After announcing foiled plot to kidnap governor, Michigan's attorney general says the far right is trying to 'disrupt' the state ahead of the election

Dana Nessel announced her offer for the Michigan Attorney General in 2017. Mandi Wright / Detroit Free Press / Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel spoke to Business Insider Thursday after it was revealed that a group of men were accused of plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer and holding a mock trial for "treason".
Nessel said it was unsafe to dismiss right-wing paramilitary groups as a laughing matter.
"Once you've moved from a group of people blowing off steam to training exercises in multiple countries and really invested a lot of time, energy and effort, now we have to take it very seriously," she said.
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Far-right activists and paramilitary groups, encouraged by rhetoric - and sometimes support - from state and federal leaders, are trying to create chaos in Michigan ahead of the 2020 elections, Attorney General Dana Nessel said in an interview with Business Insider.
"They see Michigan as a place where they can win again if they cause enough disruption," said the Democrat Nessel on Thursday, referring to the razor-thin victory of US President Donald Trump in 2016.
Nessel's remarks came hours after she announced counterterrorism charges against seven men accused of participating in a conspiracy to kidnap the Democratic government of Gretchen Whitmer, a frequent target of the President's ire, and a mock trial for " Treason "because of the COVID of their state. 19 lock. The men are accused of being involved in or affiliated with a paramilitary organization, Wolverine Watchmen, which is affiliated with the far right Boogaloo movement that is seeking a new civil war and has been linked to violence.
US attorney Andrew Birge, a Trump agent, accused six people in a joint investigation into the alleged conspiracy between six states. A federal complaint accuses the men - at least one of whom has backed Trump - planning to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home or the official governor's summer residence. The complaint said the group would meet in the "Michigan remote control area" for firearms training and tactical exercises.
"Snap and grab, man," one of the suspects said during a taped meeting with an FBI informant, according to the federal complaint.
Nessel said she was once inclined to reject such rhetoric as the overheated thoughts of cosplay soldiers. "But you know that's a lot more scary than that," she said.
"These are people who seem very committed to the cause," she said. "This went from seemingly hostile and angry rhetoric to planning. Plans to disrupt the government, kill police officers, possibly blow up the Capitol building, and of course, kidnap, bring to justice and execute the governor."
She added, "Once you've moved from a group of people blowing off steam to training practice in multiple jurisdictions, and really invested a lot of time, energy and effort ... we have to take this very seriously now."
Facebook, where the suspects were caught discussing retaliation against Whitmer, has taken steps in recent months to ban paramilitary groups from organizing on its platform. But it is still used by far right activists to organize.
"I definitely think it'll increase their numbers," said Nessel, "and it's never good when you have a social media platform that's used that way."
Still, Facebook is far from the only or even the most important factor.
In April, Trump, who defied advice from public health experts and targeted opponents of Whitmer's "stay-at-home" mandate, wanted to slow the spread of the coronavirus. "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" he tweeted.
Weeks later, after armed protesters entered the Michigan State Capitol, Trump tweeted approvingly. "They are very good people, but they are angry," he said. "See them, talk to them, make a deal."
Nessel said some of the armed men who took part in the protest would later become suspects in the conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer. In fact, she said they used this protest to recruit.
"These people think he's talking to them," said Nessel. "He actually said, you remember, the governor should sit down and negotiate with these armed armed men. That provides that cover, you know - that legitimacy. That's all they sometimes need to escalate their operations because they feel they have it. " Support the President himself. "
Two other right-wing activists were charged in Michigan Thursday: Jacob Wohl, a 22-year-old social media provocateur before he was banned from Twitter, and 54-year-old Jack Burkman. The two are charged with attempting to intimidate Michigan voters through robocalls to spread false information via postal ballot papers and lower voter turnout.
Nessel suggested that Michigan had become a target largely because of 2016 and "the fact that Trump won our state," which until then had been widely regarded as a dependable Democratic stronghold - it won by less than 11,000 votes.
"In 2016, a big part of the reason Trump won here is because of these voter suppression tactics, which in large part stemmed from the spread of misinformation," Nessel said, arguing that some supporters may have thought it was worth another try. "It worked last time."
Do you have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com
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