape, which is painted by revolutionary, inflammatory rhetoric.
Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney in Western Michigan, calls the men behind the Michigan plot “violent extremists.”
Detroit U.S. Attorney, Matthew Schneider, told reporters, “All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever amount to violence.”
Several questions surface from this story:
- First, what is at the bedrock of those extremists that paired Far-Right militia with Trump-hating anarchists? Could one of those answers be a history of anti-government organizing?
- Second, why does the Boogaloo (specifically the Wolverine Watchman faction), find resonance with the Far Right? The founding members of the Wolverine Watchmen openly displayed confederate propaganda, while others argue that the Boogaloo movement runs across the ideological map.
- Third, why is there so much confusion and infighting about who is to blame for the Boogaloo?
Former FBI agent Mike German, who specialized in extremist groups, spoke with The Daily Beast elucidating the question of a decentralized Boogaloo movement. “[The Boogaloo’s] goal is propaganda, and if they can be a little blurry about what their ideology is, then they can attract more people who are interested in their goal, which is starting civil war,” German said.
As The Daily Beast reports, looking at the source of the “Boogaloo” name helps with understanding the intersection between different ideologies:
“The ‘Boogaloo’ name originated from a racist meme about a white supremacist uprising, ‘Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo,’ as some members of the scene called it. In late 2019, the movement began solidifying around a more libertarian and (at least in name) race-blind message, drawing particular support from gun-rights activists and the world of Right-wing, anti-government movements. Central themes of Boogaloo messaging included targeting federal agents…”
5. Forecasting the War of Extremes
The bigger picture explaining the complex Michigan plot is what Clarion Project dubs the “War of Extremes,” arguably the single most overarching extremist threat.
As Mauro explains, “The war of extremes manifests as a cornucopia of extremist ideologies, all simultaneously opposing to each other, while thriving from each other’s success.”
Clarion Project’s National Correspondent Shireen Qudosi references statistics from Clarion’s Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) Training Program:
“Over the last 40-50 years through 2020, extremism patterns show all sides embracing open violence. If extremist ideologies are becoming more violent, what is the trajectory over the next 20 years? The Michigan plot may be an indicator of how complex and integrated the landscape is becoming, which highlights how desperately we need support and amplification of our best solutions to extremism.”
One solution to thwarting extremism is Clarion Project’s PVE training program, a free 60-90 minute immersive talk on the landscape of extremism, how to spot the warning signs and tangible preventative steps.
To learn more about the program and schedule a free training session, email [email protected] project.org