'Deeply disturbing': Feds charge extremists in domestic terror plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, create civil war

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LANSING, Mich. – Thirteen members of an anti-government group bent on igniting a civil war are charged in a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who the group targeted in a possible commando raid on the state capitol, according to newly unsealed court records.

Authorites said Thursday that the Wolverine Watchmen group planned on storming either the capitol or Whitmer's vacation home as part of a broader mission to instigate a civil war. The FBI and Michigan's attorney general outlined felony domestic terrorism charges against the group's organizers, who planned on hurling molotov cocktails at any police officers who tried to stop the kidnapping, a federal affidavit said.

Members of the group bought weapons, conducted surveillance and held training and planning meetings, but they were foiled in part because the FBI infiltrated the group with informants, according to a criminal complaint. Six were charged with federal kidnapping offenses, and at least seven others face state charges.

Attorney General Dana Nessel referred to the accused as "extremists" who are hoping to recruit new members "by seizing on a moment of civil unrest" to wreak havoc on the country.

The FBI became aware early in 2020, through social media, that a militia group was "discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law enforcement components" and "agreed to take violent action," according to a sworn affidavit.

Organizers of the domestic terror plot talked about "murdering ... tyrants" or "taking" a sitting governor, according to the affidavit. The FBI monitored a meeting June 20 in Grand Rapids, the affidavit says.

Discussions included using 200 men to "storm" the Capitol Building in Lansing, kidnap hostages including Whitmer and try the governor for treason, according to the affidavit.

The group met for field exercises and training this year and conducted surveillance of the governor's vacation home on at least two occasions in late August and September, the affidavit alleges. The group purchased an 800,000-volt Taser and night goggles for use in the kidnapping plot, according to court records. Members of the plot said they wanted to complete the kidnapping before the election Nov. 3, according to the affidavit.

Whitmer decried hatred and bigotry from her Capitol office Thursday, saying that President Donald Trump is "complicit" in what happened because he has not denounced right-wing hate groups.

Whitmer thanked law enforcement for uncovering the case and said hopefully it will lead to convictions "bringing these sick and depraved men to justice."

Prosecutors said violence isn't the answer to solving political differences.

Gov. Whitmer denounces hate groups, says President Donald Trump is 'complicit'

"All of us can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever result in violence," said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider in the Eastern District of Michigan. "The allegations in this complaint are deeply disturbing. We owe our thanks to the men and women of law enforcement who uncovered this plot and have worked so hard to protect Gov. Whitmer."

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Conspirators targeted governor's vacation home, recordings reveal

Charged in the U.S. District Court in the western district of Michigan are Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta, according to a criminal complaint. They are charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, according to the complaint.

All are residents of Michigan except Croft of Delaware, the complaint says.

Col. Joseph Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police, which worked with federal agents on the investigation, called the case "unprecedented" and "one of the largest cases in recent history that the Michigan State Police has been involved in."

More than a dozen people from several states met in Dublin, Ohio, on June 6 and talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights, in which they could be self-sufficient. After that meeting, the militia group in Michigan was contacted.

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The FBI used confidential informants as part of the investigation and paid one of them more than $14,000 and another $8,600, according to the affidavit.

On July 18 at a meeting in Ohio that was secretly recorded, Garbin allegedly suggested shooting up the governor's vacation home instead of trying to go to the Capitol in Lansing.

Fox said the best opportunity to abduct Whitmer would be at her personal vacation home or the governor’s official summer residence on Mackinac Island, according to the affidavit.

Fox allegedly described the plans as "Snatch and grab, man."

Once kidnapped, Whitmer would be moved to a "secure location" in Wisconsin for "trial," according to the affidavit.

Fox suggested they get a real estate agent to help them find the exact location of the vacation home and collect information on the surrounding homes and structures, according to the affidavit.

Read the FBI affidavit in the militia plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer

He discussed the importance of knowing the layout of the yard, homes and security, said they needed to map out the surrounding property and gates and needed plumbers and electricians to help them read blueprints to refine their strategy, according to the affidavit. Fox suggested recruiting an engineer or information technology expert, a “demo guy” and other “operators," the affidavit alleges.

A meeting June 20 in the basement of Fox's business in Grand Rapids was accessed "through a trap door hidden under a rug on the main floor," according to the affidavit. Fox collected all of the attendees' cellphones in a box and carried them upstairs to prevent any monitoring, according to the affidavit, but an FBI informant was wearing a hidden recording device. At that meeting, participants discussed plans to attack the Capitol, using "Molotov cocktails" to destroy police, the affidavit alleges.

Plans included planting a bomb under a nearby bridge to divert law enforcement, according to the affidavit.

Also facing state charges announced Friday by Nessel: Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 42, who live together in Munith and are each charged with a threat of terrorism, gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts and possession of a firearm in commission of a felony; Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford, charged with providing material support for terrorist acts, gang membership and possessing a firearm in commission of a felony; and Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville, Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac, Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell, and William Null, 38, of Shelbyville, each charged with charged with providing material support for terrorist attacks and possessing a firearm in commission of felony.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, expressed outrage Thursday at the alleged plot.

"A threat against our governor is a threat against us all," Shirkey said. "We condemn those who plotted against her and our government. They 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."

News of the plot intensified a debate over whether open carry of rifles and other weapons should continue to be permitted at the Capitol.

"You know who those potential hostages would have been?" State Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township, said on Twitter. "State legislators. My colleagues. My friends. Me."

He asked whether GOP leaders, who oppose a gun ban inside the Capitol, will "take the steps needed to keep the Capitol safe."

Protesters took to the Capitol in April in response to emergency orders from Whitmer to deal with the coronavirus. Some brought long guns and stood in the Senate gallery above lawmakers. The State Capitol Commission refused to issue a mandate against guns after months of debate.

Follow reporter Paul Egan on Twitter @paulegan4

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Gretchen Whitmer: Six people charged in plot against Michigan governor