The tony, bucolic town of Dublin, Ohio would be one of the last places in America expected to host a convention of white supremacist militiamen. Nestled along the Scioto River, the Columbus suburb’s biggest claim to fame is hosting the PGA’s annual Memorial Golf tournament every summer.
But in June 2020, days after the nation was roiled by Black Lives Matter looting and rioting, a man from Wisconsin named Stephen Robeson sponsored a “National Militia Conference” at a Dublin hotel. (Yes, that was the real name of the event.)
According to BuzzFeed’s exceptional July 2021 investigative report on the FBI-led plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, Robeson “helped organize the national meeting, and he was enthusiastically pushing people he knew to attend.” The purpose of the conference was to recruit people who ultimately would stoke “political violence” against governors who refused to reopen their states after lockdowns supposedly necessitated by COVID.
Some participants said Robeson, known as “Robey,” relentlessly pestered them until they agreed to show up; people came from as far as Maryland and Kansas City, BuzzFeed’s Ken Bensinger and Jessica Garrison reported. One member of the Three Percenters, an alleged militia group on the FBI’s naughty list, observed people taking photos from discreet locations in the hotel. “The feds are everywhere,” he thought to himself.
Indeed. One of the feds was Robeson himself.
In a motion filed in July by a defense lawyer in the Whitmer kidnapping prosecution, Robeson is described as having a long record “of cooperating with the government in exchange for personal benefits. Basically, this [confidential human source] has a decades-long history of acting as a professional snitch for the government.”
Robeson also—and there’s nothing at all sketchy about this—founded the Wisconsin Patriot Three Percenters, BuzzFeed reported. Three Percenters, along with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, are considered right-wing extremist militias by the FBI. Dozens of members from the three groups have been arrested and charged in connection with the January 6 protest at the Capitol.
But there’s more to Robeson’s background than just acting as government-paid flypaper to lure right-wingers to join a so-called “militia” group; he’s compiled a rap sheet a mile long including sex with a minor, battery, car theft, insurance fraud, and forgery. And in 2020, this convicted felon was working for Christopher Wray’s FBI to entrap alleged “militia men,” presumably loyal to Donald Trump, to pull a stunt before the 2020 election.
Which is exactly what happened. In yet another example of the FBI interfering in a presidential election, Robeson and at least a dozen other FBI agents and informants orchestrated the shocking scheme—the feds paid for and organized “surveillance” trips as well as weapons training camps, all for the hidden cameras to capture on film—to produce major headlines as early voting was underway in the crucial swing state of Michigan.
Whitmer held a dramatic press conference the day the Justice Department announced the arrest of six men on federal conspiracy charges, blaming Trump for encouraging “domestic terrorists.” Joe Biden weighed in, too. “There is a through line from President Trump’s dog whistles and tolerance of hate, vengeance, and lawlessness to plots such as this one. He is giving oxygen to the bigotry and hate we see on the march in our country,” he said on October 8, 2020.
Turns out, the “oxygen” that gave the plot life came from inside the house. BuzzFeed, after reviewing numerous court records and conducting interviews with those involved, concluded the FBI assets “had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception.” Without the FBIs involvement, it’s unclear “whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.” For now, the federal trial has been delayed until next spring after defense counsel asked for a 90-day continuance to investigate misconduct by FBI agents and informants. (I reported on that here.)
It also appears that the Whitmer operation was only part of the FBI’s overall plan to infiltrate and perhaps direct the conduct of unsuspecting “militia” men in 2020.
Operation Cold Snap, according to BuzzFeed, was an undercover “far-reaching, multi-state domestic terrorism investigation” to surveil—or more likely entrap, as defense lawyers in the Whitmer case now argue—people tied to the FBI’s hit list of right-wing militias. The Justice Department vaguely referred to the operation in its press release announcing the arrests in the Whitmer case. “[The] FBI began an investigation earlier this year after becoming aware through social media that a group of individuals was discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law enforcement components.”
Testimony by one of the lead FBI special agents in the Whitmer case verified the multi-state probe. Henrik Impola, who worked with the FBI’s biggest informant in the case, an Iraq War vet known as “Big Dan,” told a judge he was handling “Big Dan” and acting as a case agent in Operation Cold Snap at the same time. “From the FBI through the domestic terrorism operation center, I was aware of other FBI investigations in Baltimore and Milwaukee and Cincinnati and Indiana involving other militia members . . . who were attending the national conference in Dublin,” Impola testified in March.
“Big Dan,” who was paid at least $54,000 by the FBI for seven months’ work on the Whitmer caper, and a separate FBI special agent had another target: Virginia. FBI Special Agent Jayson Chambers in September urged “Big Dan” to convince a man in Virginia to participate in a sinister plan against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. “The mission is to kill the governor specifically,” the text between handler and informant read. And just like in the Whitmer plot, “Big Dan” advised his target how to build an explosive device and urged him to attend a training camp in Wisconsin. “Like all the others, [the Wisconsin event] was conceived, planned, and conducted by the federal investigative team of agents and undercover informants working together to provide a stage upon which to manipulate their targets into acting out ostensibly incriminating behavior the government hoped to elicit in its bid to develop then “interrupt” the operation of a “domestic terrorist organization.”
And there is another glaring connection between January 6 and the Whitmer case that cannot be dismissed as coincidence. One week after the charges were announced in the kidnapping plot, the man in charge of the Detroit FBI Field office was promoted to head of the D.C. FBI Field office. Steven M. D’Antuono took over the D.C. shop, described as “a coveted post in the bureau,” on October 13, 2020. Was D’Antuono promoted for a job well done or to continue the undercover operation, blaming any post-election chaos on right-wing militia groups as they did with the Whitmer plot?
Several unanswered questions about the FBI’s possible involvement remain, as Darren Beattie has detailed at Revolver News. One mystery is the whereabouts of FBI Director Chris Wray before and during the protest. Kash Patel, who held several high-level posts in the waning months of Trump’s presidency, was in communication with top administration officials on January 5 and 6. “I was on the phone on January fourth, fifth, and sixth with the president, with the chief of staff, with the Attorney General, with the Department of Homeland Security, and the only person missing from those phone calls was the Director of the FBI.” Patel said in a recent interview. “He was nowhere to be found.”
Further, the New York Times bombshell last month confirmed that at least one informant inside the Proud Boys started working with the agency in July 2020 and “appears to have been close to several other members of his Proud Boys chapter, including some who have been charged in the attack.” The Times report can only be seen as the start of a slow drip of information about the extent of the FBI’s role in January 6.
For now, it’s hard to imagine Operation Cold Snap ended with the arrest of Whitmer’s would-be abductors. A more likely scenario is that Wray moved D’Antuono from Michigan to the nation’s capital just in time for what everyone knew would be a highly fraught period after Election Day. It’s only a matter of time before we learn how many “Big Dans” or Stephen Robesons were part of January 6.