Court Docs Appear To Show FBI Informants Contributed Two-Thirds Of The Conspirators To The Michigan Governor Kidnapping Plot

from the crime-continues-to-pay,-but-mostly-for-informants dept

The FBI's proclivity for inside jobs has not gone unnoticed here at Techdirt. The FBI primarily considers itself a counterterrorist agency these days, which has led to a lot of undercover work that closely resembles entrapment.

Utilizing a large number of informants (some coerced into this work by threats of visa revocation, travel restrictions, etc.), the FBI has gone into the business of radicalization, turning internet loudmouths (and the occasional nursing home denizen) into would-be terrorists -- going so far as to come up with all the plans, provide all the funding, and supply all the necessary items to engage in terrorism, foreign or domestic.

The focus has largely been on the nation's Muslim population, operating on the assumption that the next threat to this nation will be like the last confirmed threat to this nation -- the one observed on September 11, 2001. The FBI has been late in arriving to the domestic terrorism party -- largely because, like other law enforcement agencies, it chose to believe white nationalists and other far right extremists were less of a threat than residents with darker skin.

But now that this domestic threat can no longer be ignored, the FBI has apparently thrown itself into its new work. The tactics -- quasi-entrapment utilizing a large number of informants -- haven't changed. BuzzFeed has two reports on the FBI's involvement in the plot to kidnap and kill Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer -- one that was hatched as the nation underwent the growing pains of dealing with a pandemic while "led" by a president who claimed the virus killing thousands of US residents was either a hoax, a Chinese-led conspiracy to dethrone him, or an exaggerated threat.

A handful of the defendants facing federal charges in the kidnapping case are now asking the courts to take a closer look at the FBI's involvement, claiming what happened here was more entrapment than a grassroots movement to forcibly remove a state official from office.

The government employed at least a dozen confidential informants to infiltrate groups of armed extremists who allegedly plotted to kidnap the governor of Michigan, according to a new filing in federal court on Monday.

The filing, made by one of the five defendants in the federal case, asked that prosecutors be ordered to share more information about those informants, their relationship with the FBI, and the specific roles they played in building the case. It came among a blizzard of 15 new defense motions in the high-profile case, including requests to move it to a different district, to suppress evidence from a search warrant, and to try at least one defendant separately from the others.

For those keeping score at home: if these allegations are true, the number of FBI informants involved in this case outnumbered the non-FBI informants by a ratio of more than 2-to-1. Twelve (alleged) informants. Five (5) regular people charged in the kidnapping conspiracy. Now, I'm no expert on peer pressure, but even if the conspiracy was a straight-up democracy, the ayes would have carried the motion to kidnap, even if those votes were limited to people being paid by the FBI.

There are even more details in the follow-up report, compiled by BuzzFeed after taking a look at the flurry of filings by the defendants in this case.

Here's just one example of how this plot unfolded day-by-day:

“Everybody down with what’s going on?” an Iraq War veteran in the group demanded to know when they ended their recon mission, well past midnight, at a campsite where they were all staying.

“If you’re not down with the thought of kidnapping,” someone else replied, “don’t sit here.”

The men planned for all kinds of obstacles, but there was one they didn’t anticipate: The FBI had been listening in all along.

For six months, the Iraq War vet had been wearing a wire, gathering hundreds of hours of recordings. He wasn’t the only one. A biker who had traveled from Wisconsin to join the group was another informant. The man who’d advised them on where to put the explosives — and offered to get them as much as the task would require — was an undercover FBI agent. So was a man in one of the other cars who said little and went by the name Mark.

The informants were anything but passive. They did far more than observe and report. They moved plans forward, supplied intel and items, and -- according to these documents -- possibly instigated the plot to kidnap the Michigan governor.

And this wasn't the only plot the FBI had a hand in. One informant organized similar meetings of minds all over the country, apparently hoping to find enough far-right extremists willing to take the next step towards criminal activity if adequately goaded by the FBI's network of informants.

Because of this, multiple defendants in this case are hoping a judge sees the FBI's involvement as far more than investigatory. The allegations made -- coupled with some of the evidence handed over to defendants -- appear to show FBI informants were the prime movers in these plots, pushing and cajoling reluctant targets into doing more than simply being extremely online.

To be sure, there are some dangerous individuals out there. But the five rounded up here with the involvement of 12 FBI informants, for the most part, weren't. Here's BuzzFeed's description of one of the accused kidnappers, Pete Musico:

Musico bragged that he had thrown Molotov cocktails in cops’ homes and showed off a lump of something he claimed was C-4. But there was no proof he’d ever attacked any officers and the plastic explosives later turned out to be fake. All the tough talk had never gotten beyond jokes and disturbing but vague rhetoric.

And here's only a small part of the FBI's involvement in turning this online smack-talking into a reality:

A few weeks later, [FBI informant] Dan drove five Watchmen and 6,000 rounds of ammunition to Cambria, Wisconsin, for a national training exercise organized by Robeson. He rented a Suburban for the weekend, paid for gas, and subsidized food and lodging for the group, all courtesy of the FBI.

This led to the involvement of even more FBI employees.

By this point, Dan had managed to insert an undercover FBI agent — “Red,” a supposed explosives expert — into the group. A second undercover agent, known as Mark, had also joined up, after a woman posing as his girlfriend had approached Fox’s then-fiancé, saying they wanted to train.

Dan set them up to buy $4,000 in explosives. The only non-FBI members of this group he took with him only managed to put together $298. Despite being completely unable to buy the explosives they wanted, they were arrested by FBI agents during the so-called "buy."

The entire article is a fascinating read, detailing the FBI's extremely heavy involvement in this case. It may well be a plot to kidnap the Michigan governor would have been carried out without the FBI's encouragement and funding, but the idea may also have died the swift death of thousands of other heated online conversations.

Then there's this disturbing postscript:

An FBI agent at the center of the investigation into the plot to kidnap and kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is accused of smashing his wife's head against a nightstand and choking her after a dispute stemming from their attendance at a swingers' party, according to court records.

Special Agent Richard Trask, 39, of Kalamazoo, was charged Monday with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, less than murder following the alleged incident Sunday.

An affidavit filed by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office in Kalamazoo County District Court said Trask's wife had bloody lacerations to the right side of her head and "blood all over chest, clothing arms and hand," as well as "severe" bruising to her neck and throat.

This won't help the FBI. This is something the defense can use to attack the agent's credibility -- something that can potentially undermine his testimony and statements, as well as his personal integrity. It also raises questions about how much leeway the FBI gives its agents and informants, and how much it overlooks as long as they produce results.

There's still a long way to go in these prosecutions. But this doesn't look good. There may have been some people out there willing to kidnap and kill a politician they disagreed with, but this plot appears to have involved more people pretending to be conspirators than actual conspirators.

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Filed Under: doj, domestic terrorism, entrapment, fbi, gretchen whitmer, informants, kidnapping, michigan, own plot


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  • icon
    Chozen (profile), 23 Jul 2021 @ 12:22pm

    They Have done thsi before: Newburgh Four

    Very similar to the Newburgh Four where the FBI targeted blustering fantasifull schizophrenics and turned them into terrorists.

    "Musico bragged that he had thrown Molotov cocktails in cops’ homes and showed off a lump of something he claimed was C-4. But there was no proof he’d ever attacked any officers and the plastic explosives later turned out to be fake. All the tough talk had never gotten beyond jokes and disturbing but vague rhetoric.

    And here's only a small part of the FBI's involvement in turning this online smack-talking into a reality:

    A few weeks later, [FBI informant] Dan drove five Watchmen and 6,000 rounds of ammunition to Cambria, Wisconsin, for a national training exercise organized by Robeson. He rented a Suburban for the weekend, paid for gas, and subsidized food and lodging for the group, all courtesy of the FBI."

    This guy is just nuts and needs to be in a mental institution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2021 @ 12:37pm

    if a threat is made by someone who has not got even the money to buy explosives or ammunition should it be treated the same in a court as someone who has arms and explosives ?it seems all of the people in this case who actually supplied resources were paid fbi informants who had money to rent a building and buy explosives or weapons .
    eg would anything have happened at all if the informants were not supplying
    resources to travel and provide a space to train the so called extremist group .
    meanwhile there are plenty of highly resourced criminal gangs who have guns and money and are commiting serious crime every day ,
    eg stealing atms full of money using stolen farm machinery
    it can be done in 5 minutes ,its happening everyday

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2021 @ 1:00pm

      Re:

      "meanwhile there are plenty of highly resourced criminal gangs who have guns and money and are commiting serious crime every day..."

      But those are really dangerous and some are probably friends, business partners, investors or something along the line of someone higher up.
      And you don't want to piss of the guy(s) who decide(s) over your employement or things affecting your working conditions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Jul 2021 @ 3:06am

      Re:

      "...would anything have happened at all if the informants were not supplying resources to travel and provide a space to train the so called extremist group ."

      That's impossible to answer, least of all in a court of law.

      The only thing this revelation brings to the table is that there are two parties who need to go before the judge. Those who initiated and abetted conspiracy (The FBI) and those who agreed to act as triggermen (the benighted fuckwits currently behind bars for conspiracy to commit kidnapping and assault).

      I'm afraid that Being Bloody Stupid is not a valid legal defense anywhere, in most cases.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Steve, 23 Jul 2021 @ 12:38pm

    The FBI Giving Too Much Leeway To Their Informants? ...Nah

    Whitey Bulger... Need I say further?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jul 2021 @ 2:18am

      Re: The FBI Giving Too Much Leeway To Their Informants? ...Nah

      An FBI agent was put in prison for their handling of Bulger though. That's a pretty radical departure from the norm. It's obvious a big part of day to day work of three letter agencies hinges on allowing certain criminals who will inform to continue their own criminal activity without interference, provided they continue to supply intelligence on others committing the same crimes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 23 Jul 2021 @ 12:40pm

    I’m unsurprised that the FBI did more instigating than the targets of their “investigation”. I’m also amazed that the FBI keeps thinking its bullshit is anything other than the instigation of terrorism where there would’ve been none if not for the intervention of the FBI.

    The people who willingly went along with the “plot” deserve some form of punishment. They’re not exactly angels here. But if their claims hold true (and I don’t see why they wouldn’t), they deserve less than they’d get if they weren’t pushed into becoming terrorists by the people who’re supposed to catch terrorists instead of creating them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 23 Jul 2021 @ 3:01pm

      Re:

      I don't differentiate those willing to kidnap a government official, whether they have the means or not, and whether they came up with the idea all by themselves or not. I don't want any of them on the street.

      "He didn't really have plastic explosives" doesn't mean that he would never have plastic explosives, or that he wouldn't have found some other, cheaper explosive mechanism.

      The FBI's tactics are distasteful and seem to target low-level dimwits instead of genius masterminds, but unless they're found to be outright illegal, lock all these nutcases up.

      And the fact that one of the agents is a domestic abuser is irrelevant. Tons of cops are domestic abusers; that doesn't mean criminals get to walk.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 23 Jul 2021 @ 3:11pm

        Yes, they all deserve jail time. Yes, they deserve a felony conviction on their records. But would they have been potential terrorists if not for the “assistance” of the FBI? The answer to that question should inform the severity of their punishment.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 Jul 2021 @ 12:52am

          Re:

          Nonsense; and this is really pretty basic. There is no answer to that question because it is wholly speculative. Speculative arguments are not a defense nor do they have any place in a court of law. The facts are the facts and they either did or did not break the law. They were either coerced or they acted of their own accord.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Jul 2021 @ 8:39am

            They were either coerced or they acted of their own accord.

            That’s kind of my point here: Did the FBI’s informants/agents coerce these chumps into doing something they otherwise wouldn’t have done? If the answer is “yes”, the punishment those chumps get should be less severe than what they would get under normal circumstances. If the answer is “no”, the punishment should be typical of such cases.

            We’ve all seen the stories of the FBI manufacturing terrorists they can later arrest. I’m inclined to think this is another one. The FBI doesn’t have a shortage of right-wing terrorists to go after; alls I want to know is if these chumps were self-made or government-made.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Jul 2021 @ 5:44am

              Re:

              "Did the FBI’s informants/agents coerce these chumps into doing something they otherwise wouldn’t have done?"

              ...irrelevant. From any legal pov these chumps have willfully conspired to kidnap. It doesn't matter whether they came up with the idea on their own, were talked into it by someone else, or were inspired to follow a Snidely Whiplash script from watching old cartoons.

              "Some guy told me to do it!" ranks right down there with "I was only following orders!" among invalid defenses.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 Jul 2021 @ 5:06am

          Re:

          One of the FBI moles was recruited because he approached the police of his own free will. He was looking for a way to have fun weekends jaunts, running around in the woods and shooting guns. He found a group online and joined, but was then horrified when they started talking about killing police. He told a friend who was a cop who referred him to the FBI. The FBI persuaded him to stay active in the group and act as an informant. If he is typical, then I would say throw the charged in a deep, dark hole and throw away the key.

          The reason this "FBI entrapment" narrative is coming out at the trial is that the FBI have massive amounts of proof in the form of online posts, email and eyewitness testimony so they have absolutely no other defence. Their lawyers are desperate and "entrapment" is their only hope of a dismissal or reduced sentance.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Cowardly Lion, 23 Jul 2021 @ 5:33pm

        Hmmm.

        All good points... but to what extent were these "low-level dimwits" being egged-on?

        Our saintly Father Ruprecht used to say... "give me a child under the age of six, and I'll give you a catholic for life...".

        All I'm saying is that it's not difficult for someone with base motives and objectives to easily sway dull, unsophisticated, low information people to do the most dreadful things...

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Jul 2021 @ 2:24am

        Re: Re:

        Always interesting to see bootlickers on TechDirt. And a bootlicker who thinks alcoholic cops beating their wives is irrelevant to a discussions of their credibility no less.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 24 Jul 2021 @ 2:41pm

        Re: Re:

        I am sure my cat would at times desire to kill me but that doesn't mean that it should be locked up once someone offers to equip it with a bazooka.

        If you locked up everybody who could be manipulated into doing dangerous things if they only had the mental capacity and means, you'd probably have more children in jail than in school. And you'd have a hard time finding army recruits.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Jul 2021 @ 5:50am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "...but that doesn't mean that it should be locked up once someone offers to equip it with a bazooka."

          Doesn't hold like a true metaphor. We could arm your cat. We can tell it "Go on, kill that David fellow. You know he deserves it for withholding treats! Join the dark side and have cookies forebbermore!". We can whisper sinister suggestions in it's ear for years.

          ...but the point where that cat picks up the bazooka and starts to seriously stalk you with it that cat is down for conspiracy to commit murder, no two ways about it.
          The only difference here is that we who were influencing the cat and telling it what to do could be similarly charged.

          This is not to say that your cat is seriously planning your death, of course. It's just an example. You shouldn't wake up to find it staring at you and wonder if it was considering bleeding you while you slept. Honest. 😼

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Smartassicus the Roman, 24 Jul 2021 @ 9:16pm

        Re: Re:

        The next time you think about how nice it'd be to have someone else's money, turn yourself in for grand larceny.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Jul 2021 @ 5:39am

      Re:

      "But if their claims hold true (and I don’t see why they wouldn’t), they deserve less than they’d get if they weren’t pushed into becoming terrorists by the people who’re supposed to catch terrorists instead of creating them."

      Have to disagree there, Stephen. I don't think there's much of a difference in a legal sense, between the guy who comes up with the idea of robbing a bank and the guy who is persuaded to go rob a bank.

      The only thing I see here is that some G-men need to stand trial for conspiracy to commit kidnapping as well.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2021 @ 1:16pm

        Re: Re:

        I don't think there's much of a difference in a legal sense, between the guy who comes up with the idea of robbing a bank and the guy who is persuaded to go rob a bank.

        That depends on how they were persuaded, which cam all too easily cross the line into coercion.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sumgai (profile), 23 Jul 2021 @ 1:03pm

    The only plausible reason behind this...

    I predict that this clusterfuck will become a textbook case study on the topic of Governmental Job Justification Within A Department's Budget.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2021 @ 1:09pm

    And is anyone surprised?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Jul 2021 @ 1:21pm

    The FBI, turning your drunken weekend fantasies into reality for a good headline!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Shaun Wilson (profile), 23 Jul 2021 @ 6:04pm

    I've been part of several martial arts groups (none I was any good at) and a lot of this case seemed to be the same sort of bragging and training that went on in them. The "training" on how to conduct a pseudo-military assault and the loud talk about how many police officers they could take out etc sounds quite similar to the martial arts training on how to take out an armed mugger and braging on how many attackers someone could take out that occured in those groups.

    The only part where it started to get to be more of a concern from my perspective was when they started doing actual survielance of the governor. After that point I believe it would be appropriate to start arresting people who continued to play an active, preferably pro-active role. By this I meen someone who pawned their wedding ring or took out a second mortgage on their house to buy the explosives not just someone who handed over whatever spare change they happened to have in their wallet...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 24 Jul 2021 @ 7:56am

      Re:

      Of course one does wonder who was it that brought up surveillance & drove them there in the vehicle wired for sound & video so they could get them talking about all the things they wanted to do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 24 Jul 2021 @ 8:02am

    A large group engages in a conspiracy to make a smaller group engage in something they normally wouldn't do...

    It's the RICO!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 24 Jul 2021 @ 9:13pm

    But but but i thought it wasn't a swamp and Orange Man BAD was all we needed to fix it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jul 2021 @ 3:33am

    Ever get the feeling the FBI WANTED the governor kidnapped/killed and this was just a way to justify it as "an Op gone wrong"....?

    Throw enough chaos and stupidity around and the FBI just bought itself "we're stupid" deniability.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2021 @ 8:06am

    Vehemently disliking her is one thing, but KIDNAPPING...nope.
    "I'm not gone be able to do it"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SORG, 29 Jul 2021 @ 11:30am

    the business of radicalization

    Excellent reporting.

    "Utilizing a large number of informants (some coerced into this work by threats of visa revocation, travel restrictions, etc.), the FBI has gone into the business of radicalization, turning internet loudmouths (and the occasional nursing home denizen) into would-be terrorists"

    The proper term for this "manufacture" of "terrorists" is "organized gang stalking," where the FBI send armies of informants into your life, and activates the local police department against you, using slander and other fear based tactics.

    They surround your life, manipulate your electronic communications (hacking, stolen emails, following you on internet forum boards, etc.) and try to get you fired from your job, and isolated from support inn your community--eve trying to turn your family against you (Omar Mateen, AFAIK)

    It has worked so well in Gaza for many decades, why not just try it out here?

    Its horrific in both scope and depravity. FBI/DHS/ICE etalphabet all collude in this practice,and gang stalking is the most serious threat to our democracy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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