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.
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.