Saturday, April 9, 2022

The Gov. Whitmire Kidnapping Plot

 4/8/22 NY Times:

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It was one of the country’s highest-profile domestic terrorism cases: An alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, eliminate her security detail and perhaps touch off a civil war. But after a trial in which prosecutors portrayed the four defendants as threats to democracy, jurors on Friday acquitted two of the men and said they were unable to reach verdicts for the two others.

The result was a major blow to the Justice Department, which during the Biden administration has made domestic terrorism one of its top priorities in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The defendants in the Michigan trial were arrested weeks before the 2020 election, and the case was seen by some as revealing increasingly combative discourse among certain right-wing groups. But a series of missteps during the investigation, and the eventual failure to win any convictions against the men who went to trial, raises questions about the ability of federal law enforcement, when it infiltrates right-wing groups, to develop convincing cases without infringing on the rights to speak freely and own weapons.

Prosecutors built their case on a trove of audio recordings and encrypted texts from 2020 in which some of the men vented about Covid-19 restrictions, spoke about political violence and debated the best way to kidnap Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat, from her vacation home in northern Michigan.

Yet the very existence of those recordings and text conversations underscored defense lawyers’ theory of the case: that the supposed plot had been conceived and nudged ahead by a network of F.B.I. agents and informants who preyed on the worst instincts of their loose-lipped targets. The defense lawyers described the men on trial as big talkers who were never going to commit any kidnapping.

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