Exclusive: FBI warned over summer that pandemic was reenergizing militia movement


Almost four months before the FBI arrested six men for plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor, the bureau warned local and state law enforcement about a surge in militia extremists seeking to target government officials, particularly those they blamed for pandemic restrictions, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by Yahoo News.

“Militia extremists likely pose an increased threat to state and local law enforcement, government personnel and associated facilities due to a perceived resurgence in recent months of activity surrounding state-level gun control legislation, as well as concerns specific to state and local government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the FBI said in an intelligence bulletin dated June 18 and produced jointly with the National Counterterrorism Center.

The FBI announced on Thursday that it had arrested six men who were plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. State authorities also charged seven others in connection with the same alleged plot. The men believed that Whitmer, a Democrat who had faced opposition for shutting down the Michigan economy early in the pandemic, had “uncontrolled power.”

Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

Trump has been a fierce critic of Whitmer and her shutdown measures, even tweeting Wednesday about the Michigan Supreme Court revoking her emergency powers.

“We just got a BIG win for the people of Michigan. Open up your Churches and your Schools. Auto companies pouring in and expanding (thank you Mr. President!). Have fun!” tweeted Trump, who tested positive for COVID-19 and is recovering at the White House.

Whitmer on Thursday, commenting on the arrests, blamed Trump for stoking hate groups.

While the bulletin said there are a variety of factors contributing to the rise in militias, the primary ones appear to be “concerns over gun control, calls for civil war or the ‘boogaloo,’ and perceived constitutional violations associated with state and local government responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” It also said that “lawful protests due to the deaths of unarmed African-Americans likely provides an environment to re-energize militia extremists.”

The NCTC referred Yahoo News to the FBI, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The existence of militias is not new, but they do appear to be shifting their focus, according to the FBI. Earlier conflicts, such as the 2014 standoff between supporters of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher who was battling the federal government over grazing fees, focused around public land use.

Christopher Wray
FBI Director Christopher Wray. (Tom Williams/Pool via Reuters)

While the Department of Homeland Security has faced recent criticism that it is downplaying right-wing threats, such as those from white supremacists, the FBI in its June report made clear the danger it sees from the militia movement. It said that “online conspiracy theories related to perceived motivations behind stay-at-home orders and inconsistent enforcement of, and compliance with, local government orders” are contributing to the threat of extremist militias.

The FBI also warned that even as pandemic restrictions are lifted, the militias could switch their focus to new concerns, such as vaccinations, protests against police brutality or the Nov. 3 elections. The FBI has previously warned that the elections could spark an attack by extremists.

Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Getty Images


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