Michigan gubernatorial candidate pushes conspiracy theory about Whitmer kidnapping plot

711

Garrett Soldano is one of a number of Republicans who have said the FBI created a fake kidnapping plot as part of a plan to keep Democrats in power.

The pro-Donald Trump Star News Network reported on April 15 that Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Garrett Soldano was pushing a conspiracy theory about the case against accused would-be kidnappers of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, claiming not only that the government was behind the plot, but that it was part of a conspiracy to impact the 2020 election. 

"The FBI conceived a plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer and preyed on Michiganders to push it along," the website reported that Soldano said in a press release. "These events had a direct impact on the 2020 election results in Michigan, one of the most important swing states in the country."

Soldano's campaign manager, Jon George, added, "There have been bad actors who have completely eroded the people's trust, and this fake kidnapping plot really goes to show what the elites are willing to do to keep Democrats in power."

Six suspects were arrested in 2020 on charges of plotting to kidnap Whitmer and were tried in federal court. Two pleaded guilty before going to trial; one is already in prison, while the other is awaiting sentencing. The trial of the remaining four concluded last week, with the jury acquitting two and deadlocking on the other two, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial.

The case foundered on revelations of serious misconduct on the part of FBI informants and FBI agents, both in the handling of the case and outside of it. One agent was fired by the FBI after being accused of domestic violence. Another agent's integrity was tarnished, according to a BuzzFeed report, after it came to light that he had been operating a consulting firm on the side, simultaneous with pursuing the case. One of the FBI's key informants was charged with fraud. As reported by BuzzFeed, the informant's background raised questions with the defense about the government's willingness to prosecute the case at all costs and without regard for the "misbehavior of its own operatives."

The group was accused of plotting to abduct the governor from her northern Michigan vacation home, having become incensed over what they saw as her tyrannical COVID-19 policies. Their alleged plan had included surveillance of her residence, and they had engaged in tactical training in the event that they needed to engage with her security detail. 

Javed Ali, associate professor of practice at the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, said in a comment to the American Independent Foundation, "Two of the six charged with federal offenses (Garbin and Franks) already pled guilty, which indicates they thought the weight of the government's evidence was sufficient enough that pleading out was a better strategy than going to trial."

Republicans nationally have pushed conspiracy theories about the plot. Fox news commentator Tucker Carlson mocked its seriousness, while Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia also suggested that the FBI was behind it and said it was part of a pattern: "Setting up people, like in the Whitmer alleged kidnapping plot, doesn't appear to be a solo event. ... We must investigate how much involvement the FBI had in any part of J6." 

Other high-profile figures on the right repeated the charge, including Dinesh D'Souza and Texas Rep. Troy Nehls, who tweeted, "Media and FBI must be held accountable for this."

In Michigan, Matt DePerno, a candidate for state attorney general endorsed by Trump, reminded his followers on Twitter, "I said the Whitmer kidnapping sham was entrapment by the FBI designed to create a false narrative before the election." 

All suspects in the plot were members of far-right militia groups the Three Percenters and the Wolverine Watchmen. Militias have been present in Michigan since at least the 1990s. According to the Washington Post, Michigan was the "plotting ground" for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, carried out by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, in which 168 people were killed,19 of them children, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was blown up.

Although many of these groups have differing ideologies and goals, broad similarities also exist amongst them, most notably white supremacist and anti-government tendencies, as well as a fervent belief in the Second Amendment. According to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, such ideologies have been mainstreamed in U.S. politics largely as a result of the sometimes tacit, sometimes overt acceptance of them by Donald Trump. 

In similar style, Michigan lawmakers have also begun to normalize such far-right hate groups. On April 30, 2020, 600 protesters and militia members, some armed with long guns, gathered at the state Capitol to protest the governor's COVID-19 restrictions. They demanded Whitmer's resignation. They held banners printed with slogans such as "Tyrant Bitch" and "Tyrants Get the Rope." About 20 of the protesters entered the gallery and observed lawmakers as they worked. State Sen. Mike Shirkey met with them, without media present, to hear their grievances. Shirkey later said he thought the militias were "getting a bad rap." 

Whitmer's office issued a release on April 8 stating, "The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly. But we must be honest about what it really is: the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.