(The Center Square) — Militiamen arrested for the alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer claim the government set them up.
Court documents obtained by Buzzfeed show government informants played a crucial role in the kidnapping plot. One informant posed as a demolition expert who advised members of the Wolverine Watchmen militia where to plant explosives and even offered to get them as much as they needed. The informant was vouched for by another informant, leaving unclear how many confidential informants existed compared to actual extremists.
Former Michigan U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, I-Grand Rapids, tweeted the Buzzfeed article, saying, “This suggests that the federal government, through the FBI, worked to radicalize people and further the alleged plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer. If the story is accurate, that’s absolutely disgusting and unlawful.”
The government employed at least a dozen confidential informants in the extremist groups that aimed to kidnap the first-term Democrat over the Midwest’s strictest policy response to COVID-19, reported Buzzfeed, which used court filings and interviews with more than two dozen people with direct knowledge of the plot.
Buzzfeed reported the FBI was involved when the plot began and even used informants to encourage the group to carry out its plans. Militiamen say this is entrapment and claim they couldn’t have advanced the plot without government informants, who went as far as leading military training simulations.
A longtime government informant out of Wisconsin even helped spark the plot, organizing meetings nationwide to bring together like-minded extremists and rose to second-in-command of a Michigan militia group. Buzzfeed reported the informant paid for member transportation to meetings and pushed the alleged group ringleader to execute the plan but then baited the group’s trap — leaving a blurry line between extremist and informant entrapping others.
Attorney Nicholas Somberg represents Joe Morrison, 26, accused of making a terrorist threat and providing material support for terrorist acts, since he let people train with firearms on his Munith property.
Somberg filed an entrapment motion. He argues Morrison provided no such support.
“They’re just throwing everything at the board,” Somberg told The Center Square. “If their case is legit, they should be able to pull up the one smoking gun text message that says, ‘Hey, let’s go kidnap the governor, and here’s some money to do it.’ That’s material support for a terrorist.”
The government claims that letting people train at Morrison’s residence no more than twice (at the FBI’s invitation, Somberg says) constitutes “material support.”
“They went there and shot some guns,” Somberg said. “That’s not illegal.”
Somberg says these people are broke — one was evicted and moved to South Carolina. Adam Fox, another person charged in the plot, lived in the basement of a friend’s Grand Rapids vacuum shop rent-free.
“This isn’t like al Qaeda getting funded with missiles,” Somberg said in a phone interview, noting militia are legal and in the Second Amendment and state constitution. “They’re internet warriors.”
So even paying for transportation to member meetings likely involved people who otherwise wouldn’t have been involved, he said.
The arrest of FBI Special Agent Richard Trask, 39, credited with foiling the kidnapping plot, complicated the case.
Trask was charged Monday with assault with intent to do great bodily harm following an arrest for alleged domestic violence on Sunday.
After returning home from a swinger sex party, an affidavit says, Trask got on top of his wife Sandy in their bed and “grabbed the side of her head and smashed it several times on the nightstand,” the Detroit News reported.
Still, Trask was released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond and faces a charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Meanwhile, Morrison acted with no violence, Somberg said, and got a $10 million bond later dropped to $150,000.
In March, prosecutors also indicted an informant who the Detroit News reported helped the FBI infiltrate the alleged conspiracy.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said it will respond to the allegations in court.