These tactics shouldn't be acceptable.
When news broke of a plot to kidnap and harm Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) in 2020, the overwhelming sense from Americans was that it was a sign of the times.
The media framed the story around three major themes: Political violence, political radicalization, and political polarization. It fit a narrative alongside the Charlottesville riots and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: A bunch of angry, radical, far-right men wanted to commit violence. Their plan was to kidnap (and maybe kill) one of the most effective Democratic governors and prominent female politicians in America.
As time went on, though, the real heart of the Whitmer kidnapping story became something different: It was a reminder that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regularly organizes political violence only to then prosecute the people it can rope into its plots. Sure, the story involved some easily radicalized right-wing men. And some of them had genuinely frightening beliefs. But the bigger story is that those men almost certainly never would have done anything close to what they tried if it weren't for federal agents. More than a story about radicalization, it was a story about just how regularly the FBI entraps people in plots just like this one.
None of this is new. As the writer C.J. Ciaramella recently put it, "If you have some radical political views and an acquaintance reaches out, encourages you to act on your convictions, and maybe offers to introduce you to a guy who can sell you some bomb parts, don't take him up on it. That guy's almost definitely working for the feds."
Ever since 9/11, the federal government has been using these tactics to put people behind bars. And they've been tremendously successful. But their success hasn’t been at stopping terrorism, but rather manufacturing it, and then prosecuting anyone they can entice into their schemes.
What was unusual about the Whitmer case wasn't what the FBI did, or the fact that there are people out there with extreme political views who can be talked into violence. Neither of those things are novel. What was new was that this time the FBI's plan didn’t totally work. Rather than frame the bad guys, land prosecutions, and get hailed as heroes, the FBI needed two trials to get their first convictions, managed to land just a few other guilty verdicts, and by the end of the last trial its case against the ‘Wolverine Watchmen’ had turned mostly into a giant embarrassment. Multiple juries didn’t buy their story wholesale, and several of the defendants were acquitted. Others were given more lenient sentences than the FBI wanted. Media coverage on the FBI’s involvement turned sour.
Though there are plenty of cases of the FBI manufacturing the exact kind of terrorists that it purports to fight against, and they don’t just involve domestic terrorism. These kinds of tactics were pioneered and are still used in other areas of crime — ones where the defendants don’t typically get any public sympathy. But navigating the reality of what is happening requires suspending some loathing for the accused.
Last week, I wrote a piece about Ashton Kutcher that made me nervous; but that sense of caution helped our staff produce a piece that our readership was able to receive with openness and trust. Today, I’m writing about a story that makes me a little angry. So I’m going to try to be cautious in a different way — to avoid being over-zealous — and I’ll do my best to give you the facts precisely as they are. Then share my thoughts at the end.
Sign up for Tangle
Summarizing the best arguments from across the political spectrum. 100% independent, subscriber-supported, and non-partisan.
No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.
In 2022, Deanna Meyer reported her son Davin to the authorities in the hopes that they could help keep him out of trouble. From the time he was 14 years old, Davin made threats of violence against his mother. In 2021 and 2022, he spent eight months in a facility aimed to help treat his behavior and improve his mental health. According to an affidavit, “records show that Meyer has received diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder; attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood; specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics; and major depressive disorder, recurrent episode, moderate.”
In the care facility, Meyer often made racist remarks to the staff and gained an interest in radical Islamist ideology. Upon his release, he attempted to attend a local mosque but was banned after being accused of harassing the congregants. In November of 2022, he found the Islamic State online.
Except what he actually found was an FBI informant.