How Trump contributed to the attempted kidnapping of the Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Anthony Lopez, Senior Writer

On Oct. 7, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) foiled a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. It was considered to be “…one of the largest cases in recent history that the [Michigan State Police (MSP)] has been involved in,” according to MSP Colonel Joe Gasper. The development of the plot had begun in June and involved 13 men, all of whom were either members of or linked to a militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen. The group’s ideology consisted of, among other things, an intention to overthrow the government and place the governor under trial for treason. After discovering several members attempting to recruit others in June, the FBI infiltrated the group online as well as with in-person informants. The arrests were made across the state in a coordinated effort with various agencies.

The concept of the militia has changed drastically over the decades in the United States. Since the early 1990s, unorganized militia groups have sprouted across the country, often as a form of an ongoing protest over governmental actions. Such was the case with the Wolverine Watchmen and the Michigan Governor. Their plot stemmed from a growing frustration over her actions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and what they considered to be extreme precautions. There were other motivations for several of the suspects as well; some feared that the United States was rapidly descending into a communist state as a result of Democratic control and that their Second Amendment rights might be hindered. 

But it is worthwhile to acknowledge the manner in which the current presidential administration has influenced the modern militia. As previously mentioned, there are dozens of militia groups existing today sharing the concern over the rise of a tyrannical government. But U.S. President Donald Trump has continuously invoked radical action from these smaller groups, often in the name of opposing Democratic tyranny. In the past few months, he has repeatedly voiced his worries over the upcoming election being “rigged” based on an unfounded claim of mass voter fraud. 

In an article for the Financial Times, John Ellis, a man who runs an online platform for countless militias in the United States, said, “If Trump comes out and says something to the effect of ‘this was clearly stolen from me’ and puts a call to action, per the constitution, he is the commander-in-chief and can call to action the militias in the United States.” In truth, it is illegal for armed militias to work in place of law enforcement. But the sentiment remains the same, regardless of legality. Trump’s repeated outcries of corruption in the election has brought many of his most ardent supporters to take matters into their own hands, often armed with guns.

During the first presidential debate, after being repeatedly asked to denounce white supremacy and later the Proud Boys, a far-right militia group, the president said “Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by,” before throwing another criticism towards the “far-left” and Antifa. Trump has often refused to properly denounce such extremist groups, despite repeated studies finding that radical right organizations are the most pronounced and violent forms of domestic terrorism in the United States.

Without a proper condemnation of their violent actions, Proud Boys and other militia groups celebrated, viewing the president’s words as a call to action against the “true enemies,” Antifa and the far-left. Joe Biggs, an organizer for the Proud Boys, wrote, “President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA… well sir! we’re ready!!”

In the case of Whitmer, Trump has repeatedly disparaged her efforts this year. In April, referencing the extension of lockdowns, the president tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” along with a few other states. In May, as a response to the armed protests against the stay-at-home order, Trump tweeted, “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.” His rhetoric concerning the state and its leader has consistently framed it as a place in dire need of being freed from oppression. It is no wonder that this pattern of excusing radical militia actions could have influenced a plot that came so close to fruition.

Following the arrests of the kidnapping suspects, Whitmer released a response thanking both the FBI and involved law enforcement agencies, but also criticizing Trump. In regards to the president’s words during the debate, she stated that “Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action. When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.” Trump may not have directly urged his supporters to kidnap the governor of Michigan, but he did foment a culture that justifies radical, violent actions in the name of a twisted sense of justice.

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