The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

It sounds like the plot of a comedy.

A bunch of guys, mostly in their 20s and 30s and maybe not possessing that much candlepower, get it in their heads that they need to kidnap the governor of their state. They engage in training exercises, scope out her vacation home, and believe her abduction will be just the spark needed to ignite a civil war before an election.

It’s “tin-hat crazy,” as The Wall Street Journal put it, but more than a dozen men in Michigan were, in fact, plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. They believed the Democrat was a tyrant for imposing shutdown orders in the state to curb the spread of the coronavirus. They planned to put the governor on “trial” for treason, but their plans were thwarted thanks to an informant wearing a wire who recorded their scheming. If convicted on a variety of charges, they could spend years behind bars.

While it’s easy to imagine a screenwriter transmuting this into some comedic gold, it’s really no laughing matter. Who is to say that there aren’t some other disaffected, raging individuals out there who might be hatching similar plots right now? They might have an equally tenuous grasp on reality, but a little more know-how. After all, it seemed exceedingly unlikely before 9/11 that so much havoc could have been wrought by a bunch of guys with box cutters.

And, speaking of 9/11, several commentators have pointed out that if a group of Muslim men were plotting to kidnap a governor and foment a civil war, it would readily be called terrorism. We shouldn’t hesitate to use the same label when the conspirators are homegrown men from the Midwest or anywhere else in the country.

For a couple of years now, officials have been warning that the primary terrorism threat the U.S. faces does not come from the Middle East but from within our own communities. Just days before the plot to kidnap Whitmer came to light, the Department of Homeland Security released a report warning that violent white supremacists were “the most persistent and lethal threat” confronting the United States. Their targets are the LGBTQ community, religious and racial minorities and political leaders who promote ideas associated with multiculturalism.

President Donald Trump has, let’s be honest, not been part of the solution, but part of the problem. In last month’s debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, he refused to denounce white supremacy when given an opportunity. In August 2017, the president offered the notorious pronouncement that there were “very fine people on both sides” after white supremacists clashed with counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va.

Some white supremacists find their way into unauthorized private militia groups. Several of the plotters in Michigan, in fact, had ties to a militia group. But these are illegal in all 50 states, and the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in 2008 that the Second Amendment does not allow the establishment of private paramilitary organizations. Pennsylvania’s Constitution forbids a standing army to operate without the consent of the Legislature.

We can hope that the foiled plot to kidnap the Michigan governor is a freakish anomaly. But we should be prepared for the possibility that there will be more like it.

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