A right-wing plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should worry us all

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks behind a lectern.
Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, allegedly was the target in a kidnap plot by right-wing extremists. A second alleged plot centered on the violent attack of the Michigan state Capitol.
(Associated Press)

One of the routine arguments by the pro-gun crowd is that the 2nd Amendment gives them the right to own firearms to protect themselves from a tyrannical government. But what happens when those guns are used to try to topple the government?

Federal and state officials in Michigan announced the arrests today of more than a dozen people on charges related to two alleged plots, one to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and try her for treason, and the other an alleged scheme to attack the Michigan state Capitol with the aim of killing police and other first responders.

Yeah, wacky. But this is where we are. Note that gun-toting demonstrators barged into the Capitol in April during protests over stay-home orders that enraged many on the far right.


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Those were the same demonstrators that President Trump egged on, tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” as the armed group intimidated legislators from their perch in the balcony gallery. Then later, Trump urged Whitmer to make a deal with the armed protesters, tweeting that “Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry.”

Those “very good people” were not to be confused, of course, with the “very fine people” Trump earlier said were among the armed white nationalists who took part in the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., rally that led to the death of a woman protesting the hate-mongers.

And whatever happened to the notion that governments don’t negotiate with terrorists?

Wacky right-wing groups and “lone wolves” are not new to Michigan. Timothy J. McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including children at a day-care center, in 1995. McVeigh, an Army veteran from near Buffalo, N.Y., was executed for the crime. His accomplice, Terry Nichols of Lapeer, Mich., is serving a sentence of life without parole.

Both men had peripheral connections with the self-styled Michigan Militia, and were motivated to attack the federal building in retaliation for federal law enforcement actions against right-wing extremists at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and at a cabin in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in the 1990s.

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Michigan also was home to Robert Miles, a self-styled minister in the racist Christian Identity church movement who also was part of the Aryan Nations movement that sought to create a white homeland in the Pacific Northwest, and a former head of the Ku Klux Klan in Michigan (he served time for firebombing school buses during a desegregation fight in Flint).

So, yeah, there’s some history there.

Whether these plots were real, or fantastical inventions by the defendants, is unclear. And the federal government doesn’t have a very good record in these things. A decade ago the government charged nine members of the self-styled Hutaree Christian militia group with plotting a violent revolt, including assassinating a law enforcement officer then bombing the funeral.


But the cases fell apart at trial, and the defendants were convicted only on a range of weapons and related charges.

Members of the Hutaree were arrested in March 2010 following an undercover operation by the FBI. Like the charges announced Thursday, that case centered on recordings made by two paid FBI informants.

So who knows how this will turn out.

But even if the accused are guilty of nothing more than sharing violent fantasies about kidnapping a governor, holding an extrajudicial trial on charges of treason, and attacking a state capitol building, it’s a mark of these treacherous times.


1:48 p.m. Oct. 8, 2020: This post was updated to clarify the location of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.