LANSING, MI — FBI Agents foiled a plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, authorities said Thursday, Oct. 7, announcing charges in an alleged scheme involving months of planning to snatch Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan.
According to the affidavit posted by the Bridge Michigan concerning the case, it states that a Michigan militia group was plotting to kidnap Gov. Whitmer, as reported by Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source.
CNN reports that the six charged by the federal government are Michigan residents Adam Fox, 37; Ty Garbin, 24; Kaleb Franks, 26; Daniel Harris, 23; Brandon Caserta, 32; and Delaware resident Barry Croft, 44.
The additional seven people charged by the state are Paul Bellar, 21; Shawn Fix, 38; Eric Molitor, 36; Michael Null, 38; William Null, 38; Pete Musico, 42; and Joseph Morrison, 42. They face a variety of firearm and terror charges.
The Detroit News reports that the FBI became aware of the scheme in early 2020 through a social media group, according to the federal criminal complaint. Court documents say the FBI planted a confidential informant to travel to Dublin, Ohio, on June 6 for a meeting with Croft, Fox and 13 others.
“They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” states one section of the complaint.
At one point during the meeting, the group discussed growing their membership. During this time, Fox reached out to a Michigan-based militia group in conspiring to kidnap Whitmer prior to the Nov. 3 elections. This plot was a reaction to seeing her as an “uncontrolled power,” according to a federal complaint. Separately, seven others linked to a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and seek a “civil war.”
According to The Detroit News, extremism experts say they had never heard of the Wolverine Watchmen until members of the militia group were accused of a conspiracy to overthrow the government as part of plans to kidnap the governor. There were no apparent traces of the group online, although federal prosecutors said the group’s members planned the alleged crime over several months by communicating via a private Facebook page and in encrypted group chats.
The Wolverine Watchmen “flew under the radar,” said Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
“This is simply not a big group that we’d ever heard of,” Lewis said. “I know anecdotally there are a lot of militia organizations operating both nationally and in Michigan, but this one has not popped up in our research.” The FBI only became aware of the group early this year according to a 15-page affidavit filed in federal court, The Detroit News reports.
In June, 15 men from multiple states met in Dublin, Ohio, near Columbus, to discuss “creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights, where they could be self-sufficient,” according to a confidential FBI source who recorded the meeting. According to CNN, it was during this time that Fox was introduced to the leader of the group; they met in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the informant audio-recorded conversations between Fox and the leader of the group, the leader of the group allegedly said he needed “200 men” to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including Whitmer. The plan was to try the governor for “treason”, and to execute the plan prior to the November 2020 elections.
On June 20, Fox, Garbin and others met at Fox’s business in Grand Rapids, where attendees met in a basement accessed by a trap door hidden under a rug on the main floor. Attendees turned over their cell phones, which were taken upstairs to “prevent any monitoring.”
“The attendees discussed plans for assaulting the Michigan State Capitol, countering law enforcement first responders, and using ‘Molotov cocktails’ to destroy police vehicles. The attendees also discussed plans for an additional meeting during the first weekend of July when they also would conduct firearms and tactical training,” the criminal complaint states.
In a video Fox live-streamed to a private Facebook group of which a confidential informant was a part of, he complained about the judicial system and the state of Michigan and referred to Whitmer as “this tyrant b****,” adding, “I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something. You guys link with me on our other location system, give me some ideas of what we can do,” according to authorities. The video was preserved by the FBI, and a Facebook spokesperson told CNN the company is cooperating with the investigation.
“The individuals in (state) custody are suspected to have attempted to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war, and engaged in planning and training for an operation to attack the capitol building of Michigan and to kidnap government officials, including the governor of Michigan,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, according to CNN.
At one point, several members talked about how they believed state governments were violating the U.S. Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. As part of that recruitment effort, Fox reached out to a Michigan-based militia group “Wolverine Watchmen”, reports The Detroit News.
According to AP News, the six men initially mentioned teamed up with the Wolverine Watchmen and trained together, planning “various acts of violence.” Surveillance for the kidnapping plot took place in August and September, and four of the men had planned to meet Wednesday, Oct. 7, to “make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear,” according to an FBI affidavit.
Authorities said the plots were stopped with the work of undercover agents and informants, whose undercover work led to the men’s arrest on Wednesday night, Oct. 7. The six who were charged in federal court face up to life in prison if convicted, with the additional state terrorism charges (which the Wolverine Watchmen are facing) carrying a possible 20-year sentence, according to AP News.
According to sources at CNN, the arrests are likely to draw additional attention to the political tensions roiling the nation in the closing weeks of the 2020 election season, and underline warnings from law enforcement officials, members of Congress and groups that track extremism about the increasing threat posed by extremist and far-right groups.
In an interview on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” on Thursday night, Oct. 8, Whitmer thanked law enforcement for making the arrests. “This is unlike anything we have seen before. The brave men and women of these two police organizations put their lives on the line to keep me and my family safe,” she said. “I’m incredibly grateful and humbled by the work they do.”
Whitmer said she “knew this job would be hard, but I’ll be honest, I never could’ve imagined anything like this.” She specifically blamed Trump, who has repeatedly declined to condemn far-right groups, according to CNN.
“Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job. She locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities. The Federal Government provided tremendous help to the Great People of Michigan. My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement announced… today that they foiled a dangerous plot against the Governor of Michigan. Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist—while Biden and Democrats refuse to condemn Antifa, Anarchists, Looters and Mobs that burn down Democrat run cities… I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer—open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!”
NBC25 News highlighted lawmakers taking to Twitter reacting to the news of the kidnapping plot. One, in particular, was Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who posted to Twitter a tweet from Trump back in April saying “Liberate Michigan.” Her caption read “I wonder where they got their motivation from.”