Did FBI Entrap Whitmer Kidnap Plotters?

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

When the FBI made arrests of a group of me it claimed was planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, it sparked off a firestorm. After all, these were right-leaning folks. It was evidence that the right was somehow unhinged, at least in some minds.

A number of us, myself included, lambasted the alleged kidnappers. After all, not only was their plan stupid, it was a stupid thing to even consider.

After all, while I had my issues with Whitmer, so long as you can still vote someone out, there’s really not a reason to escalate to that kind of action.

Yet that’s what they planned.

However, a story at Buzzfeed raises some questions about what actually transpired. See, the alleged kidnappers claim they were set up. Of course, that’s not shocking. After all, doesn’t everyone claim they were set up?

The thing is, Buzzfeed reports some interesting facts that may back up those claims.

The government has documented at least 12 confidential informants who assisted the sprawling investigation. The trove of evidence they helped gather provides an unprecedented view into American extremism, laying out in often stunning detail the ways that anti-government groups network with each other and, in some cases, discuss violent actions.

An examination of the case by BuzzFeed News also reveals that some of those informants, acting under the direction of the FBI, played a far larger role than has previously been reported. Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.

A longtime government informant from Wisconsin, for example, helped organize a series of meetings around the country where many of the alleged plotters first met one another and the earliest notions of a plan took root, some of those people say. The Wisconsin informant even paid for some hotel rooms and food as an incentive to get people to come.

The Iraq War vet, for his part, became so deeply enmeshed in a Michigan militant group that he rose to become its second-in-command, encouraging members to collaborate with other potential suspects and paying for their transportation to meetings. He prodded the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping plot to advance his plan, then baited the trap that led to the arrest.

As a buddy of mine pointed out on Twitter, this has shades of Ruby Ridge all over it.

Of course, those accused of taking part in the kidnapping plot say that there was never really a plot, that it was all a fantasy. It was the militia version of Dungeons & Dragons, apparently.

Honestly, there’s a lot going on with this and I could probably write an entire day’s worth of posts on just this Buzzfeed story, but I want to focus on the allegations quoted above. This is serious.

It’s one thing to be disaffected and to hate a given governor. Honestly, I don’t see myself ever landing on Whitmer’s Christmas card list and she damn sure isn’t going to land on mine. But it’s a bit of a leap to go from not liking a governor to wanting to kidnap her.

At issue here isn’t whether using paid confidential informants is somehow wrong. Frankly, I have no issue with the practice so long as law enforcement understands that paying someone for information may result in them manufacturing information to sell.

In this case, though, the informants aren’t alleged to just sit there listening in and otherwise appearing to be a bump on a log. They’re described as being active participants who were essential to the plot. Arguably, there wouldn’t have been a plot without them. Paid informants to the FBI may well have helped instigate the entire plot.

To be fair, the whole thing is very long and detailed.

However, it wouldn’t be the first time federal agents such as the FBI had an informant that essentially prompted individuals to break the law. It wasn’t just Ruby Ridge, either.

Entrapment is a tough sell in a court of law, but the Michigan crowd may well have a case.