Lessons from Embedding with the Michigan Militia – 5 Questions Answered about the Group Allegedly Plotting to Kidnap a Governor

Lessons from Embedding with the Michigan Militia – 5 Questions Answered about the Group Allegedly Plotting to Kidnap a Governor

ExtremismLessons from Embedding with the Michigan Militia – 5 Questions Answered about the Group Allegedly Plotting to Kidnap a Governor


By Amy Cooter


Published 12 October 2020

Details are still emerging about the men arrested on federal and state charges related to an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Federal prosecutions can take months and even years, so it will be quite some time before a full analysis of this situation becomes possible. But as a scholar who has spent the last 12 years studying the U.S. domestic militia movement, including three years of fieldwork embedded with militias in Michigan, I believe several themes will remain important, wherever the details lead.



Details are still emerging about the men arrested on federal and state charges related to an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Federal prosecutions can take months and even years, so it will be quite some time before a full analysis of this situation becomes possible.


But as a scholar who has spent the last 12 years studying the U.S. domestic militia movement, including three years of fieldwork embedded with militias in Michigan, I believe several themes will remain important, wherever the details lead.


1. What Is This Group, and Where Did It Come from?
Reports I’m hearing indicate that the group the arrested men were part of, called the Wolverine Watchmen, likely started early this year as an offshoot of the Michigan Liberty Militia. That group has received wide publicity for its involvement in lockdown protests at the state Capitol in Lansing.


It’s not clear why the split may have happened, but it is very common for internal splits to occur in militia groups. I’ve observed that directly in my fieldwork, and have heard the same from long-term militia members who say it dates back to the beginnings of the movement in the early 1990s.


Sometimes these splits are for practical reasons, like groups that grow too large dividing into smaller groups to allow for more frequent meetings and closer connections. Or people tire of traveling long distances to be part of a large group, and instead start their own unit closer to home.


Other times, splits happen because of personality conflicts or disagreements over the direction of the group. Some members of Michigan’s Hutaree militia, for instance, started as members of a different group, but were pushed out.


The reasons I heard from militia members on both sides of that split were that those who became the Hutaree hinted at having more extreme views than the rest of the group. Leaders of the original group had also expressed concerns about unsafe firearms handling practices among those future Hutaree members, an offense that, if persistent, is grounds for membership revocation in many militias.


The reasons the Wolverines split are not yet clear – but it is possible that they had ideological disagreements.


2. What Are Their Aims or Goals?
Traditionally, researchers have categorized militias as one of two general types: “constitutionalists,” who are largely law-abiding and make up the majority of the movement, and “millenarians,” who are more prone to conspiracy theories and violent action.


More recently, internal divisions have