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6 People Accused In Plot To Kidnap Michigan Governor

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

An alleged plot to violently overthrow the government of Michigan and kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was revealed by authorities today. Six men have been arrested and accused in the plot. They're facing federal charges. In a coordinated move, Michigan is also pursuing state felony charges against seven people with ties to far-right militia groups. NPR's Hannah Allam covers extremism. She's here to tell us more.

And first, Hannah, how did these guys land on the FBI's radar?

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Well, the basic story is early - earlier this year, the FBI started looking into social media posts that talked about the violent overthrow of government, the targeting of law enforcement. This is very much in line with the boogaloo or accelerationist trend we've been hearing about in extremism. And so they were watching a couple of guys in particular. And from very early in the investigation, the FBI had confidential informants and undercover personnel involved, even attending meetings. And so as a result, we have a fascinating window into this alleged plot through group chats and audio recordings that are in the court papers.

And basically, over the course of the summer, prosecutors say, this plot starts to take shape. And the suspects go from talking about the desire for a self-sufficient society based on the Bill of Rights to perhaps using violence to achieve that goal, such as murdering tyrants - their words - or taking a governor. And then it just snowballs from there.

CORNISH: There's a lot of details out there about this plot. What have you learned?

ALLAM: The court papers have some pretty chilling details. Prosecutors say the suspects held tactical trainings in different states. They met secretly at a business in Grand Rapids, Mich., where they had to go through a trapdoor hidden by a rug to get to a basement. Their phones were confiscated, but someone was still recording.

And all this time, they're talking about different targets, prosecutors say. But over the months, they settle on a plan to kidnap Gov. Whitmer from her vacation home. One defendant is quoted as saying in the court papers, snatch and grab, man. And so prosecutors say the plan was to abduct Whitmer, take her to Wisconsin, put her on to - on some kind of mock trial. And the level of planning here is noteworthy. Prosecutors say the defendants used encrypted chats. They cased Whitmer's vacation home, bought a Taser, night vision goggles. And they also used code words. According to the FBI, the baker was an explosives provider, and a cake referred to a bomb.

CORNISH: What does this case tell us about the overall threat of militias and armed vigilantes? - because this has come up during the summer protests. And I know that authorities said the suspects wanted to carry this out before the November election.

ALLAM: That's right. I mean, this is a case that really speaks to this moment, the political divisions and how different elements of the, you know, militia movement respond. And I mean, first thing, there is this militia movement with its established groups and some level of organization. And then there are pop-up groups that are less organized, less disciplined kind of freelance vigilantes. And we've seen them show up to protests and sometimes involved in violence. And extremism researchers I spoke with say they're still waiting for more information on this case to situate the suspects involved in this case in that militia world. But broadly, there is infighting right now on the use of violence, how much to partner with organizations that are more explicitly racist and explicitly violent than some of the more self-described constitutionalist militias. I spoke to some militia leaders today, and they said this tarnishes the image of all militia-style groups. But at the same time, they worry about what they call entrapment, the use of a sting tactic by the federal government.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Hannah Allam.

Thank you for your reporting.

ALLAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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