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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Murphy not blaming Trump for Whitmer kidnapping scheme

No ‘direct link to this,’ but president emboldens fringe groups, governor says

By Nikita Biryukov, October 09 2020 1:08 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy isn’t blaming President Donald Trump for a terrorist plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, though he said the president’s rhetoric likely emboldened some extremists.

“There’s not a direct link to this, clearly, and I would never suggest that,” Murphy said. “But, over the past several years, there’s been a permission slip granted for people at the fringes to think that they can now do things that are completely untoward and, in this case, awful and illegal and get away with it.

Federal and Michigan state authorities on Thursday announced the arrests of 13 men, at least six of whom had devised a ploy to kidnap Whitmer, a Democratic governor who has become a target for Trump’s frequent railing against COVID-19 shutdowns.

The men allegedly planned to take Whitmer hostage before the election and try her for treason as part of a plot that involved explosives and an armed assault on Michigan’s statehouse.

Though he was reluctant to comment on his own security, Murphy said there was nothing to indicate a similar scheme had been hatched in New Jersey.

“I will say that there’s no evidence of anything like that, thank God, in our state, and what are we doing? We’re not taking anything for granted, as you can imagine,” he said, adding he was “supremely confident” in his State Police security detail.

For Murphy, the incident in Michigan raised the stakes on an election already named one of the country’s most consequential by members of both parties.

“This election is going to be a litmus test on this very specific question,” he said. “We’re facing two choices here: Either more of this us-versus-them or finding common ground — even if that’s not easy — and coming together. And I hope it’s the latter.”

The governor said he discussed the kidnapping conspiracy with some fellow governors, though he said those conversations were best left between principals and their security details.

Other Democrats, Whitmer included, were more willing to criticize the Trump administration’s handling of the Michigan incident and its response to incidents involving armed protestors.

“The terrorist plot against Michigan’s governor is actually not that shocking when you consider that we’ve become a country that tolerates heavily armed men occupying a state capitol, instead of immediately arresting them — as happened just a few months ago,” Rep. Tom Malinowksi said on Twitter.

In May, armed anti-lockdown protestors marched on Michigan’s protestors, some bearing signs advocating for violence against Whitmer. The same month, a man was hit with terrorism charges for credibly threatening to kill Michigan’s governor.

The kidnapping scheme also bore links to a baseless online conspiracy that has reared its head in New Jersey politics. Barry Croft, one of the men charged in the conspiracy, reportedly had an account on a small social media site dedicated to spreading QAnon conspiracies, which falsely claim prominent Democrats are engaged in a global pedophile ring.

Malinowski received death threats last month after sponsoring a resolution condemning QAnon.

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