The federal government has charged six people with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in an alleged domestic terrorist plot, according to newly unsealed court records.
Members of a militia group purchased weapons, conducted surveillance, and held training and planning meetings, but were foiled in part because the FBI was able to infiltrate the group with informants, according to charges officials planned to detail Thursday.
Plans included kidnapping Whitmer and putting her on trial for treason, officials allege.
Col. Joseph Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police, which worked with federal agents on the investigation, called the case “unprecedented,” and “one of the largest cases in recent history that the Michigan State Police has been involved in.”
The FBI became aware early in 2020, through social media, that a militia group was “discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law enforcement components,” and “agreed to take violent action,” according to a sworn affidavit.
Members of the group talked about “murdering … tyrants” or “taking” a sitting governor, according to the affidavit. One of the relevant meetings the FBI monitored was held June 20 in Grand Rapids. the affidavit alleges. Another meeting was held at a home in Luther, Mich., and in Munith.
Discussions included using 200 men to “storm” the Capitol Building in Lansing, kidnap hostages, including, Whitmer and try the governor for treason, according to the affidavit.
The group met for field exercises and training this year and conducted surveillance of the governor’s vacation home on at least two occasions in late August and September, the affidavit alleges. They also purchased an 800,000-volt Taser and night goggles for use in the kidnapping plot, according to court records. Members of the plot said they wanted to complete the kidnapping before the Nov. 3 election, according to the affidavit.
“All of us can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever result in violence,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider in the Eastern District of Michigan. “The allegations in this complaint are deeply disturbing. We owe our thanks to the men and women of law enforcement who uncovered this plot and have worked so hard to protect Gov. Whitmer.”
Charged in the U.S. District Court in the western district of Michigan are: Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta, according to a criminal complaint. They are charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, according to the complaint.
All are residents of Michigan except Croft, who is a resident of Delaware, the complaint alleges.
More than a dozen people from several states met in Dublin, Ohio on June 6 and talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights, in which they could be self-sufficient. After that meeting, a militia group in Michigan was contacted.
The Michigan militia group involved in the plot was called the Wolverine Watchmen, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said at a Thursday news conference.
The FBI used confidential informants as part of the investigation and has paid one of them more than $14,000 and paid $8,600 to another, according to the affidavit.
A June 20 meeting was held at Fox’s business in Grand Rapids, in the basement, which was accessed “through a trap door hidden under a rug on the main floor,” according to the affidavit. Fox collected all of the attendees’ cellular phones in a box and carried them upstairs to prevent any monitoring, according to the affidavit, but an FBI informant was wearing a hidden recording device. At that meeting, participants discussed plans to attack the Capitol and use “Molotov cocktails” to attack police, according to the affidavit.
CHS-2 was wearing a recording device, however, and captured the audio from the meeting. The attendees discussed plans for assaulting the Michigan State Capitol, countering law enforcement first responders, and using “Molotov cocktails” to destroy police
On July 18, at a meeting in Ohio that was secretly audio recorded, Garbin suggested shooting up the governor’s vacation home, which he said he would prefer over trying to go to the Capitol in Lansing.
Fox said the best opportunity to abduct Whitmer would be when she was arriving at, or leaving, either her personal vacation home or the governor’s official summer residence on Mackinac Island, according to the affidavit.
Fox described the plans as, “Snatch and grab, man. Grab the f------ governor. Just grab the b----. Because at that point, we do that dude, it’s over.”
Once kidnapped, Whitmer would be moved to a “secure location” in Wisconsin, for “trial,” according to the affidavit.
Fox suggested they get a Realtor to help them find the exact location of the vacation home and collect information on the surrounding homes and structures,” according to the affidavit.
He also discussed the importance of knowing the layout of the yard, homes and security, said they needed to map out the surrounding property and gates, and needed plumbers and electricians to help them read blueprints to refine their strategy, according to the affidavit. Fox suggested recruiting an engineer or information technology expert,” a “demo guy,” and other “operators,” according to the affidavit.
Plans included planting a bomb under a nearby bridge to divert law enforcement, according to the affidavit.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has clashed repeatedly with Whitmer over her response to the coronavirus pandemic and her use of emergency powers. But he expressed outrage Thursday at the apparent plot.
“A threat against our governor is a threat against us all,” Shirkey said. “We condemn those who plotted against her and our government. They are not patriots. There is no honor in their actions. They are criminals and traitors, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
News of the plot Thursday quickly intensified an ongoing debate over whether open carry of rifles and other weapons should continue to be permitted at the Capitol.
“You know who those potential hostages would have been?” State Rep. Darrin Camilerri, D. Brownstown Township, said on Twitter. “State legislators. My colleagues. My friends. Me.”
He said there was “a reason we were scared to go to work during those violent gatherings,” and asked whether GOP leaders, who have opposed a gun ban inside the Capitol, will “take the steps needed to keep the Capitol safe.
Protesters took to the capitol in April in response to emergency orders from Whitmer. Some brought long guns, at times standing in the Senate gallery above lawmakers. While some lawmakers called for guns to be banned from the Capitol, the State Capitol Commission refused to issue such a mandate despite months of debate.
Recently, two Democratic senators introduced bills that would largely ban guns from the legislature.”
Fox, Garbin and others discussed their plot during a Second Amendment rally in June at the capitol, according to the affidavit.
The alleged plot against the governor marks the second major militia case brought by federal officials in Michigan in the last decade.
The last one was a major embarrassment for the federal government as it ended with the vindication of all the defendants, some who were jailed for years. The case involved the 2009 arrests of seven Hutaree militia members who were charged with plotting a revolt against the government that included killing police officers with guns and bombs.
All faced up to life in prison, but their trial ended abruptly in 2012 when U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts concluded that the government failed to prove its case. In the end, the judge concluded, there was not proof of a real plot to overthrow the government or kill police, but people engaging in tough talk, she said
(Detroit Free Press staff writer Dave Boucher contributed to this report.)
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