Six Are Charged in Plot to Kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Six people were charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer as part of a plan to overthrow the state’s government, according to court papers unsealed in federal court in Michigan on Thursday.

The U.S. said it would also bring charges against seven other people connected to the Wolverine Watchmen militia for attempts to target law enforcement officers and start a civil war.

The alleged plot, which the U.S. said included staking out Whitmer’s vacation home, came to light early this year when the FBI learned from social media that a group of people was discussing the “violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components,” according to the Justice Department.

The six “talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” according to the U.S. “They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating theU.S. Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor.”

Five Michiganders were arrested Wednesday in Ypsilanti, court records indicate. A Delaware man was also charged.

Michigan is a hotbed of nationalist, extremist and white supremacist hate groups, with more than two dozen organizations active in the state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In addition, during the early stage of the coronavirus pandemic, it was among the states where President Donald Trump urged supporters to resist lockdown measures, with a tweet on April 17 urging people to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

Whitmer, once considered a top contender as Joe Biden’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket, has become a target of conservatives who believe her response to the pandemic trampled on individual freedoms with statewide orders to wear masks and stay at home. Hundreds of demonstrators, some of them armed, occupied the Michigan statehouse this spring to protest the orders. The Michigan Supreme Court later ruled that Whitmer lacked the authority to enforce such orders.

The Michigan men charged include Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta. The Delaware resident is Barry Croft. The charge, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Secret Cooperator

In June, Fox, Croft and about a dozen others gathered in Dublin, Ohio, with a secret government cooperator in attendance, according to the U.S. The two met later that month with leaders of a militia group, including Garbin, to discuss a plan to storm the Capitol in Lansing, take hostages including the governor and try Whitmer for treason before the November elections, according to the U.S.

About a week later, Fox, Garbin and several others met in the basement of Fox’s business in Grand Rapids, which they accessed through a trap door hidden under a rug, the FBI said in court papers. While Fox collected the cell phones of the group so they couldn’t be monitored, a government informant recorded the meeting, during which they discussed storming the Capitol and destroying police vehicles with Molotov cocktails, and planned to meet during the first week of July for training, the U.S. claimed.

The alleged conspirators used code words on social media and encrypted methods of communication to coordinate the kidnapping and discussed detonating explosive devices to distract law enforcement, Andrew Birge, U.S. attorney for the Western Michigan District, said at a press conference Thursday afternoon in Lansing. They also conducted surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home, Birge said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said they are part of a militia group called Wolverine Watchmen. Nessel said they planned to kidnap other government officials, but declined to mention names.

In the end, law enforcement agents who learned of the plot lured Fox, Garbin, Franks and Harris to a meeting where they thought they’d be buying explosives and tactical gear.

Users of the internet forum 4chan reacted with suspicion to reports of the alleged plot, doubting the authenticity of the FBI’s claim. Much of the chatter on the site concluded that the news was ‘fake’ but nonetheless predicted it would be bad for the president. Some cheered on the militia, saying its plan, if true, sounded “heroic.”

— With assistance by Sarah Kopit

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