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Judge hears closing arguments in trial over alleged Michigan governor kidnapping plot

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A jury heard closing arguments in a federal trial over an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan's governor. Prosecutors say the four defendants were furious over Gretchen Whitmer's policies to slow the spread of COVID-19. Defense attorneys say the men were entrapped by a network of FBI informants. Michigan Radio's Brett Dahlberg reports.

BRETT DAHLBERG, BYLINE: The prosecution spent weeks calling dozens of witnesses to lay out their case. They say the four men on trial conspired to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer after she imposed COVID restrictions in March of 2020. Prosecutors say they wanted to send a message not just to Whitmer, but to governors of other states. They wanted to show governors they called "tyrannical" that abuses of power could be met with violence. The prosecution says there was a detailed plot to abduct Whitmer and either kill her or take her on a boat to the middle of Lake Michigan and strand her there. They say the men planned to storm Whitmer's home, disable her security and blow up a bridge to slow the police response. It's one of the most significant alleged domestic terror plots in recent history. Jeffrey Swartz is a professor at Western Michigan University's Law School. He fears the message a not guilty verdict might send.

JEFFERY SWARTZ: Michigan will become ground zero for militias and for planning of these type of attacks and for executing those type of attacks.

DAHLBERG: Mona Lena Krook chairs the Women and Politics Ph.D. program at Rutgers University. She says this alleged plot might be especially striking, but the ideas the men expressed are not isolated to Michigan. And she says it's not surprising that the alleged plot targeted a female politician.

MONA LENA KROOK: The alleged plot is really symptomatic of rising hostility we're seeing more openly expressed in American politics. And it's really been on the rise over the last, last few years. For women, they're often more likely to be attacked.

DAHLBERG: The men on trial now are just some of the 14 who were arrested and accused of being part of the plot. Others are charged in state court. Two have already pleaded guilty to federal crimes, and they testified against the four on trial now. But defense attorneys say it was all talk, that their clients never actually planned to carry out any of the actions they discussed. They say a sprawling network of FBI informants and undercover agents lured the men into discussing the topics they're now on trial for. They argue it's entrapment of those who weren't ever intending to break the law. Whitmer says she hasn't been following the trial closely, but she can't help but notice some of the news coverage.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: I see the headlines, and I see all the kind of, some of the depraved things that were talked about. And it's jarring.

DAHLBERG: Whitmer says she's still the subject of hateful rhetoric every day. She says political disagreements should be settled at the ballot box, not through threats of violence. For NPR News, I'm Brett Dahlberg in Grand Rapids. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brett Dahlberg