Men accused in plot on Michigan governor attended protests
LANSING, me. (AP) - Among the armed demonstrators who gathered at the Michigan Capitol last spring against Governor Gretchen Whitmer's coronavirus lockdown included some of the men now accused of breathtaking conspiracies, abducted her, stormed the Capitol and a "civilian population "Having founded war."
The reveal sparked a review of rallies organized by conservative groups that opposed the Democratic governor's orders and were encouraged by President Donald Trump. It has also sparked renewed calls by the Democrats for a gun ban in the building - an effort that has so far failed, even after feeling threatened by gun-carrying protesters entering the statehouse.
At least one man accused of being involved in monitoring Whitmer's home as part of the alleged abduction plan stood in the Senate Gallery on April 30 when the majority of Republicans refused to extend a declaration of emergency affecting Whitmer's stay at home underpinned and other restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. "Several" of the 13 men arrested in the attacks against the state government were seen at Capitol protests this year, the attorney general said.
A man whom the FBI identified in court records as the leader of the alleged conspiracy, Adam Fox, attended a gun rights rally at the Capitol on June 18 to recruit members of anti-government paramilitary groups to attack the statehouse, according to a federal complaint, in citing a recording from a confidential informant.
"I'm not surprised - and anyone who just wasn't paying attention," Whitmer told The Associated Press on Friday by phone. There were Republican lawmakers and at least one sheriff in the protests, she said, "who fraternize with these domestic terrorist groups who cheer them on, who encourage them to use a language that stimulates them. They too are complicit."
Some of the men involved in the alleged conspiracies were members and leaders of Wolverine Watchmen, which authorities have labeled an "anti-government militia group against law enforcement agencies". In March, federal officials became aware of an initial plan by Wolverine Watchmen to attack and kill the police, according to court records. Officials have not disclosed whether law enforcement monitored the anti-lockdown protests in April and May.
Such protests have drawn a number of people, including openly armed supporters of the Second Amendment and members of paramilitary groups in tactical gear - especially at the start of the pandemic when some protesters displayed Confederate flags, misogynistic anti-Whitmer signs and ominous images. GOP leaders have denounced such tactics while saying that many people protest safely and responsibly.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey "does not condone violence, accepts violence, and has never advocated violence," said spokeswoman Amber McCann. "Like many politicians, he spoke out when he disagreed with politics."
Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf told WXMI-TV that the men may want to arrest Whitmer, not kidnap him, and suggested that it could be legal. At least one man, charged by Attorney General Dana Nessel under the state's counter-terrorism law, appeared on stage in a protest in Grand Rapids in May against Whitmer's stay-at-home order, which included the sheriff and Shirkey.
Nessel, a Democrat, told the AP that Leaf's remarks were "appalling".
"To claim that it is appropriate for armed armed men who are not licensed law enforcement officers to arrest a seated governor for political disagreement is abhorrent to me at any level," she said.
The bombings prompted Democratic lawmakers again to campaign for GOP-led legislation to ban firearms in the Capitol.
The federal complaint alleges that it took Fox 200 men to storm the building and take hostages in June, including Whitmer, and several people talked about using Molotov cocktails to destroy police vehicles. By July, authorities said the men had focused on Whitmer's official summer residence or personal vacation home before settling on the latter.
“This time we literally avoided death - this time. But what about the next time? Because there will be a next time, ”said Sen. Dayna Polehanki, a Democrat. “I pray we will use our God-given common sense to pass a law that bans weapons from this building. If not now when? "
It is unclear if anything will change. Republican leaders have further arms discussions with a commission that runs the Capitol. One panelist noted that the legislature has authority over certain areas of the building including the electoral chambers.
"From the evidence I've read, a magnetometer or something similar would not have stopped what was planned," said John Truscott. Shirkey told reporters, "In a country like ours, there is no way to legislate and get rid of all risks."
Whitmer told the AP she was concerned about legislature safety, visiting school children, the media and others.
"Legislation must act to protect everyone in the Capitol," she said. "It's our entire building and each of us should be able to go in there and feel safe."
Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Extremism Center, said the anti-government movement in the United States, and certainly Michigan, had been particularly active in state houses over the past year - initially by defying proposed red flag laws Allow authorities to temporarily remove weapons from anyone deemed dangerous to themselves or others, and later to oppose governors' measures to combat the pandemic.
"Militia groups and other actors engaged in violent agendas will continue to seek ways to launch attacks against politicians, community members and government officials who they believe are legitimate targets," said Javed Ali, a former senior director on counter-terrorism in the national Security Council is a policy maker at the University of Michigan.
Associate press writers Ed White in Detroit, John Flesher in Traverse City, and Angie Wang in Atlanta contributed.
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