FBI informants' outsized role in a white-supremacist group's alleged plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year is raising major questions about the proper role of law enforcement in terror investigations.
In an in-depth story about the alleged kidnapping plot and investigation, BuzzFeed News recently concluded that, "informants, acting under the direction of the FBI, played a far larger role than has previously been reported."
"Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects," BuzzFeed News' Ken Bensinger and Jessica Garrison wrote. "Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them."
The investigation included at least 12 informants, including one who was paid $54,793.95 for seven months of work and ultimately rose to second-in-command at the Wolverine Watchmen, the group accused of plotting the attack.
Writing at the New Republic, Melissa Gira Grant says while FBI has long been pushed to investigate white supremacist groups, instead of just young Muslim and Black men, in this case the agency's tactics may ultimately backfire.
"To suggest that those tactics 'work' when they fall on far right plots allegedly carried out by white men is to accept their lawfulness, or even their utility in addressing actual threats of violence," Gira Grant writes. "With 'anti-terror' enforcement offered as the solution, ensuring our safety becomes about what a prosecutor can provide — which, as these cases show, can rest more on appearances than tangible change.
"Informants played such a central role in not only collecting evidence, but also pushing the alleged plot along, it may only serve to reinforce the defendants' claims—that they were investigated for their constitutionally-protected political beliefs," she adds. "The American law enforcement and national security apparatus has repeatedly turned away from the threat of white nationalist violence, prompting some to seek corrective action. But in pursuing manufactured plots and exaggerating threats, they aren't addressing white nationalism. They may even be helping cast doubt on real acts of racial terror."