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Michigan Governor's Would-Be Kidnapper Pleads Guilty

One of the members of a group of men allegedly plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer pled guilty to the charge of kidnapping conspiracy on 27 January.

Ty Garbin admitted that he and five other men, members of a Michigan-based militia group called the “Wolverine Watchmen,” planned to grab Whitmer at her vacation home and impede the police with explosives.

The confession was made less than five months after the men were arrested. Garbin’s testimony resulted in almost seven pages of details in the plea agreement and could assist the government’s case against the other defendants, already bolstered by informants and undercover agents.

NPR reported that, as part of the plea agreement with Garbin, the government will not bring additional charges against him for his alleged involvement in the conspiracy.

Garbin disclosed that he and other members of the militia group planned to kidnap Whitmer and place her on trial.

According to his testimony, Adam Dean Fox hosted the initial meetings of the conspiracy in June 2020, sharing the desire to not only kidnap Whitmer, but also storm the state’s Capitol and impede authorities during the attack with the use of Molotov cocktails and other improvised explosives.

Fox later said they would hang the governor, and a government informant reported he “seemed preoccupied with killing the governor” during at least one meeting, according to testimony. However, by September, he was also considering stranding Whitmer in a boat (without an engine) in the middle of Lake Michigan.

Along with Fox and Garbin, other members of the militia group, including Daniel Harris, Kaleb Franks, and Brandon Caserta participated in weapons training in June in Munith, Michigan, and Barry Croft, Jr., joined them in Cambria, Wisconsin, and near Luther, Michigan, for “field training” exercises in July and September, respectively.

In Cambria, the group also allegedly built a “shoot house,” where they rehearsed their attacks with firearms and combat first aid, as well as unsuccessful attempts to detonate IEDs that Croft made. At the training site in Luther, they built another shoot house akin to Whitmer’s vacation home and a range for live-fire training.

Eventually, the group shifted from planning an attack on the State Capitol to kidnapping Whitmer from the more secluded vacation home in northern Michigan. Garbin proposed waiting until after the national election in November, “when the conspirators expected widespread civil unrest to make it easier for them to operate,” the plea deal said.

Come August, suspecting that their group had been targeted and even infiltrated by law enforcement, the group began using an encrypted messaging application for communications.

By the end of the month, Fox also began surveilling Whitmer’s vacation home and Garbin proposed that taking out a nearby bridge would hinder police responding to any alerts of the kidnapping.

In September, some of the men also conducted nighttime surveillance on the property, even determining where to place explosives. The group also began gathering materials—zip ties, a taser, and collecting to funds to purchase explosives—until all six were arrested with help from an undercover FBI agent on 7 October. (United States of America v. Ty Gerard Garbin, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, No. 1:20-CR-183, 2021)  

In a statement made after the arrest, the FBI said an investigation into the group began “after becoming aware through social media” about the group’s intentions.

According to the plea agreement, the court can issue prison time—up to life in prison—and a fine of $250,000. Garbin’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for 8 July 2021.

Initial court documents indicated they targeted the governor out of a belief that she was violating the Constitution. Earlier in 2020, Whitmer limited residents’ movements and the economy in an effort to curb the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, although many restrictions were eventually lifted. In response to Whitmer’s efforts, rallies were hosted in front of the State Capitol, and opponents of the restrictions called for Whitmer’s removal from office and sent her death threats.