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Police: No militia activity here

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Police Sgt. Don Leaym packs up his duffle bag full of equipment into a police car before going out on patrol. Local law enforcement in the area follow-up on any complaints related to possible militia or protest groups, but claim there are no organized groups or activity in the area.

ALPENA — There is no known militia activity or planning in Northeast Michigan at this time.

That is what local law enforcement officials say after state and federal officials said last week they’d busted a Michigan militia group’s plan to kidnap Gov. Gtretchen Whitmer and put her on “trial” over her executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic. All of the men arrested were from downstate.

Alpena County Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski said he doesn’t have the staff for 24-hour surveillance of social media or other platforms where potentially radical groups could coordinate. The department will investigate complaints or tips, but he’s heard nothing alarming.

“Do we have an active militia group here? Not that I know of,” Kieliszewski said. “Now, there could be members of groups who live here, but, as far as I know, there are no established and organized groups.”

Derrick Carroll, spokesman for the Michigan State Police 7th District, said any questionable activity or investigations into political groups and activists cannot be shared with the public. But he said that, to his knowledge, there aren’t any red flags in the region.

“I’m not aware of any concerning group or activity right now, and, if there were, we can’t always share that information, because it would be an ongoing investigation,” he said. “If someone does have a tip, or suspects there could be illegal activity going on, they can contact any MSP post in the state.”

Alpena Police Chief Joel Jett said there’s a fine line between freedom of speech, the right to peacefully assemble, and violent intent and actions.

He said police follow up on complaints or tips, but law enforcement also is aware of people’s constitutional rights and work diligently not to violate them.

“We investigate and take any action that is needed to ensure public safety,” Jett said. “There is a gray area, however. There can be speech that some people may find distasteful or disturbing, but, without hard information that they are breaking the law, there is little we can do. We take an oath to abide by the Constitution, and that is the code we live by. If there is an issue, we will address it.”

The conspirators arrested last week allegedly began acting on their plan, going so far as to surveil Whitmer’s northern Michigan vacation home.

Over the last several years, the number of political walks, marches, parades, and protests have increased in Alpena and around the county.

Northeast Michigan hasn’t seen the type of violence and damage that have broken out at some of the protests elsewhere. Still, Jett said, when there is a political event planned, the police learn more about the group hosting it and prepare for any potential fallout the demonstration could create.

“We look to see what its stance, mission and platform is, and to determine what, if any, repercussions there could be,” Jett said. “We use our best judgement every day to respond to many different situations, and marches, rallies and protests are no different. They are just on a larger scale.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.

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