Is Michigan’s Capitol prepared for armed attack, as extremists in Whitmer kidnapping plot allegedly planned

Kara Berg
| Lansing State Journal

LANSING, Mich. — If a 200-man brigade were to storm the Michigan Capitol building, as an anti-government group allegedly planned, would Capitol police be ready for it? 

It’s a question many have asked since an FBI affidavit revealed an anti-government group had discussed a plan to storm the Capitol, take lawmakers hostage, kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and try her for treason. 

Five men from across southern Michigan and one man from Delaware were charged in federal court Thursday with conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer in an alleged domestic terrorism plot. Seven others face state charges of providing support for terrorist acts. 

It’s especially relevant because gunmen have stormed the Capitol before, albeit on a much smaller scale, said Michael McDaniel, associate dean of the Lansing campus of Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

McDaniel was previously the deputy assistant secretary for Homeland Defense Strategy, Prevention and Mission Assurance at the U.S. Department of Defense and was Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s homeland security adviser from 2003 to 2009. 

Protesters toting assault rifles crowded inside the Capitol on April 30, and photos of angry, maskless men screaming in the faces of Michigan State Police officers went international. McDaniel said he remembers the images vividly. 

The background: Militia group plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, feds say

No gun ban: Militia plot to storm the Capitol, kidnap lawmakers unlikely to change Capitol gun policy

Looking back: Michigan man in now-famous Capitol protest photo: ‘I didn’t scream in anybody’s face’

MoreMen charged in plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer spotted in photo at Capitol gun rally

Capitol police were inside the building when the protesters walked through the doors, standing guard to ensure no one got hurt and things remained under control. 

Ever since, lawmakers, capital commissioners and the public have been debating if guns should be banned in the Capitol, something both McDaniel and Michigan State University criminal justice Professor David Carter said is key in defending the building. 

After all, 200 men with loaded guns is a lot different than 200 unarmed men, they said. 

“With any type of confrontational situation, the threat level always increases with a firearm,” Carter said. “If it’s a rally, an argument, a demonstration, if firearms are present, the threat levels increase.”

Protecting the Capitol

Capitol police try to prepare for situations they think (and hope) will likely never happen so they are not caught unprepared, Michigan State Police Lt. Darren Green said. Capitol security is a part of the state police. 

Because of the high-profile nature of the Capitol building, the lawmakers inside and the type of work they do, Green said, police are always aware it may be a beacon or rallying point for “someone like a militia member to come and carry out acts of violence.”

That’s why Capitol police have a visual presence inside the building, both to deter troublemakers and reassure lawmakers and visiting members of the public that they are safe, Green said. 

While he declined to discuss specific plans or protocols, Green said police always have an idea of the events going on in and around the building that may increase the number of visitors. 

“We’re always hyper-vigilant about the things that could potentially take place,” Green said. “For us from a security standpoint, with the Capitol building and it being the beacon of democracy for Michigan, we’ve always been hyper-vigilant about security.” 

Green said there have not been any significant arrests made at rallies, protests or other events at the Capitol this year. 

At least two of them men arrested for the kidnapping plot, however, met at a Second Amendment rally at the Capitol, according to the FBI affidavit. 

Setting parameters

As long as politicians are willing to set parameters, there are things that can be done to keep people safe and not step on anyone’s rights, McDaniel said. Not allowing ammunition in weapons inside the Capitol wouldn’t violate any rights, he said. 

“The Second Amendment rights of the members of the public can’t overwhelm the right of all the people under the 14th Amendment to be safe and secure,” McDaniel said. 

If things got chaotic, McDaniel said, security shouldn’t hesitate to shut down the building. People have the right to protest on the steps of the Capitol, but that is not the purpose of the inside of the building. The question is if there is the political will to do so. 

“The greatest vulnerability is the mindset that we can’t shut the building down,” McDaniel said. “Of course we can shut it down…People have the right to protest outside, within reason, but they don’t have the right to come into the building and disrupt a legislative session.” 

Keeping the Capitol safe isn’t only about maintaining a presence at the building. It requires intelligence analysis, social media monitoring and police keeping ears to the ground to make sure they know what’s going on. 

Carter said there’s no doubt Capitol security already has plans in place if the building were to be attacked. That includes barriers, secured doors and windows, unobtrusive security and surveillance cameras, he said. Security bollards, short metal posts designed to limit vehicle traffics on the grounds, were installed in 2016.

But one of the most important parts of their security is having good intelligence, Carter said. They need to be able to identify threats and, ideally, stop them before they come to fruition. 

Follow reporter Kara Berg on Twitter @karaberg95.


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