‘We will find you’: Whitmer warns extremists after thwarted kidnapping plot

Conservative protest at the Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 30, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, responding Thursday to law officials’ announcement of a thwarted plot to kidnap her, issued a stark warning to anyone who engages in “heinous acts of violence” against Michigan lawmakers and residents: “We will find you.”

Law enforcement including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, FBI, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials and Michigan State Police (MSP) revealed Thursday they had conducted a sweeping investigation into a number of Michigan militia members, who, according to an FBI affidavit, called Whitmer a “tyrant,” a “bitch,” and planned to kidnap her, try her for “treason” and possibly kill her. 

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In remarks made just a few hours after the announcement, Whitmer thanked law enforcement for conducting the investigation. 

“As a mom with two teenage daughters and three stepsons, my husband and I are eternally grateful to everyone who put themselves in harm’s way to keep our family safe,” Whitmer said.

So far, 13 men have been charged for what officials categorize as “extremist” plans to target Whitmer and to attempt to overthrow the state government. Federal officials charged six militia members on multiple counts for alleged acts of terrorism. Nessel’s office charged seven more men under Michigan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. 

A plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor started in a ritzy Columbus suburb, prosecutors say

Whitmer added that she imagined she’d encounter difficulties during her governorship, but nothing of this scale. 

“When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard,” Whitmer said. “But I’ll be honest — I never could have imagined anything like this.”

For months, the governor has faced attacks from right-wing individuals and groups who are critical of her executive response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On previous occasions, armed militia members gathered at the state Capitol to protest her emergency actions, such as her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. 

Whitmer, a Democrat, said she understands political disagreements, but she won’t stand for perpetuation of violence.

“So let me say this loud and clear: Hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in the great state of Michigan,” Whitmer said. “If you break the law or conspire to commit heinous acts of violence against anyone. We will find you. We will hold you accountable, and we will bring you to justice.”

Leaders who refuse to condemn white supremacists and hate groups legitimize those groups’ actions, Whitmer said. She referenced President Donald Trump’s refusal to outright condemn white supremacists during the Sept. 29 presidential debate. 

“‘Stand back and stand by,’ he told them. ‘Stand back, and stand by.’ Hate groups heard the president’s words, not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry. As a call to action,” Whitmer said. “When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.”

“This is terrorism”: Michigan lawmakers weigh in

State Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia), speaking during a Thursday state Senate session, said she was scared and mad to find out about the threat against Whitmer and legislators and called for more conclusive action to ban firearms in the Capitol. 

“Men armed to the teeth stormed our chambers to intimidate us, and today we found out that these threats were real,” Polehanki said. “There was a plan in place to not only scare us, but to kidnap us and kill us.

State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) on Thursday responded to the news of the plot. Chatfield and Shirkey have been two driving forces in a months-long legal battle to strip Whitmer of her emergency powers. 

GOP Legislature moves toward suing Whitmer, as armed protestors watched from Senate gallery

Shirkey in April spoke with armed right-wing protesters in the state Senate gallery and told the press it was a private conversation.

“Violence has no place in politics. Ever. It’s never a solution to disagreements,” Chatfield wrote on Twitter. “The people who targeted @GovWhitmer and police officers are un-American. Justice should be swift and severe. It’s time to send a message that violence will not be tolerated.”

“A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all,” Shirkey tweeted. “We condemn those who plotted against her and our government. They are not patriots. There is no honor in their actions. They are criminals and traitors, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) criticized lawmakers in both Michigan and Washington D.C., who she described as having “encouraged and tolerated” threats of violence and hate against people with different opinions.

Those same leaders shouldn’t be surprised that some extremists have now acted on their rhetoric, Slotkin said. 

“Make no mistake: This is about as far from their proclaimed patriotism as one can get,” Slotkin said. “This is terrorism.”

Kelsey Snyder — daughter of Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder — tweeted that she felt emotional hearing Whitmer’s remarks because her father had also endured death threats during his time in office.

“Tearing up watching @GovWhitmer press conference,” Snyder wrote. “I remember frantically scrolling twitter seeing death threats and hate against my father. These politicians are HUMAN. They have families. Several years later reminiscing makes me feel sick. We must do better.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson tweeted her support for Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Nessel and other law enforcement who carried out the operation.

“Seems like a timely moment to say how thankful I am for the courageous, bold leadership of @GovWhitmer and @LtGovGilchrist, our unrelenting, fearless AG @dananessel, and the state, federal, and local law enforcement @MichStatePolice and @FBIDetroit who keep us safe every day,” Benson wrote. 

C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.