13 charged in plot to kidnap Michigan governor
DETROIT — Agents foiled a stunning plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, authorities said Thursday in announcing charges in an alleged scheme that involved months of planning and even rehearsals to snatch Whitmer from her vacation home.
Six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the governor in reaction to what they viewed as her "uncontrolled power," according to a federal complaint. Separately, seven others were charged in state court under Michigan's anti-terrorism laws for allegedly targeting police and seeking a “civil war.”
"All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever amount to violence. Violence has been prevented today," Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider told reporters.
The six men charged in federal court plotted for months, consulting and training with members of a group that federal authorities described as a militia, and undertaking rehearsals in August and September, according to an FBI affidavit. They were arrested Wednesday night and face up to life in prison if convicted.
Four planned to meet Wednesday to "make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear," the FBI said in the court filing.
The FBI quoted one of the accused as saying Whitmer "has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now. All good things must come to an end."
Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney in western Michigan, called them "violent extremists."
Whitmer, who was considered as Joe Biden's running mate, has been praised but also deeply criticized by the Republican-controlled Legislature and conservatives areas of the state for Michigan's response to the coronavirus. She put major restrictions on personal movement throughout the state and on the economy, although many of those limits have been lifted. The governor has exchanged barbs with President Donald Trump on social media, with the president declaring in April, "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"
He has referred to Whitmer as the "woman in Michigan." There's no indication in the criminal complaint that the men were inspired by Trump. Authorities also have not said whether the men were angry about Whitmer's coronavirus orders.
The Michigan Supreme Court last week ruled that a 1945 law used as the foundation for many of Whitmer's orders was unconstitutional. The decision was 4-3, with justices who were nominated by Republicans in the majority.
The government said the plot against Whitmer was stopped with the work of undercover agents and informants.
Whiter thanked law enforcement for thwarting the alleged conspirators and said she's satisfied that "sick and depraved men" will face justice.
"Hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in the great state of Michigan," Whitmer said.
Through electronic communications, two of the alleged conspirators "agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution," the FBI said.
The criminal complaint identified the six as Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, all of Michigan, and Barry Croft of Delaware.
Fox said he needed 200 men to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor, according to the FBI. He said he wanted to try Whitmer for "treason" and would execute the plan before the Nov. 3 election, the government said. The group later shifted to targeting the governor's vacation home, the FBI said.
The government said the scheme appeared to have roots in a June gathering in Dublin, Ohio, attended by more than a dozen people from several states, including Croft and Fox.
"The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient," the FBI affidavit said. "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."
The state attorney general announced additional charges under Michigan's anti-terrorism law. Seven men, all in custody, are linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen.
They are suspected of attempting to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to "target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war." They also planned and trained for an operation to attack the Michigan Capitol building and to kidnap government officials, including the governor, Attorney General Dana Nessel said.