Christopher Wray had good reason to highlight the domestic-terrorism threat from militia groups, it turns out. An interstate conspiracy among militia-movement followers to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer prompted FBI raids this morning. It might have been worse, according to an informant who tipped the feds to the plot, as some wanted to murder “tyrants” rather than just capturing them (video from WXYZ in Detroit):
“In early 2020, the FBI became aware through social media that a group of individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components,” says the Oct. 6 filing in the U.S. District Court Western District of Michigan.
According to the court record, 15 militia members from “several states,” including two from Michigan, met in Dublin, Ohio on June 6 to discuss taking “violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution.
” … Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor. The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.”
One of the Michigan who’s been charged then reached out to a Michigan-based militia for assistance with the plan, the court filing said.
The FBI already had an undercover informant from within the militia that was developed after law enforcement learned of the group’s earlier plans to “target and kill police officers.”
According to the indictment, surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation residence by the conspirators had already begun, and their plans had a deadline — Election Day. The plot had been in the works for months, though:
The court filing also alleges the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer’s vacation home and discussed kidnapping her to a remote 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 investigation dates to early 2020 when the FBI learned through social media that individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of several state governments and law enforcement.
In June, Croft, Fox and 13 others from multiple states held a meeting in Dublin, Ohio, near Columbus, according to the government.
Those present included an FBI confidential source who recorded the meetings. The source has been paid $8,600.
No doubt Wray had this in mind when testifying about the domestic terrorism threat posed by militia groups. There’s no word yet on which specific group or groups were involved, but the descriptions in the court filings suggest that they’re at least somewhat aligned with the sovereign-citizen movement or at least its philosophies. Otherwise, the ideologies in play are ambiguous at best right now.
It’s worth noting that the FBI and Department of Justice have had their critics on these types of domestic-terror busts. They often get accused of having entrapped people through undercover operatives that allegedly drive the conspiracy themselves. Undoubtedly, the defendants in this case will make that same claim in court. If they have recordings of these meetings, that might be a difficult defense to sustain, but it’s best to keep in mind that the government bears the burden of proof that the conspiracy existed organically without entrapment.
This indictment poses an interesting political conundrum, too. Trump reacted angrily to Wray’s contention that militia groups posed the biggest organized domestic-terrorism threat; Trump wanted to highlight the threat from Antifa, and burning cities across the country seems to support that. If the DoJ lacks independence as critics of Trump and William Barr claim, then they wouldn’t be terribly enthusiastic about this case. Looking at it from the opposite perspective, it could demonstrate just how dangerous the DoJ considered this conspiracy.