Some of the 13 men charged in a stunning plot to kidnap and possibly kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have ties to an extremist ideology known as “boogaloo,” a loosely organized anti-government movement that seeks to ignite a second civil war in America, their social media activities show.
Several of the suspects, whose sinister plan was thwarted this week by state and federal authorities, also praised President Trump online and often pushed conspiracy theories supporting the Republican leader.
Brandon Caserta, for instance, frequently posted TikTok videos railing against the state, wrote about guns and coronavirus conspiracies on Facebook and once claimed in a YouTube video that “the enemy is government,” according to an NBC News analysis of numerous social media profiles connected to the group.
Caserta also appears to support conflicting political ideologies, including anarchism, and appeared in a recent video wearing a Hawaiian shirt, which is usually associated with the boogaloo movement, the network reported.
The word “boogaloo” — a joking reference to the 1984 breakdancing film “Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo” — was adopted sometime last year by a variety of extremist and fringe groups that are increasingly willing to engage in violence against the state and its institutions, especially law enforcement, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Some of the groups and movements using the term include white supremacists, self-described militias and radical gun-rights activists.
The disturbing ideology appears to have spread further this year as states across the country shut down their economies to curb the spread of COVID-19, a move that was met with anger by anti-government groups that consider such orders illegal.
One of those groups, Michigan-based Wolverine Watchmen, played a key role in the failed plot to snatch Whitmer out of her vacation home and try her for treason before the November elections, prosecutors said Thursday. Members of the group were angry at the Democratic governor’s lockdown measures and conducted surveillance outside her home multiple times in the past several months, according to the FBI and Michigan State Police.
Whitmer, former Vice President Joe Biden and other critics have in part blamed Trump’s anti-lockdown remarks and often-friendly statements about white supremacy groups for allegedly encouraging violent behavior.
On April 17, for instance, Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” shortly after the state imposed a stay-at-home order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Experts say his rhetoric helps fuel hate and encourage violence across the country.
“I absolutely believe that Trump plays a role in encouraging actions like this, in calling individuals to be members of groups like this in the first place and encouraging folks to show up in person to protests — by stoking fears and making them feel like it is their responsibility to do something about it,” Amy Cooter, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University, told NBC News.
Hours after prosecutors announced the plot against Whitmer on Thursday, the president continued attacking the governor and, again, urged her to open up the state.
“Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job. She locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities,” Trump tweeted.
“I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence,” he added. “Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer — open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!”
One of the key suspects in the case, Adam Fox, described Whitmer as a "this tyrant b---c' for not allowing gyms to reopen in the summer and urged his co-defendants to “do something” about her, according to conversations recorded by an FBI informant.
On social media, Fox frequently posted language that appeared to encourage violence against Democratic politicians, calling them traitors and criminals, while demonstrating his support for Trump, BuzzFeed News reported. In May 2018, for instance, he reportedly tweeted, “Trump’s a winner and the US will continue to win under real leadership!!”
Fox and five other men were charged with conspiracy to kidnap the governor, a federal crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Seven other suspects were charged in state court with a series of felonies, including providing material support for terrorist acts, carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony and gang membership.
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