The militia members who allegedly plotted to kidnap Michigan's Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer because of her COVID-19 lockdown policies will go to trial in just a few weeks. Six were charged in connection with the plot, and one of them has already pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against the rest. State authorities charged eight others with aiding a terrorist plot.
But the government's case against these 14 alleged extremists relies on work done by at least a dozen government informants and undercover FBI agents whose extensive involvement in the plot calls into question whether it would have moved forward at all without the government's prodding. Some of these government actors took lead roles in organizing the supposed plot—one of the informants was even paid $54,000 by the FBI.
Taken together, these and other details raise the strong possibility that the militia members were victims of entrapment on the part of the FBI.
Indeed, the revelations have prompted considerable, welcome scrutiny of the case from the mainstream media. "The FBI Investigation Into The Alleged Plot To Kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Has Gotten Very Complicated," conceded BuzzFeed News in an in-depth examination of the available evidence published last month. And earlier this week, The New York Times acknowledged that the involvement of informants and agents had "muddled" the case:
On a rainy night in northern Michigan in September 2020, a group of armed men divided among three cars surveyed the landscape around the vacation cottage of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, considering how to kidnap her as payback for her Covid-19 lockdown measures.
Two men descended from the lead car to inspect a bridge on Route 31 in nearby Elk Rapids, assessing what was needed to blow it up to delay any police response to the house on nearby Birch Lake.
Later, after team members returned to the rural camp where they had already conducted military-style training exercises, a man identified as "Big Dan" in government documents asked the assembled group, "Everybody down with what's going on?" Another man responded, "If you are not down with the thought of kidnapping, don't sit here."
Of the dozen men on that nighttime surveillance mission, four of them including "Big Dan" were either government informants or undercover F.B.I. agents, according to court documents.
"Big Dan" was no passive spectator: After initially alerting the authorities that he was involved in a Facebook group for militia members in which violence against police officers had been discussed, he agreed to become an informant. The government paid him $54,000 for six months' work. When the militia group surveilled Whitmer's vacation home, it was Big Dan leading the charge. According to the group's defense attorneys, Big Dan—an Iraq War veteran—took charge of training the other men in military tactics.
And that's not all: Big Dan's FBI handler, Jayson Chambers, had a side hustle. Chambers was attempting to build a security consulting business in the midst of the investigation; it's easy to see how his desire to create a brand for himself could have led him to encourage Big Dan to nudge the plot along. BuzzFeed obtained a resume that Chambers had shared with prospective clients, and in that document, he took credit for using "online undercover techniques" to investigate terrorist groups. According to BuzzFeed, Chambers has a long history of participating in FBI investigations of Muslim youths who were enticed by law enforcement to become involved in wholly theoretical violent plots, according to their defense attorneys.
Chambers is no longer slated to participate in the trial.
Another government asset, Stephen Robeson, worked as an informant during the investigation, but is no longer involved after pleading guilty to various felonies. And the government's star witness, FBI Agent Robert Trask, was fired by the agency after beating his wife following an orgy at a swingers party. Suffice it to say, it's very hard to tell the cops from the criminals in this matter.
The court may determine that none of this matters, and that even though the defendants were clearly goaded into action by the very law enforcement agents seeking to ensnare them, they still made the colossally stupid decision to proceed. Historically, victims of entrapment have had a tough time prevailing, no matter how duplicitously the FBI behaved.
But in any case, it is now clear that Whitmer was in no real danger. At all stages of the alleged plot, the FBI was aware of every facet: Their agents and informants were intimately involved—not just surveilling the militia members, but actively offering guidance on how to pull off the kidnapping. Yet Whitmer has become a more sympathetic figure on the national stage because she is perceived as a victim of former President Donald Trump's reckless rhetoric and emboldening of right-wing domestic terrorists.
"Every time the president ramps up his violent rhetoric, every time he fires up Twitter to launch another broadside against me, my family and I see a surge of vicious attacks sent our way," wrote Whitmer in an Atlantic article titled, "The Plot to Kidnap Me." The thrust of her piece is that Trump's criticism of governors in blue states inspires real violence, and she cites her own case as a near-example. Trump undoubtedly said many things that were vile and wrong, but the person most responsible for the Whitmer kidnapping plot is the FBI agent who greenlit this farce. (Ironically, in a speech condemning Trump for egging on right-wing terrorists, Whitmer thanked the FBI for thwarting the plot.)
Many conservatives have become committed to the idea that the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was not the work of Trump supporters, but rather, elements of the so-called Deep State. There's no evidence for that; the Capitol riot is one of the clearer cases of Trump's remarks leading to actual mayhem and violence. The Whitmer kidnapping plot, on the other hand, was extensively directed and encouraged by agents of the government. It's a much, much, much, much more persuasive case of Deep State nefariousness.