Justice Has Been and Will Be a Long Time Coming

On Friday, April 8, the biggest domestic news came from Grand Rapids, Michigan. On that day the world learned that a jury had voted unanimously to acquit Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta of conspiring to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the fall of 2020. The verdict, as Julie Kelly noted in her column for American Greatness that day, was a “huge defeat for the U.S. Department of Justice.” One can only hope. It was also a huge, if tardy and incomplete, win for justice, lower case, no “Department of” preceding the noun. 

Kelly recounts the sordid details of this saga of FBI entrapment, deep-state political maneuvering, and media malpractice. The case made national headlines and, coming when it did, just before the 2020 presidential election, was clearly designed to affect public sentiment regarding the Donald Trump campaign. “Heavens help us! Troglodytic Trump supporters are trying to kidnap noble Democratic public servants! Can you believe it?” 

Turns out you would have been foolish to believe it. But in retrospect, it seems clear that it was a sort of dry-run for that later entertainment, the January 6 worse-than-Pearl-Harbor or 9/11, Civil-War-like “insurrection” and/or attempt to “overturn the election” and/or overthrow “our democracy” at the U.S. Capitol. 

There were some two dozen people involved in the “Plot to Kidnap Gretchen Whitmer” saga. Fully 12 were FBI assets. They were not there to infiltrate the loser militia members. They were there to egg them on. The FBI helped to define and finance the plot from the beginning. They even set up a fake “militia” for the others to rally around. They also helped to equip, not to mention bribe, the motley crew whom they assembled for the caper. The FBI did not uncover a plot. They were prime movers in fomenting a plot. They did not so much uncover evidence against the plotters as they entrapped them. And it’s not as if this is a one off. It is part of a pattern of abuse and irresponsibility. As the Wall Street Journal’s Holmon Jenkins put it last fall, “The agency should be scrapped and something new built to replace it.”

We do not yet know the full extent of government involvement in the January 6 jamboree, but I would not be at all surprised to learn that it was premeditated, extensive, and criminal. Scores of people have been moldering in the Washington, D.C. jail that the columnist John Zmirak calls “Gitmo on the Potomac,” most of them for trespassing, “obstructing an official proceeding,” or (the most common offense) “parading” at the Capitol. Julie Kelly has been on that case, too, and her book January 6: How Democrats Used the Capitol Protest to Launch a War on Terror Against the Political Right goes a long way in connecting the dots. Perhaps the tide is beginning to turn in that case as well. Last week, Matthew Martin became the first of the January 6 defendants to be acquitted. He faced a spate of misdemeanor charges. Video evidence shows that he had been waved into the Capitol by a smiling police officer. He spent roughly 10 minutes looking around and then left. Not exactly revolutionary behavior. Nevertheless, he was arrested and jailed before being released on personal recognizance. Perhaps his acquittal will bode well for the many other political prisoners who have been charged with the same things Martin was. 

The fates of Matthew Martin, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta are, in one sense, heartening. It shows that justice is still possible in the American system. Eventually. All three were arrested on what now seem like dubious grounds. Justice prevailed, but only after major injustices had been perpetrated. 

We do not know yet how either of these events are going to be absorbed by public sentiment. I suspect that the Gretchen Whitmer caper will just whimper its way into oblivion. It will leave behind a few smudges on the reputation of the FBI, but it will probably not have any lasting effect. 

The ultimate reception of January 6 is harder to predict. The regime closed ranks in its immediate aftermath, loudly insisting 1) that it was the most serious assault on “our democracy™” in living memory and 2) that anyone who disagreed was a “conspiracy theorist” at best and a “domestic extremist” or “domestic terrorist” at worst. 

It’s my sense that that attitude has been slowly dissolving as more and more evidence to the contrary comes to light. But it is still not clear how far alternative points of view will be accorded the credence they deserve. The pressure to maintain the regime narrative has been ferocious. 

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 emboldened the state to increase its surveillance technology and clandestine operations against the baddies. That apparatus is still in place. Perhaps it is justified. But the relevant point is that all those tools—the monitoring of telephone calls, social media, bank accounts, etc., to say nothing of the dawn raids and other “kinetic” interventions—have been turned against the American people. 

Well, it’s been turned against a portion of the American people. Doubtless, the exact definition of the portion is malleable. Today’s protected class might well become tomorrow’s enemy of the state, and vice-versa (though enrollment as an enemy is much easier, and more frequent, than movement in the other direction). That’s how totalitarian movements work, after all. Arbitrariness is of the essence. 

Nevertheless, it is clear that, at the moment, the primary enemy is anyone associated with MAGA populism. The definition of who belongs in that suspect class is ever shifting. A few months ago, parents who objected to local school boards endorsing the imperatives of BLM or this week’s version of sexual exoticism were on the suspect list. No less an authority than Merrick Garland, attorney general of the United States, called upon the entire police power of the state, from the FBI down to the local constabulary, to identify and ferret out “threats” and “hate speech” directed against school boards by parents angry at efforts to corrupt their children. 

The publicity surrounding that imbroglio, and the success of Glenn Youngkin in making it the prime issue in his successful bid to become governor of Virginia, pushed the ill-begotten initiative into the shadows. But its very existence shows how far the radicalized state is willing to go. Ordinary parents are “domestic extremists” because they object to the perversion of their children? Really? 

I think we are at a sort of crossroads. The acquittals of Messrs. Martin, Harris, and Caserta shine a light on one road out of the crossing. The activities of the deep state and its media publicity arm describe another, less sanguine path. The state, as Joe Biden memorably put it, has all the F15s and nukes. But the other side has the vast majority of people. No movement without recognized legitimacy can last. That’s the good news. The bad news is that “not lasting” can describe a lengthy and turbulent time. 

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

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