The arrest late last week of more than a dozen self-styled “Wolverine Watchmen,” and the subsequent war of words between Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the apparent target of their conspiracy, and President Trump, who Whitmer charged was “complicit” in the plot, illustrates once again the truly strange world in which we are living as we approach the November 3 election.
The federal criminal complaint that provided the basis for the arrests of the conspirators confirms a rule that became apparent to me shortly after I was sworn in as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia in 1986, and which remains as accurate today, 34 years later. Simply stated, the rule holds that one of the best and most useful tools a prosecutor wields is the stupidity of the criminal element. The affidavit in the Wolverine Watchmen case, executed by an FBI special agent working the investigation, paints a picture of the conspirators as not real bright, to put it most kindly.
To be sure, the conspirators’ goal was deadly serious — to kidnap or kill the Michigan Governor, along with other individuals. Thankfully, the strategy they hatched as a roadmap to achieve their goal was about as artless and unsophisticated as a cable TV “reality show.”
The conspirators apparently had been planning their deed since at least early this year, when federal law enforcement were alerted to their plans after the disgruntled Brainiacs discussed the “violent overthrow” of the government on not-so-secret “social media.” At some point thereafter, and before a June 6, 2020 meeting of the plotters in Ohio, the FBI was able to do what it long has been expert at – infiltrating such conspiracies with undercover sources. In this case, the FBI was able to use not just a single “confidential human source” but “multiple” such sources.
In further display of their lack of brain power, the conspirators appeared in full armed regalia at demonstrations this past summer at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, where TV cameras were aplenty. So much for remaining incognito.
While the plotters did display a knowledge of movie drama — holding some of their meetings in a basement room “accessed through a trap door hidden under a rug” — they reportedly were constantly plagued by a lack of resources. According to the FBI affidavit, they could not even raise $4,000 they apparently needed to purchase the explosives they intended to use in carrying out their plan. Moreover, when they attempted to construct and test some homemade IEDs (improvised explosive devices), they proved to be duds and would not detonate.
As with investigations involving confidential sources that were handled by my office in Atlanta during my tenure as U.S. Attorney, these Michigan plotters did worry about snitches in their midst. But their effort to ensure there were no rats in their group proved as poorly conceived as other elements of their plan — requiring that everyone at one of the “secret” meetings “bring personal documents to confirm their identities.”
In yet another move that would have further improved their chances of being caught, one of the conspirators suggested hiring a real estate agent to help them find the precise location of the Governor’s vacation home and to better get the lay of the land by inspecting other, nearby homes.
Thankfully, these Wolverine conspirators displayed the same lack of intelligence often exhibited by similar groups of misfits, making them a relatively easy target for apprehension by the FBI (and state authorities working in tandem with the feds).
It is clear, however, that the group had been working diligently at their criminal deeds for many months, which makes Whitmer’s post-arrest claim that President Trump was somehow “complicit” in the conspiracy because of something he said or did not say during his September 29 debate with former Vice President Biden, hollow and crassly political. But then again, it is all part of the Bizarro World in which we are living in this twentieth year of the 21st Century.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7 District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.