Image courtesy of NBC News
By Justin Lamoureux
The state of Michigan is no stranger to political unrest. Between Black Lives Matter protests, and considerable dissension over the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wolverine State has become “ground zero” in an ideological battle that has shaken the entire country. This perception was solidified last week after the FBI revealed they had arrested over a dozen individuals for plotting to kidnap Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
This cohort included members of various right-wing militia groups, including at least seven who affiliate with an organization known as the “Wolverine Watchmen.” Historically, state officials have accused the group of targeting law enforcement in their attacks, and threatening to “instigate civil war.”
According to The Detroit News, the men behind this plot had been coordinating since June. Some of their meeting locations included a Second Amendment rally in Lansing and the basement of a Grand Rapids vacuum repair shop, which they accessed through a secret door. Over the course of several months, the group developed plans to kidnap Whitmer and overthrow the government; they hoped to accomplish the latter with a full-blown invasion of the State Capitol, even if doing so involved taking hostages.
Six members of the group spearheaded the operation, largely in response to Whitmer’s stringent coronavirus restrictions. The men lambasted her as a “tyrant” and expressed a mutual desire to create a “self-sufficient” government, free from what they contrived as the “unconstitutional” influence of the state itself.
According to the filing federal court, the militias had conducted surveillance on the governor and her family at their personal vacation home in northern Michigan (from which they had plotted to abduct her) on two separate occasions. They had also contemplated smuggling her to neighboring Wisconsin, where she would “stand trial” for treason at a “secure location” prior to the November election.
Prominent lawmakers from both major parties offered their commentary after charges were revealed. Whitmer herself condemned President Donald Trump for ineffectively condemning far-right militias like the ones that orchestrated her prospective kidnapping; at the last debate, the president told the far-right Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
Trump, on the other hand, has criticized Whitmer harshly over the past several months as she has worked to control the spread of COVID-19 in her state. He has referred to her as “That Woman From Michigan” and “Half-Whitmer,” even urging supporters to “Liberate Michigan!” after critics equipped with military-style rifles were seen protesting her response to the pandemic.
Accordingly, Republicans in the Michigan State Senate have responded in a more abrasive manner. Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield sent Whitmer a pointed letter on Saturday, in which he criticized her for not informing lawmakers of the plot, which he claims was “against us, too.”
A Republican State House candidate, Paul Smith, even alleged the plot was a “totally bogus sham,” and charged that “these citizens never did anything illegal. Law enforcement is employed to punish people who COMMIT crimes, not people the Governess simply HATES.”
Sheriff Dar Leaf, of Barry County in Western Michigan, was also dismissive of the plan. In a television interview Thursday, he voiced suspicion that it might have simply been a “citizen’s arrest.” Leaf has been extremely critical of Whitmer’s lockdown orders, even sharing the stage with State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (a Republican) at an anti-lockdown rally back in May.
State Attorney General Dana Nessel offered a more ominous assessment, telling MSNBC’s Katy Tur that “this may very well be the tip of the iceberg.” Nessel, a Democrat, expressed concern that many law enforcement officials (including county sheriffs, like Leaf) have become involved with militia groups, and warned that “dangerous individuals” like those who planned to kidnap the governor are still out there. “That’s why I think it’s so important that our elected leaders tone down the rhetoric, [and] make it clear once and for all… that they do not condone and they actually condemn these individuals and this type of conduct and these types of organizations,” she says.
So, what can this development teach us? For starters, it reflects the incredibly deep ideological divisions which have come to plague our political system in recent years: irregardless of party identity, when lawmakers cannot unequivocally condemn a plot to kidnap a high-profile government official, that sends a very unnerving message about the state of affairs in government. Essentially, the most polarizing factions of the left and right have created two conflicting visions of America, and Michigan is a microcosm of that.
This also encapsulates a very dismal premonition about the future of American society. While it remains unlikely that any government officials will be kidnapped, it shows the extent to which extreme political factions (i.e. “fringe groups”) might go to fulfill their agenda. Nobody truly knows what these individuals are capable of… or the ethical boundaries of lawmakers’ tolerance for their “protest” or activities.
Given how much unrest has come to permeate the inner linings of our nation, one could easily argue that everything slated to happen over the next few weeks will determine more than just who occupies the Oval Office, or halls of Congress; it may determine America’s destiny, too. Granted, the jury is still out regarding what the future holds, but chances are, Attorney General Nessel is right – this is only the tip of the iceberg.