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Members of an anti-government group accused of hatching a plan to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer claim they were set up by more than a dozen FBI agents who had infiltrated the organization and played a key role in the plot, according to a new report.
Fourteen members tied to the paramilitary militia group Wolverine Watchmen were arrested in connection to the 2020 scheme to kidnap the Democratic governor after she refused to loosen coronavirus restrictions in the state. The plan was brainstormed at a militant-group training camp in August. Within a few short weeks, the defendants began surveilling Whitmer's vacation house and "drew a map" that "noted approximate distances from the home to police first responders," according to an indictment.
The group also allegedly planned to attack infrastructure near Whitmer's house, including blowing up a bridge to slow the response from law enforcement officers.
The case has been heralded as a high-profile example of how the FBI's infiltration of the innermost circle of extremist groups can thwart domestic terrorism. But others believe it's an example of gross government overreach that could backfire.
Prosecutors recently revealed that there were a dozen confidential informants working on the case. The evidence they helped gather provided a glimpse into American extremism and how some self-proclaimed militia groups collaborate with one another, including pooling resources and building on violent ideas.
But a closer look into the foiled kidnapping by BuzzFeed revealed that some of the informants the government used appeared to play a far greater role in the plot than had been previously reported. In fact, the informants had a hand in nearly every aspect of the twisted machination, including its inception.
New information on the extent of the FBI's involvement has raised questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy to take down the Democratic governor without their help.
One Wisconsin-based government informant, for example, helped organize a series of cross-country meetings with extremists. Those meetings allegedly laid the groundwork for the multi-part plot. That same informant also paid for hotel rooms and food as an incentive to get people to come, Buzzfeed reported.
Another informant, an Iraq War veteran, was so deeply involved in the militant group that he rose in the ranks to become the second in command. He also encouraged members to work with other suspects and even offered to foot the bill to get people to and from meetings. He is also accused of urging the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping plot to carry it out before laying the trap for him to be arrested.
All but one of the 14 original defendants have pleaded not guilty and deny they were ever involved in the scheme. They contend that they were targeted by the government because of their political views. They also claim the government orchestrated a campaign against them to undermine the Patriot movement, a far-right ideology that pledges allegiance to the Second Amendment and believes the government violated the U.S. Constitution and is therefore illegitimate. They also argue that the government is guilty of criminal conspiracy and possible entrapment.
They have gathered thousands of social media posts, 400,000 text messages, and have 1,300 hours of audio and video recordings that they claim show the suspects not only expressed anti-government views but also took steps to carry out the plan.
The defendants argue the recordings and text messages are constitutionally protected speech. They also claim talk of the kidnapping never rose beyond the level of fantasy and that they never intended to hurt anyone.
The investigation comes after it was revealed that Richard Trask, a special agent at the center of the case, was arrested and charged Monday in relation to a domestic violence incident.
Trask, 39, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, is accused of smashing his wife's head against a nightstand after an argument stemming from a swingers' party they attended, according to court records. Trask has been released on bond.
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Original Author: Barnini Chakraborty
Original Location: FBI informants had bigger role in Whitmer kidnap plot than thought: report