The FBI allegedly had a “larger role” in the 2020 plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer than was previously thought, according to a new report. As surprising as this may (or may not) be, it’s far from the first time the FBI has been central to planning a plot that became the focus of national attention.
At least 12 FBI informants and undercover agents helped gather information on the anti-government militia members who allegedly planned to kidnap Whitmer, according to Buzzfeed. The investigation led to the arrest of 14 individuals in connection to the plot.
The defendants in the case claimed that the informants encouraged militia members to engage in the planning process and facilitated some of these interactions, arguing the informants and undercover agents were crucial pieces to the alleged plot. The defense argued that without the FBI’s influence, there may have never been a conspiracy to allegedly kidnap the governor, according to the report. (RELATED: Federal Prosecutors Are Branding Non-Violent Jan 6 Defendants As ‘Terrorists’ To Pursue Harsher Sentences)
One of the FBI informants reportedly organized meet-ups for the alleged plotters, paying for food and hotel rooms to facilitate the meetings. The earliest versions of the plan to kidnap Whitmer began at those meetings, according to Buzzfeed. Another informant infiltrated a Michigan-based militia group and eventually became its second-in-command. He also organized meet-ups and reportedly encouraged the mastermind of the Whitmer plot to move ahead with the plan, even bringing an explosives expert (who was actually an undercover FBI agent) into the scheme.
This is not the first time the FBI has been accused of encouraging and providing aid to criminal plots that may not have been carried out or even concocted without the bureau’s interference. The bureau has been accused of entrapment multiple times during the War on Terror.
Defense lawyers for the “Newburgh Four,” four Muslim converts who were arrested and charged in 2009 for planning to bomb synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes, claimed that essentially the entire plot was instigated by the FBI through a paid informant who operated as the group’s leader. The informant, Shaheed Hussain, had previously participated in other sting operations for law enforcement and “proposed, directed, supplied, funded and facilitated every aspect of the ‘terrorist’ plot,” according to the defendants’ lawyers, The New York Times reported.
The four men were arrested after they had already placed bombs outside several synagogues and come into possession of what they believed were surface-to-air missiles designed to shoot down jets. But the bombs and the missiles were fake and had been given to the would-be terrorists by the FBI.
The supposed mastermind of the Newburgh Four plot, James Cromitie, was described by U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon in 2011 as “bigoted and suggestible” but not a terror leader. “Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr. Cromitie, a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearian in its scope,” she said. Cromitie was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his involvement in the plot. (RELATED: FBI Urges Americans To Monitor ‘Family Members And Peers’ To ‘Prevent Homegrown Violent Extremism’)
Robert Lorenzo Hester Jr. of Columbia, Missouri, was charged in 2017 for trying to support an ISIS attack on trains and buses in Kansas City. Hester was aided by two undercover FBI agents who suggested the time, place and type of attack, and gave Hester money to buy materials to build what they told him were bombs to carry out the attack, according to The Kansas City Star. One of the informants reportedly threatened Hester with a knife and told him they knew where his family lived in order to make sure he did not deviate from the plan the informants had set up for him.
Hester was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the plot.
Sami Osmakac filmed what the FBI called a “martyrdom video,” in which he denounced America and vowed revenge against it for the deaths of Muslims in the Middle East in 2012. In the video, he held a pistol, displayed an Ak-47 behind him and appeared to wear a suicide vest, according to The Intercept. Osmakac prepared to plant a bomb at an Irish pub in Tampa, Florida, and the FBI claimed that his next step would have been to head to a local casino, take hostages and detonate his suicide vest once authorities arrived.
But Osmakac was broke — he didn’t have enough money to buy a new battery for his car, much less buy the weapons shown in the video, The Intercept reported. The FBI had provided him the weapons, the bomb and even money for a taxi to carry out the plan. A paid informant and FBI agents had been working with him for three months on the plot. The bureau could not prove that Osmakac had any ties to international terrorist organizations, and a court-appointed psychologist diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder, which includes hallucinations and delusions.
Osmakac was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2014.
Terry Loewen was arrested in 2013 after he used his employee badge to try to smuggle a fake bomb into a Wichita airport, according to The Kansas City Star. The ploy had been devised by Loewen’s two co-conspirators, who happened to be undercover FBI agents. The FBI recruited Loewen after he expressed interest in jihad to an undercover agent on Facebook. The plan was orchestrated over six months, and the undercover agents asked Loewen to take pictures of the airport where he worked and instructed him to procure materials to make the bombs to be used in the attack. They also arranged for him to meet another undercover agent who was posing as a terrorist.
Loewen pleaded guilty to his part in the plot and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2015.
Entrapment is not crime, and it is a perfectly viable strategy for the FBI to use as long as the suspect in the case was already “predisposed” to committing the crime. The term “predisposed” is vague, and it is up to judges and juries to determine what, including posts on social media, constitutes an indicator that a suspect was “predisposed” to commit a crime.
Partly because of the ambiguity of the “predisposed” standard, entrapment defenses are rarely successful in terrorism cases.