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What we know about alleged terror plot to overthrow Michigan government

The FBI says it has broken up an alleged plot by violent extremists in Michigan to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the state government. The shocking revelation included details of a plan to storm the state capitol that started to take shape after this summer's heated political battles regarding the pandemic. John Yang reports and talks to Michigan's attorney general, Dana Nessel.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The FBI says it has broken up an alleged plot by violent extremists in Michigan to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the state government.

    The shocking announcement of arrests today includes details of a plan to storm the state capitol.

    As John Yang tells us, authorities say the plot began taking shape this summer after heated political battles over the pandemic.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, 13 people are in custody in Michigan on federal charges of conspiracy to kidnap the governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and on state terrorism charges for threatening to seize the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan.

    The FBI says their goal was to create a self-sufficient society that they say would follow the Bill of Rights.

    In recorded conversations, they call Governor Whitmer a tyrant.

    This afternoon the governor pointed to President Trump's rhetoric in last week's debate.

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer:

    Hate groups heard the president's words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action.

    When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions, and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.

  • John Yang:

    The federal charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. The state charges a maximum of 20 years in prison.

    Dana Nessel is the attorney general of Michigan.

    Thank you very much for joining us.

    The FBI affidavit that was unsealed today really details a very elaborately planned and plotted scheme here, meeting in Ohio, meeting in Wisconsin, having the governor's house under surveillance day and night time.

    What more can you tell us about how this plot was hatched and how it was to be carried out?

  • Dana Nessel:

    There's a lot to it.

    There are a lot more allegations than just involving the plot to kidnap the governor. You know, we also have a plot to take over the state capitol and for mass casualties there, for threats against other public officials and law enforcement. I mean, there's more than just this one plot to kidnap the governor.

    And, unfortunately, it crosses many state lines. This is multijurisdictional. This is a Michigan problem, but it's not just a Michigan problem. It's an American problem right now.

    And what we're seeing is this Boogaloo movement and a multitude and a myriad of different militia organizations, white supremacy organizations, often that work with one another.

  • John Yang:

    Were these individuals, these groups people who had been on your radar? Had you been watching them?

  • Dana Nessel:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    And watching them — I mean, what activities had they been carrying out or threatening to carry out or have been involved in the past?

  • Dana Nessel:

    Well, as I have suggested, I mean, there are multiple different plots that they have been hatching.

    Now, in terms of which they were — what plots they were most serious about actually executing, I mean, the closest that they got to any of them involved this plot involving Governor Whitmer.

    But there were a number of different strategies that they had. This is not just a bunch of gentlemen that get together and shoot — go to target practice and chat among themselves.

    You know, these are overt acts. These are multiple trainings that they were involved in, again, across many states. And it appeared as though they were prepared to move forward in their actions.

    So, I — incredibly, incredibly concerning and incredibly disturbing, but something that we have to be aware of. And, quite honestly, I would hope that we would look to our elected leaders and caution them that this is not empty rhetoric to these individuals, right?

  • John Yang:

    What is the motivation of these people — of these group of people? How would you describe them? A militia? White supremacists? What was their motivating factor?

  • Dana Nessel:

    Certainly, I would say there's white supremacy elements to many of these groups. Remember, there's multiple groups.

    The ones that we charged had to do with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group that is located in Michigan. But they are in contact with other groups as well.

    And I would say the shared extremism is that, on one hand, you have the white supremacy, white nationalist tenet, but, on the other, very much anti-government sentiments. So, it's strange.

    And I'm very proud, by the way, that my department worked in concert with the FBI and with both the U.S. attorneys with the Eastern and Western Districts, so — because this is not politically motivated. I am a Democrat. Those are individuals who were put into their respective offices by Republicans.

    But we worked together on this, because I think anyone who is truly a member of law enforcement appreciates how shocking this is, how disturbing it is, and the grave threat that it poses to American society.

  • John Yang:

    Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, thanks so much.

  • Dana Nessel:

    Thanks for having me.

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