Barry County Sheriff Dar Leef said he knew nothing about the alleged crimes planned. But its apparent friendly relationship with members of the armed group suggests there may be blind spots for local law enforcement.
After 13 people were charged in connection with the conspiracy, Leaf said some of their actions could be legalized.
Leaf told WXMI: “So are they trying to make an arrest or was it a kidnapping attempt? Because you can make a serious crime arrest even if it’s a crime in Michigan.”
He went on to say: “And (he) does not say that if you are in an elected position that you have been released from that arrest. So I have to look at it from that angle. And I hope it is the same as this. “
Leaf said terrorism charges against twin brothers Michael and William Null and 11 others have not been proven and they deserve the presumption of innocence. “In fact, these people are innocent until proven guilty, so I’m not sure if there’s any part in that.”
William and Michael Null and five others face state charges of providing material support for terrorist acts and carrying or possessing a weapon during the commission of the crime. The other six men face federal charges.
Brothers accused of acting as a lookout for everyone being monitored at Whitmer’s vacation home are being detained. The bond is set at $ 250,000. Neither has filed an application yet and their probable cause hearing is set for October 14. Requests for comment from CNN to their lawyers have not been answered.
Leaf did not respond to several attempts to contact him. Berry County is located in southwestern Michigan, between Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo.
In his WXMI interview, Michigan’s Criminal Code allowed civilians to arrest officers, and Leaf appeared to give men credit for being part of an armed group known as the Wolverine and Watch Chamen.
“Well, you see the origins of the army itself and the militia,” Leaf told WXMI. “They have more legal status in this country than the agencies that arrested them.”
On Tuesday, the Michigan Sheriffs Association issued a statement condemning Leaf’s words.
Matt Sexton, the group’s CEO, said it was, frankly, disappointing that any law enforcement officer could respond in this way at any time in the service of his oath. “His comments were dangerous, and let me be clear, there is nothing about this alleged conspiracy that can be considered legal, ethical or American.”
Militia and law
Leaf’s comments, especially in Michigan, point to a long and deep relationship between some sheriffs and self-styled military groups.
Participants and state and union officials often refer to these groups as “armies”, but they do not meet the standard of being the body of a citizen enlisted for military service, which is called for periodically for exercise, but only full-time service in emergencies.
The codification of the right to bear arms speaks of a second amendment to “a streamlined army”, but the Supreme Court has ruled twice – in 1886 and 2008 – that it does not preclude restrictions on private paramilitary organizations.
The Michigan Constitution prohibits private military units from operating outside the state’s jurisdiction, providing that “the military will in all cases and always be subject to strict control of civilian power.”
However, this is a history of compatibility between armed groups and county sheriffs, a former FBI member spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity.
“The sheriffs only trust them because they are properly elected,” said a former agent investigating in Michigan.
“Their biggest concern is that the government is coming for their guns.”
Amy Cutter, who studied radical groups as a lecturer in sociology at Wonderbilt University, says relationships endure partly because elected sheriffs need support from their constituencies.
He said it has been true since the early ’90s that in many places in Michigan, sheriffs see themselves as cooperating with the military. “They can call on them to search for missing people or at other times as a complementary force.”
And if some sheriffs see value in civic groups, respect goes the other way.
Norman Olsen, then calling himself the commander of the Michigan militia, told U.S. senators on a subcommittee of the judiciary in 1995 that local sheriffs were the only right he recognized.
“We will avoid the legitimate historic historical authority, which is the county sheriff. He is indeed the commander of the local army and when a situation arises in which we will be defamed,” Olson told a hearing called after the Oklahoma City bombing. 168 people were killed.
Lawmakers were trying to reach the bottom of anti-government sentiment that led to Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols being replaced by Alfred P. Murrah bombed the federal building.
In 1995, a relative of Nichols stated that he was a former member of the Michigan military group. And Kuter told CNN that she was told by members of the group that McVeigh met with them.
Olson, known by former FBI agents as the “Godfather of the Michigan military,” is no longer believed to be involved in the extremist movement in Michigan.
Sheriff: These are serious allegations
After reacting to clearly defending against Nulls, including resigning, he spoke to WXMI again.
“The actions are horrible, but we can’t try this right now in the media or in people’s opinion,” he said. “The clarification I’m making here. I don’t want anyone to think I’m sympathetic to these allegations, right? These are very serious allegations.”
There is a fear among federal law enforcement officers that working relationships can blind local law enforcement officers to the potential dangers of vigilante forces, which are generally highly disliked, sometimes despised, by the state and federal government and their agents.
The FBI said members of the armed group were involved in a plot to assassinate a local law enforcement officer who was involved in a plot to assassinate a local law enforcement officer.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation Mission League, which tracks and raises alarms about extremist activity, says a controversial election cycle like the one we are could erupt.
“The likelihood of a violent conflict associated with an election is much higher, both during the polls and days, weeks and months after the election day,” Greenblatt told CNN.
“Numerous possible circumstances suggest that a narrow election or a narrow victory of both (presidential) candidates could lead to both a constitutional crisis and a political crisis, which extremist groups will seek to take advantage of.”
In his earlier comment on William Null, Leaf told WXMI: “There’s a little bit of a relationship. It’s not someone I’ve ever had lunch with or anything like that.”
He said he met the Null brothers when the Black Lives Matter movement began.
“They started ‘My Lives Matter’ and came to my office fees,” Leaf told WXMI.
When they are named as members of the Wolverine Watchmen, Leaf realizes they are part of a group they call the “Michigan Liberty Militia.”
Leaf said he would participate in political events in Nulls. In May, when the FBI was making its secret case, Leaf was on stage with William Null in protest of an epidemic called “America calls the Patriot Rally – Sheriffs.”
“Now and then I want to come to the rally among those people, and they are always very nice, in fact, very excited to see their sheriff,” Leif told WXMI.
“They come out and shake hands, shake my hand. And sometimes they’ll give me a hand, a big bear hug.”
CNN’s Julia Jones contributed to the story.