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Nessel: Other groups planning terrorism, more arrests expected

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

State Attorney General Dana Nessel said groups and individuals inside and outside Michigan were planning acts of domestic terrorism and using the unrest surrounding COVID-19 and police brutality protests to recruit more members.

In a spate of national television interviews Thursday and Friday, Nessel said she expected more arrests would be made but said it was unlikely those individuals are linked to the specific group at issue in the kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, which was revealed Thursday. 

She noted her department's investigations involve right-wing groups, but no Antifa or left-wing groups.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

“There remains a number of individuals, a number of groups that are out there and that continue to plan attacks of domestic terrorism, not just in Michigan but in a multi-jurisdictional fashion across many states,” Nessel told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Thursday. 

“This is not just a Michigan problem. This is now an American problem."

The governor has been kept informed of the potential threat for several months, Nessel said, and authorities at times moved Whitmer and her family as a result of activities investigators learned of.

Investigators moved Wednesday night to arrest the 13 people accused of plotting to storm the Michigan Capitol, target law enforcement and kidnap Whitmer as at least six of the suspects moved to make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear in Hartland, according to an FBI affidavit.

“We thought the trainings had gone on long enough and, as I like to say, I would rather have the weakest conspiracy case rather than the strongest homicide,” Nessel told "CBS This Morning" Friday while arguing the case was anything but weak. “And we were very concerned that it was moving toward action.”

Nessel criticized President Donald Trump for sympathizing with protesters at rallies against stay home orders early on in the pandemic, when he encouraged Whitmer to meet with some of the armed protesters and tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” 

“When they say these things, people not only listen, they respond,” Nessel told CBS. “It’s not just a dog whistle, but a rallying cry.”

The Democrat also noted state Republican lawmakers had been present at some of the protests where the suspects also participated and met to discuss plans. She said lawmakers’ presence at the events was “stunning,” especially given the anti-law enforcement stance of some of the suspects who were at the events. 

Michigan Republican legislators attended some of the protests to support opposition to the Whitmer's COVID-19 orders, which they sued to overturn.

Nessel also noted that U.S. Attorney General William Barr testified in late July before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee that he wasn’t aware that protesters had made violent threats against the governor. 

“Yet, his own authorities were actively working to foil these types of plans and these threats,” Nessel told CNN's "New Day." “Either A: He didn’t know what was happening in his own justice department, or B: He committed perjury.”

Barr's spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Barr wasn't briefed on the investigation until this week. 

"He finds this behavior abhorrent and is totally supportive of the FBI’s investigation and the U.S. Attorney's actions," Kupec said. 

Nessel noted the investigation and arrests in the kidnapping plot were a partnership between a Democratic state attorney general and Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys. 

“There are those of us in law enforcement that are still willing to hold bad actors accountable,” she said. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com