FBI says it has foiled a militia plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer
A gang of militia members violently opposed to Governor Gretchen Whitmer were putting in motion a plot to kidnap her, according to an unsealed criminal complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
An affadavit was filed Wednesday, hours after federal agents raided a Hartland Township home in relation to the scheme. Six individuals have reportedly been charged for conspiring to kidnap the governor: Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta.
During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Whitmer blamed President Donald Trump’s rhetoric in part for inspiring the men to act.
“Our head of state has spent the past seven months denying science ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.”
Whitmer added that those who conspire to commit heinous acts of violence against anyone will be held accountable and brought to justice.
Details of the conspiracy
The complaint states that the investigation began in early 2020:
In early 2020, the FBI became aware through social media that a group of individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components. Among those individuals identified were CROFT and FOX. Through electronic communications, CROFT and FOX agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution.
This allowed the FBI to use undercover employees and confidential informants to monitor the men now charged.
According to the affidavit, the men surveilled Governor Gretchen Whitmer's vacation home during the day at the end of August and attempted to plan how long it would take law enforcement to reach the residence if they took the governor. In a subsequent chat, one of the conspirators discussed blowing up a nearby bridge to make police response tougher. In mid-September, the men surveilled the home again over two days. More individuals were involved in this surveillance and multiple cars, including at least one with a dashcam, were used.
The affidavit reveals Whitmer's actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic were a motivating factor for the men allegedly seeking the kidnap the governor and try her for "treason."
"She f***ing goddamn loves the power she has right now," the document quotes one of the men as saying. "She has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now," the man continued.
A number of anti-Whitmer protests have taken place since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in response to the governor's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" plan. The men charged in this case allegedly attended a June 18 rally at the Capitol, where they made an effort to recruit more members for the operation.
Attorney General Dana Nessel joined federal prosecutors to discuss the alleged conspiracy during a 1 p.m. press conference Thursday.
Legal next steps and additional charges
The federal charges will be prosecuted in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The Michigan Department of Attorney General will be pursuing state charges.
"Federal and state law enforcement are committed to working together to make sure violent extremists never succeed with their plans, particularly when they target our duly elected leaders," said Andrew Birge, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan.
Nessel also revealed during the press conference that her office has charged and arrested seven other individuals linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchman. The charges are persuant to the Michigan Anti-Terrorism Act.
"The individuals in custody attempted to identify 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."
The seven individuals are Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford; Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville; Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac; Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell; William Null, 38, of Shelbyville; Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 42, who live together in Munith.
Officials speak out
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) put out a comment condemning the conspiracy:
“A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all. We condemn the actions of the group of individuals that plotted against Governor Whitmer and state government. These people 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. Citizens who care about government show their passion by voting. Only terrorists resort to violence. We extend our gratitude to the men and women in law enforcement for their work to thwart this plan and reach a safe conclusion. The Governor and her family are in our thoughts in prayers.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI 8) released the following statement:
"I am deeply disturbed to hear of the plot, conducted in part in my own district, to kidnap our Governor and commit violence against law enforcement. I’m so thankful to federal, state and local law enforcement for taking the threat seriously and getting to the perpetrators before they could act. If true, they are cowards and criminals and should be treated accordingly. Make no mistake: This is about as far from their proclaimed patriotism as one can get. This is terrorism. I believe there is still a right and wrong. This plot is wrong. And it’s incumbent on all of us to stand up to oppose this behavior, and these growing threats."
State Sen. Lana Theis (R-Dexter) said in a statement, “There is absolutely no place for violence in American politics, even when we hold different political beliefs. A threat against the governor, or any elected official, is a threat against us all, and I strongly condemn the actions of the group of individuals who plotted against Gov. Whitmer and our state government."