On October 8, state and federal officials charged 13 men with alleged crimes relating to a kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The suspects are associated with the militia group “Wolverine Watchmen” and sought to overthrow the state’s government, including trying Whitmer for treason and starting a civil war. Though they have been widely labeled right-wing extremists, conservative media have been claiming that they are not and arguing that Whitmer used the plot as a political weapon.
The militia group is associated with the extremist “boogaloo” movement, which advocates for another civil war. Though boogaloos tend to resist easy ideological categorization, they are an iteration of domestic terrorism that emerged out of white supremacists and extremist groups. In response to the charges, Whitmer, who has been a consistent target of right-wing attacks since the COVID-19 pandemic began, condemned extremist groups and expressed concern about the influence President Donald Trump’s rhetoric was having in the escalating violence.
Alleged kidnappers were reportedly far-right militia members; some posted pro-Trump and QAnon conspiracy theory messages
NBC News: The alleged plotters have a history of anti-government organizing.
A senior federal law enforcement official said federal agents found that the group of seven tied to the Wolverine Watchmen believes in the “boogaloo” movement, which is largely dedicated to eradicating the government and killing law enforcement officers. Their social media profiles showed connections to a wide variety of known anti-government groups.
Around the country, self-described members of the boogaloo movement have committed acts of violence and killed police officers in recent months, often in attempts to ignite what they believe will be a second civil war. Authorities said a California man accused of killing a police officer and a federal agent in June scrawled the word “Boog” in blood on the hood of a car during a standoff with police. Federal agents arrested two other members of the boogaloo movement whom they accused of offering to work with the terrorist group Hamas last month.
NBC News analyzed numerous social media profiles connected to the men charged in the cases that were connected by biographical information and email addresses tied to public records. The profiles detail how some of the men who held anti-government views were spurred to action after Whitmer declared coronavirus lockdowns, which sparked protests that included members of armed right-wing groups, some of which called themselves militias. [NBC News, 10/8/20]
Wash. Post: The suspects are part of an “anti-government, anti-law enforcement” militia group that sought to instigate a civil war.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) on Thursday announced felony charges against seven members or “associates” of the Wolverine Watchmen, accusing them of making threats toward officials and supporting plans for terrorist acts. Affidavits describe an “anti-government, anti-law enforcement” militia that has recruited on social media since the fall of 2019 and met in remote locations for “field training exercises” with firearms. It was preparation, the affidavits say, for the “boogaloo,” an anti-government uprising or civil war. People connected to the right-wing “boogaloo bois” movement have been charged with killing a security guard and plotting to use explosives amid protests in the summer. [The Washington Post, 10/9/20]
Guardian: The suspects are connected with a right-wing militia group.
Six people have been charged with a plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, that involves links to a rightwing militia group, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced.
The FBI said in an affidavit that the plot to kidnap Whitmer had involved reaching out to members of a Michigan militia. The criminal complaint states that the alleged plot involved her second home in northern Michigan.
“Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” an FBI agent wrote in the document. “The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.” [The Guardian, 10/8/20]
Mother Jones: The men involved in the plot “celebrated violent far-right extremism”
In an Instagram post from two years ago, [suspect Brandon] Caserta praised Jordan Peterson, a reactionary Canadian psychology professor who in recent years has become an icon among young political right-wingers. Peterson’s ideology is vague and mostly focuses on attacking politically correct language and the use of someone’s preferred gender pronouns, but an analysis by the Data & Society Research Institute found that, via YouTube’s algorithms, Peterson was a gateway to violent far-right extremism. (The video-streaming platform has adjusted its algorithms since that research was conducted.)
Caserta’s activity on YouTube further suggests his worldview: He subscribed to Project Veritas, an outlet known for pushing right-wing disinformation, and the channel run by Ben Shapiro, also considered by some experts to be a gateway to online radicalization, among others. Caserta’s Facebook likes included one for the page “Michigan Revolution,” whose profile photo shows a man dressed in Revolutionary War–era clothing and holding an assault rifle paired with the text “NEW AMERICAN REVOLUTION.” [Mother Jones, 10/8/20]
Detroit News: The suspects posted pro-Donald Trump messages on social media.
Two of Caserta's alleged co-conspirators, Pete Musico and Barry Croft, posted pro-Trump messages on social media, according to the Daily Mail. Croft in 2017 praised Trump as “inspiring,” while Musico appeared a YouTube video wearing a black “Trump 2020 Keep America Great” hat, “We need to get away from the controllers of this country and become America again that's what Trump wants,” Musico posted on May 8, 2016, on his still-active Twitter account. [The Detroit News, 10/9/20]
Daily Beast: The suspects posted QAnon messages on social media, as well as far-right imagery.
A Facebook page for Eric Molitor, another Michigan man who faces state charges in the case, features praise for 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who’s accused of killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wis. Molitor also posted about conspiracy theories relating to the QAnon movement, posting the QAnon hashtag “Save Our Children” and images about human-trafficking conspiracy theories. Molitor had previously posted images indicating affiliation with “three-percenter” militias, a far-right paramilitary movement.
Defendants Musico and Morrison, both 42-year-olds who lived together, had sparser online profiles, with neither of them liking anything on Facebook besides a Christian broadcasting group. But on YouTube, Musico was more vocal, sharing rambling tirades against taxes, gun control, and the “Deep State”—as well as a rant from 2019 entitled “Gretchen Whitmer Interview” in which he railed against her policies around auto ownership. In the video, he implied that he was going to obtain an in-person interview with Whitmer.
A Pete Musico also has a page on the social media site Gab, popular among white supremacists and the alt-right, on which he promoted the unfounded claim that in South Africa “they are killing white people.” Although many of the posts feature broken images (a hallmark of Gab), one of the user’s favorite accounts was that of Joe Biggs, a Proud Boy organizer who has glorified violence against the left. Biggs and anti-Semitic Infowars personality Owen Shroyer are the only accounts he follows.
A Michigan-based Pete Musico also has a Twitter account with a Tea Party-style “Don’t Tread On Me” banner as the profile image and a number of posts from 2016 voicing support for Trump and calling for the imprisonment of then-Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. It also includes unfounded allegations that former President Bill Clinton fathered an “illegitimate black child” and that vaccines contain dangerous levels of mercury. Another post urges his 14 followers to visit right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ site Infowars. [The Daily Beast, 10/8/20]
Wash. Post: Whitmer’s sex may helped to make her a target for the predominantly male terrorist group.
The governor’s sex also may have played a role in these groups’ outrage over stay-at-home orders and other coronavirus restrictions, Cooter said. Most members are male, and “being told by a woman specifically what to do can rub them the wrong way.” [The Washington Post, 10/9/20]
Right-wing media deny that the alleged kidnappers were right-wing
Fox News’ Laura Ingraham stated that the militia members are “not right-wingers” but “anarchists.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 10/08/20]
Ingraham also called one of the conspirators “Nasty Antifa freak.” [Twitter, 10/9/20]
The conservative publication The Federalist ran an article claiming that the suspects are not right-wing because one of them posted anti-Trump sentiments online. [The Federalist, 10/09/20]
The Daily Wire’s Andrew Klavan referred to one of the suspects, Brandon Caserta, as a “left-wing guy.” [The Daily Wire, The Andrew Klavan Show, 10/09/20]
Former OAN host Liz Wheeler claimed one of the suspects is a “Trump-hating anarchist.” [Liz Wheeler, Twitter post, 10/09/20]
Daily Wire host Matt Walsh said it is “absurd to assume” the plot is the “work of right-wingers.” [Matt Walsh, Twitter post, 10/08/20]
Glenn Beck claimed on his radio program that the suspects are “not on the right” and are “not Trump supporters.” Instead, Beck referred to many disparate non-conservative groups joining together to destroy the United States and “the Western world.” [BlazeTV, The Glenn Beck Program, 10/09/20]
Former special assistant to the president and conservative radio host Sebastian Gorka tweeted that one of the kidnapping suspects “must be a Democrat.” [Sebastian Gorka, Twitter post, 10/09/20]
Daily Wire host Michael Knowles called the suspects “libs.” [Michael Knowles, Twitter post, 10/09/20]
Pro-Trump radio host Wayne Dupree said the plot “doesn’t sound like ‘right-wing’ terror.” [Wayne Dupree, Twitter post, 10/12/20]
Right-wing media accuses Whitmer of using kidnapping plot as a political weapon
In response to the arrests related to the kidnapping plot against her, Whitmer accused Trump of inciting domestic terrorism through his frequent inflammatory rhetoric related to her governance of the state.
Ben Shapiro dismissed the notion that Trump could hold any culpability for the plot and called Whitmer’s comments about him “despicable.” [The Daily Wire, The Ben Shapiro Show, 10/09/20]
Fox guest Charlie Hurt accused Whitmer of using the kidnapping plot against her as a political weapon. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 10/09/20]
Fox’s legal analyst Gregg Jarrett asserted that it is more “plausible” to blame the kidnapping plot on former Vice President Joe Biden than to blame Trump. Jarrett’s absurd claim stems from his false supposition that Biden has been stoking racial unrest while Trump has not. [Fox News, Hannity, 10/09/20]
Fox hosts Katie Pavlich and Greg Gutfeld accused Whitmer of using the kidnapping plot as a political weapon and said she should be grateful. [Fox News, The Five, 10/09/20]