- The FBI said on Thursday that it foiled a plot by six men to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the state’s government.
- “Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. “The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbours and spread their message.”
- Armed right-wing protesters stormed the Michigan Capitol earlier this year after Whitmer signed an executive order imposing a statewide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
- President Donald Trump had called on his supporters at the time to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and later refused to condemn the armed protesters who converged on the Capitol, calling them “very good people.”
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NBC News reported that the men identified in court documents were Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta.
Federal prosecutors discussed details of the alleged plot at a press conference on Thursday. FBI agents and Michigan state police officers spent hours on Wednesday night raiding a home in Hartland, Michigan, that was related to the investigation,WXYZ reported.
Authorities said the six men went as far as to monitor Whitmer’s vacation home and build bombs.
An FBI affidavit said the men reached out to members of an armed right-wing militia in Michigan to carry out their plan.
“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,” Richard Trask II, an FBI agent, wrote in the sworn affidavit.
“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.”
Trask added: “Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor. The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbours and spread their message. As part of that recruitment effort, Fox reached out to a Michigan based militia group.”
Trask said the FBI had scrutinised the militia group in March when a member of the group told the bureau they were concerned about its plans “to target and kill police officers.” That person later agreed to become a “confidential human source,” Trask said, adding that the FBI was able to monitor Fox’s and others’ activities through such sources.
On June 14, a source “participated in a consensually recorded telephone call” with Fox, who “said he needed ‘200 men’ to storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages, including the governor,” Trask wrote. He added that Fox said that “they would try the Governor of Michigan for ‘treason,’ and he said they would execute the plan before the November 2020 elections.”
The next month, an FBI source recorded a meeting in which the men “discussed attacking a Michigan State Police facility, and in a separate conversation after the meeting, Garbin suggested shooting up the Governor’s vacation home,” the affidavit said.
At a meeting on July 27, the affidavit said, Fox and an FBI informant discussed kidnapping Whitmer, and Fox said: “Snatch and grab, man. Grab the f—in’ governor. Just grab the b—-. Because at that point, we do that, dude â€” it’s over.”
WOOD-TV reported that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also on Thursday announced state charges against seven people connected to the kidnapping plot, accusing them of finding out where police officers lived and threatening them.
The charges against Paul Bellar, Sean Fix, Eric Molitor, Michael Null, William Null, Pete Musico, and Joseph Morrison include providing material support for a terrorist act, gang membership, and felony firearm.
Whitmer drew the ire of far-right and right-wing protesters after she ordered a lockdown in her state earlier this year as the coronavirus spread in the US. Many Michiganders expressed anger at Whitmer’s executive order on social media and in nearly 1,200 emails to Business Insider.
In late April, hundreds of protesters converged on the state’s Capitol to protest Whitmer’s extension of a stay-at-home order. At that point, Michigan health officials had reported more than 41,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,789 deaths.
Many of the protesters were carrying guns and were photographed confronting lawmakers in the state’s Senate.
Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us. Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today. #mileg pic.twitter.com/voOZpPYWOs
— Senator Dayna Polehanki (@SenPolehanki) April 30, 2020
Days earlier, President Donald Trump had called on his supporters in a tweet to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.”
After the protest, Trump refused to condemn the display and called right-wing demonstrators who carried guns into the Capitol “very good people.” He also urged Whitmer to “make a deal” with them.
During a press conference on Thursday, Whitmer said Trump has been “fomenting anger, and giving comfort to those who spread fear, hatred, and division.”
Whitmer: "Our head of state has spent the past 7 months denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, fomenting anger, & giving comfort to those who spread fear … just last week, POTUS stood before the people and refused to condemn white supremacists." pic.twitter.com/LKfUht5rD4
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 8, 2020
The Michigan governor excoriated Trump for refusing to explicitly condemn white supremacist groups during the first presidential debate last week, and suggested the president was “complicit” in extremist violence in the US.
“The president of the US stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two militia groups,” Whitmer said. “‘Stand back and stand by,’ he told them. ‘Stand back and stand by.’ Hate groups heard the president’s words as a rallying cry, as a call to action.”
“When our leaders meet with, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists they legitimise their actions and they were complicit,” Whitmer added. “When they contribute to hate speech, they’re complicit.”
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