FBI Thwarts Plot to Kidnap Michigan Governor
Authorities arrested 13 men for their alleged role in a conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home before the November 2020 election.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) brought Adam Fox, Bary Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta into custody on Thursday on U.S. federal charges of conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer. Michigan state authorities arrested an additional seven men—Paul Bellar, Eric Molitor, Michael Null, William Null, Pete Musico, and Joseph Morrison—on charges of providing material support for terroristic activities and of possessing a firearm in the course of that offense.
The arrests come after a months-long investigation by the FBI into a social media group that was discussing the violent overthrow of government and law enforcement for perceived violations of the U.S. Constitution.
“Through confidential sources, undercover agents, and clandestine recordings, law enforcement learned particular individuals were planning to kidnap the Governor and acting in furtherance of that plan,” according to the DOJ. “This group used operational security measures, including communicating by encrypted messaging platforms and used code words and phrases in an attempt to avoid detection by law enforcement.”
Members of the alleged conspiracy also conducted surveillance on Whitmer’s vacation home, discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police attention, and inspected the underside of a highway bridge for placing the explosives. The conspirators planned to kidnap Whitmer before Election Day—3 November 2020—and take her to a secure location in Wisconsin to stand “trial,” according to the criminal complaint.
To further their efforts, the conspirators also allegedly reached out to members of an extremist group—the Wolverine Watchmen. Seven men affiliated with this group collected addresses of police officers to target them, threatening a civil war “leading to societal collapse,” the complaint added.
“These alleged extremists undertook a plot to kidnap a sitting governor,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Josh P. Hauxhurst in a statement. “Whenever extremists move into the realm of actually planning violent acts, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force stands ready to identify, disrupt, and dismantle their operations, preventing them from following through on those plans.”
In a statement to the press on Thursday after the charges were announced, Whitmer thanked law enforcement and the DOJ for thwarting the plot to kidnap her and arresting those responsible. She also addressed the need for leaders to condemn domestic terrorism and white supremacist groups.
“When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight,” Whitmer said. “When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions. And they are complicit.”
Join us live in Lansing. https://t.co/wftm2A3sDy— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) October 8, 2020
The Wolverine Watchmen are just one of several militia groups active in Michigan, according to Amy Cooter, a senior lecturer at Vanderbilt University who studies militia groups and spoke with The Detroit Free Press.
“For the most part, she said, militia groups are united in their ideology, and that, in part, is why Michigan has been a place where they have thrived: a rural population, combined with beliefs attributed to individual freedom and self-reliance,” according to the Press. “The militia groups, she said, tend to support Second Amendment rights, limited government, and a strict—or literal—interpretation of the Constitution.”
Whitmer and her leadership of Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic have been greatly criticized by right-wing protestors.
“In April, thousands of people gathered at the State Capitol to protest the executive orders she issued shutting down most of the state,” The New York Times reported. “[U.S. President Donald Trump] openly encouraged such protests, tweeting, ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN!’”
The kidnapping plot was also not the first attempt to threaten Whitmer’s life. In May, authorities charged Robert S. Tesh with false report of threat of terrorism for allegedly threatening to kill Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.