LANSING, Mich. — More than a dozen men are facing charges in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
They're part of a militia group known as the Wolverine Watchmen.
Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney in western Michigan, called them “violent extremists.”
But what exactly is a militia group, and are these men representative of most of their members?
What a militia group is:
Militia groups tend to be fierce advocates of the Second Amendment and gun rights in general.
They began in Waco, Texas in 1993 and had spread to almost every state by the spring of 1995, according to ADL.
Though the movement has declined since the ‘90s, it’s still active, especially in the Midwest.
Amy Cooter, a senior lecturer of sociology at Vanderbilt University who studies militia groups, considers these groups separate from neo-nazi organizations, border-patrolling Minutemen and right-wing groups like the Proud Boys, according to tweets from April.
“But there can be ideological and sometimes activism overlaps across these groups,” she said in a tweet.
Members gather, armed with assault rifles, to practice paramilitary exercises and protest government actions they disagree with, according to Cooter’s research.
The main goal of most militia groups is to advocate for their belief in the right to bear arms, and this often leads to anti-government control sentiments.
The group involved with the plot to kidnap Whitmer had talked about creating “a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” according to the affidavit.
During a gathering in Dublin, Ohio, several people discussed both peaceful and violent means of achieving this goal, such as murdering “tyrants” or “taking” a sitting governor.
Members talked about state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution, including Michigan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
They were frustrated with Whitmer’s actions to control the spread of COVID-19, especially shutting down businesses.
Back in March, some members of the militia group had tried to obtain the addresses of local law enforcement officers, and the FBI had interviewed a member who was concerned about plans to target and kill police officers, the affidavit said.
But that’s not to say most members of such groups don’t believe in or obey the law.
In fact, Cooter, the lecturer at Vanderbilt, says about 90 percent of militia groups are constitutionalists who strongly believe in a literal interpretation of the Constitution.
Though these groups have gotten attention for extremist views often characterized as racist, Cooter’s research says it’s not a given that members will harbor such views.
“Most militia groups in my research were no more racist than any other group of the same mostly white, male demographic, which is to say that most of their racism was of the variety that sociologists call ‘modern’ racism, rather than overt racism,” Cooter said in a tweet. “However, we know that modern racism can both be primed and stoked by outgroup thinking during times of crisis, and that’s where the danger comes in – when people already invested in ideas of strong individuality are encouraged to see others as the enemy, whether those others be minority groups or government actors.”
Though some groups are willing to go as far as launching attacks on the government, not all are.
Another tactic is known as the “militia confrontation,” in which groups would find a perceived “victim of government” and come to their rescue, according to the ADL.
Examples of “victims” include barricaded criminals and people about to be evicted from their homes.