One piece of alleged extremist plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer included a 'plan to target and kill police'
DETROIT - Michigan law enforcement is on high alert after the FBI announced that an alleged conspiracy by extremist groups to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer included a "police fight and kill" plan.
"We are careful. We are absolutely more careful," said 1st Lt. Mike Shaw of Michigan State Police. "This is one of the tactics these anti-government, domestic terrorist groups use. Law enforcement is the face of the government. When you're mad at the government, you're mad at the police."
The alleged conspiracy was revealed last Thursday when the US Department of Justice charged six men with conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer. Authorities said the suspects wanted to carry them out before election day. On the same day, Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel brought charges against seven other men, including supporting terrorism, joining a gang, and possessing a firearm on behalf of a crime.
Officials said the suspects were trying to start a "civil war" with a detailed plan to kidnap the governor and attack other elected officials in the statehouse. Part of the conspiracy included plans to target the police.
FBI special agent Richard J. Trask II pointed out the risk to law enforcement officers in a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court last Tuesday:
"The militia group was made aware of the FBI by a local police department in March 2020 when members of the militia group tried to find the addresses of local law enforcement officers," the file said. "At that time, the FBI interviewed a member of the militia group who was concerned about the group's plan to target and kill police officers, and that person agreed to become a CHS (Confidential Human Source)."
"We are careful. We are absolutely more careful," said 1st Lt. Mike Shaw of Michigan State Police.
Shaw and others said the police are on high alert as the risk evolves beyond traffic stops and sitting in police cars to receiving false service calls and targeting the police when they are out of uniform.
The state police are constantly reviewing the credibility of threats against soldiers and facilities and taking steps to reduce the potential for harm, Shaw said.
Michigan State Police are supposed to protect the governor. Whitmer thanked the soldiers for their commitment to the civil service after officials were arrested in federal proceedings.
The Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, interviewed current and former law enforcement officials who said the threat to the Michigan police force from extremist groups is being taken seriously on both sides of the political spectrum and education will be provided to protect officials as well as those who guard them at home and at work.
Police told the Free Press that family members are seldom informed when individual officers are given protection details at home as it would be too worrying for the family.
Michigan State Police watch during a protest against Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lansing, Michigan on Thursday, May 14, 2020.
Bob Stevenson, a retired Livonia police chief and now the executive director of the Michigan Police Chiefs Association, said, "The threat is always there, but this raises the alert if you start attacking officers when they aren't." in her uniform, not on duty, not working. Now they are chasing you. "
However, the police were good at identifying and neutralizing the threats in real time, Stevenson said.
"When I was a cop working undercover in narcotics, the FBI informed me that people I had arrested had signed a contract with me."
However, the threat from anti-government groups is very real and a little different in that it is wide-ranging, impersonal, and may affect people trained in using weapons.
"I've never seen any training that is a far-right group and they're not going to target law enforcement," Stevenson said. "In our training we consider all extremist groups dangerous. In one case (2010) in which the Hutaree militia were involved, they planned to kill police officers and attack officials at funerals. We have no illusion that someone is politics left or right is that they are not dangerous. "
Living in a free society brings freedoms and more opportunities to harm, he said.
Javed Ali, a former senior director of counterterrorism with the National Security Council during the Trump administration and now teaching at the University of Michigan at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, said the fact related to the Whitmer abduction case was "bold ". "
"According to the affidavit, they have gone from being a law-abiding group of gun owners and the formation of a local militia to beliefs that have moved to something more dangerous and sinister," Ali told the Free Press. "The safety of officers is absolutely a consideration. In trying to collect (home) addresses for individual law enforcement agencies, they appear to have tried to prepare 'target packages' for these officers."
Javed Ali, a former senior director of counterterrorism on the National Security Council, is pictured here entering the west wing of the White House in March 2018. He currently teaches at the University of Michigan at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Politics.
The use of encrypted communications, training with weapons, building explosives, and overseeing the governor's second residence suggest that "this was a subtle terrorist conspiracy of the kind I would see in my government career internationally," Ali said. "That was not a joke."
As someone with two decades of experience with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI, Ali said, "I reject the idea of anyone claiming this is a political stunt or not serious."
Two of the 13 men charged with the attack on Michigan served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Orion's Daniel Harris, one of six men charged with federal kidnapping, was a rifleman who served from 2014 to last year according to his military records, The Associated Press reported. He reached the rank of NCO E-4 in 2019, and his final assignment, according to the AP, was at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
More: Read the FBI's affidavit in the militia conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer
More: Security improvements are being made at the governor's residence in Lansing before the threat is kidnapped
More: These 13 men were charged with conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer: Here's what we know
Joseph Morrison, 26, of Munith, is one of seven men charged under Michigan's anti-terrorism law of allegedly plotting to storm the Capitol and start a "civil war".
Morrison was a lance corporal and served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 2015 through Thursday, the day he was charged with state charges, AP reported. His last assignment was with the 4th Marine Logistics Group in Battle Creek.
Daniel Harris (left) and Joseph Morrison (right) are two of the men charged in the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. They were both marines too.
Ex-FBI agent Andy Arena, who worked across the country before retiring in Detroit, has security details on his home over personal threats. He said people cannot understand the conspiracy theories associated with such groups.
"These people see ghosts in the shadows everywhere. And they visit social media sites that support their theories and cause their anger. Suspicion of law enforcement is a big part of that anger and distrust."
Quoting a previous case involving a group in Michigan, he said, "They believed the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was a United Nations-run group and they were taking everyone to concentration camps - old car factories the concentration camps How can a reasonable person believe that? But they stir it up. "
While police officers, state forces and federal agents can be targeted, sheriffs and sheriff MPs are less likely to be the focus of anger by anti-government groups, as one sheriff is elected by voters while other law enforcement officers are appointed.
In Michigan, Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf publicly protested Whitmer's order to stay home when the coronavirus pandemic broke out and stood on a stage next to at least one defendant in the Shelbyville William Null, 38, case.
In a file photo dated May 18, 2020, Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf (right) speaks next to members of the Michigan Liberty Militia during the American Patriot Rally Sheriffs Speak Out event at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. The crowd protested against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order to stay home.
Immediately after law enforcement announced the arrests, Leaf caused "extreme concern" among his law enforcement colleagues after going on television making comments that undermined the merits of the federal trial and possibly warranted action by the defendant.
Leaf told Fox 17 at Grand Rapids on Thursday, "It's just a charge and they say a 'conspiracy to kidnap' and you need to remember. Are they trying to kidnap? Because a lot of people are angry with the governor and you want her arrested. So are you trying to get arrested, or was it an attempted kidnapping? Because if it's a crime you can still arrest a crime in Michigan. "
More: Legal experts reveal a reason Governor Whitmer's kidnapping case is strong
More: Michigan lawmakers respond to the conspiracy's hijacking on Twitter: "This is extremely terrifying."
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Then he quoted a state statute. The video went viral.
William Zero, right, stands in the gallery of the Michigan Senate Chamber during the American Patriot Rally organized by Michigan United for Liberty on April 30th to call for businesses to reopen.
The action outraged a number of sheriffs across the state.
"I don't know how anyone in law enforcement, at any time, could attempt to justify the conspiracy these men are charged with," Matt Saxton, former Calhoun County sheriff and now executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs' Association, told Free Press.
"I have been contacted by sheriffs in the state who are concerned about a sheriff's response. The Michigan Sheriffs' Association does not endorse, mold, or shape the sheriff's views or comments in any way. It is frankly disheartening for a sheriff to respond this way to this incident.
"All people are innocent until proven guilty. But I really want a single sheriff to believe that anything about this incident could be misunderstood as a legal act by those arrested."
Matt Saxton, former Calhoun County sheriff and now executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs' Association, said the alleged conspiracy to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had affected law enforcement officers.
He added, "There is no way that a sheriff should be able to declare the actions of those alleged to have attempted this crime to be legal in any way, form, or shape."
The concern of many sheriffs is that Leaf is making comments that poorly reflect 82 other sheriffs in Michigan, Saxton said.
Attorney General Dana Nessel did not want to leave any doubt about the controversial TV segment. She retweeted it on Friday and wrote, "Let me, as Michigan's top law enforcement officer, make this clear - individuals who are not sworn in, licensed law enforcement officers cannot and should not" arrest "government officials they disapprove of are dangerous. "
Leaf, a Republican from Hastings, is running unopposed for re-election on November 3rd. He has been sheriff of southwest Michigan County since 2004, according to WWMT in Kalamazoo.
As the senior law enforcement officer in Michigan, let me make it clear that individuals who are not sworn in as licensed law enforcement officers cannot and should not "arrest" government officials with whom they disagree. These comments are dangerous. https://t.co/UZTJKbjdfs
- Dana Nessel (@dananessel) October 9, 2020
Follow Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter @phoebesaid.
This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Plot: Alleged plans were to kill the police
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