NEW: When 14 men were charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan's governor and kick off a civil war last fall, it was hailed as a triumph in the FBI’s battle against domestic terrorism.

But the men say they weren’t plotting. They say they were set up.…
Our investigation, based on court filings, audio recordings, and dozens of interviews, provides the most detailed account yet into the alleged scheme to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — and the first look at how deeply FBI informants penetrated different armed extremist groups.
It started when Dan, an Iraq War veteran, joined a group called the Wolverine Watchmen, looking to practice tactical training with like-minded people. But when he read their violent messages, he contacted the police and soon found himself working as a confidential FBI informant.
The FBI called it Operation Cold Snap. Dan was wearing a wire when a heavily armed crowd occupied Michigan's Capitol in April 2020. He said one member declared his intention to wait for Whitmer and “catch that bitch as she came out the emergency exit.”
Around the same time, another government informant helped organize a "national militia meeting" in Ohio. One of the participants later told Dan about his plan for the Michigan state Capitol: “take the building and then take fucking hostages.”
That was Adam Fox. He lived in the basement of a vacuum store, in a space accessible only through a trapdoor hidden under a rug. He told Dan — with the FBI listening in — his dream was to “have the governor hogtied down on a table.”
Some of the Watchmen were wary of Fox, but Dan continued to include him and to train with other people as well. Using FBI money, he even paid for some people’s transportation and lodging in order to boost attendance at out-of-state meetings with other armed militant groups.
The FBI has a long history of using informants to infiltrate dissident groups, with mixed results. Some informants have coerced innocent people and falsified evidence. But defendants who say they were entrapped almost always see that argument fail in court.
According to the feds, Fox and the others conducted surveillance and drew up plans to blow up a bridge, break into the governor’s vacation home, restrain her, and whisk her away — to be abandoned on a boat in Lake Michigan or to be tried as a “tyrant.”
On Oct. 7, when four of the men went to meet a man who’d offered to sell them explosives, FBI agents swooped in and arrested them. More alleged plotters, as far away as South Carolina, were also picked up that night, sending a shockwave through the so-called Patriot movement.
This case has emerged as a critical test for how the Biden administration approaches the growing threat of anti-government extremists. More than that, it epitomizes the ideological divisions that have riven the country. Did the FBI stop the plot, or fabricate it?
Many of the defendants say it was Dan, working at the government’s behest, who brought them together and pushed them to plan a kidnapping. They say they are being persecuted for their political beliefs.…

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