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The manifest danger that Trump poses, as epitomized by this terrorist plot, needs to be highlighted. (Photo by Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

The manifest danger that Trump poses, as epitomized by this terrorist plot, needs to be highlighted. (Photo by Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump Must Be Held Responsible for the Michigan Terrorist Plot

This plot is no accident. It is the essence of Trumpism. 

Jeffrey C. Isaac

“Liberate Michigan!” 

Thus Tweeted Donald Trump on April 17, as armed militia groups and so-called “patriots” assembled outside the Michigan capitol building and then occupied the capitol itself, denouncing the pandemic response of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer as “tyranny,” intimidating state legislators, and forcing the legislative session to adjourn.

“There’s no middle ground anymore” 

Thus spoke “Steve,” a member of the Michigan Militia Corps’ Wolverines, quoted in an April 1, 2019 Irish Times feature on the group.

Today five men from Michigan and one from Delaware apparently linked to the group were criminally charged by federal authorities for their involvement in a multi-state conspiracy to kidnap the Democratic Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, and to kill “tyrants.” At the same time apparently twelve men were separately charged with criminal conspiracy by the state of Michigan.

The details of this conspiracy will surely be disclosed in the days to come, as will the extent of the network to which these particular alleged conspirators are linked—and we can be certain that they are linked to an extensive network.

What is clear now is that the conspiracy was identified and infiltrated by the F.B.I., and that the arrest and charging of the conspirators was a joint effort of the F.B.I., the U.S. Attorney’s office, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, and the Michigan state police.

As the Detroit Daily News reports:

“U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge of the Western District of Michigan said each faces a sentence of up to life in prison, if convicted.  “All of us standing here today want the public to know that federal and state law enforcement are committed to working together to make sure violent extremists never succeed with their plans, particularly when they target our duly elected leaders,” Birge said.”

It is good that law enforcement authorities have been so proactive in dealing with this threat. For we will need honest and fair law enforcement if we are going to have a free and fair election next month.

Trump’s campaign is dying. This dangerous and outrageous plot against democracy needs to be the final nail in its coffin.

In recent years various iterations of Michigan militia groups have been prominently featured in reports about “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other such organizations. In recent months, as similar groups have descended on the state capitols of Democratic-run states such as Virginia and Minnesota, the Michigan groups have loomed especially large, because of the extent to which they have been able to publicly threaten and intimidate. And as Governor Gretchen Whitmer has assumed a leading role in organizing a state-level pandemic response with a high national profile, she has become the target of particular hostility by these right-wing groups, and by their inspiration: Donald Trump.

Trump has enjoined these armed protestors to “liberate” their state, at times explicitly linking the call for “liberation” to the Second Amendment, clearly invoking and even inciting violence. Back on April 17, I called attention to this in a piece entitled “Trump’s Tweets Incite Civil War and Public Health Disaster.” 

In the months since, Trump has doubled-down on his attacks on Democratic governors and has been particularly relentless in his attacks on the three Democrats, all women, who hold the top executive positions in the Michigan government: Governor Whitmer, Attorney General Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Trump’s attacks have centered on election administration and public health, tagging these “Democrat” officials with trying to “rig” the election and to steal the liberties of “patriotic citizens.” As Audrey Andrews has pointed out in Ms. Magazine, in “Trump Attacks “Those [Women] from Michigan,” Trump’s nasty Tweets and denunciations appeal to both authoritarianism and misogyny. (Trump is indeed a world-class intersectional hater!)

Is it really any surprise that there would be a conspiracy like the one exposed today, and that Gretchen Whitmer would be its prime target?

The militias have been calling her a tyrant for months. A sign from the April Michigan protests, posted on Twitter by journalist Craig Mauger, indeed declares “Tyrants Get The Rope.”

And Trump has incited these attacks, all the while accusing Democratic Governors of joining with the Biden/Harris ticket to plan an “anarchist” takeover of the country.

The Michigan militiamen have apparently drawn exactly the conclusions to which Their Leader has led them.

They heard last week when Trump refused to denounce “white supremacist” groups, and they have heard for years, and at least since 2017 and Charlottesville, as Trump has offered succor to his far-right supporters. And they have also heard the silence from Trump when his own FBI Director has stated repeatedly, for the past six months, that the primary threat of “domestic terror” comes from right-wing extremist groups.

They know that Trump is “their” President, just as he knows that they are his most unshakeable base.

This “Wolverine” plot, and the broader efforts at violence and disruption to which it is surely linked, represents the culmination of Trumpism in crisis, the desperate effort of angry, paranoid, and racist extremists to “defend themselves” in the face of the imminent defeat of their angry, paranoid, and racist Leader.

Trump must not be let off the hook for this. For these are his proverbial chickens coming home to roost.

Journalists and media commentators must not offer him softball opportunities to “pivot” and shed a few false crocodile tears. He cannot take back his hate-filled and incendiary words of the past many years. He cannot take back his  appeal to “Second Amendment solutions” and his call to “liberate Michigan.” It does not matter what he says now. He is responsible for this. Period.

Investigative journalists must pursue every lead in this story. How many of the indicted conspirators, and how many of their close associates, have attended Trump rallies or displayed Trump signs or worn MAGA hats? How many of them were involved in this spring and summer’s armed protests threatening the Michigan Governor?

Every link between Trump and these Trump followers must be followed, exposed, and highlighted. And this story must not be allowed to fade away. For the threat of violence in the coming weeks remains very real. And the source of this threat must be kept vividly obvious—Donald Trump.

“Law and order” has always been a reactionary slogan designed to enjoin repression. And Trump has made the most of this.

At the same time, Trump’s entire existence is a performative contradiction, for there is nobody who has done more to undermine the rule of law and to incite violence against civil order than Donald Trump.

Now it is not a matter of the FBI alleging the danger of far-right groups. For the FBI has now arrested men who have been doing the figurative and perhaps even literal bidding of Donald Trump. Other arrests are sure to follow.

Trump’s campaign is dying. This dangerous and outrageous plot against democracy needs to be the final nail in its coffin.

The manifest danger that Trump poses, as epitomized by this terrorist plot, needs to be highlighted. 

Citizens need to understand how dangerous his candidacy is.

And law enforcement officials need to be put on notice as well, to guard against the dangers to a free and fair election that Trump threatens.

This plot is no accident. It is the essence of Trumpism. And all who are committed to democracy must take its full measure, and use it to mobilize Trump’s decisive and irretrievable defeat in November.

We must elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and we must retake the Senate, and we must put this interminable nightmare behind us, learning its lessons, and charting a way forward to a better future.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jeffrey C. Isaac

Jeffrey C. Isaac

Jeffrey C. Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include: "Democracy in Dark Times"(1998); "The Poverty of Progressivism: The Future of American Democracy in a Time of Liberal Decline" (2003), and "Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion" (1994).

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