Six people charged in plot to kidnap Michigan governor
Six people have been been charged with plotting to kidnap the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, that involves links to a rightwing militia group, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced. Additionally another seven people were charged with plotting to target law enforcement and attack the state capitol building. The state attorney general, Dana Nessel, announced additional charges under Michigan’s anti-terrorism law. Seven men, all in custody, are linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen.
They are suspected of attempting to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to “target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war”. They also planned and trained for an operation to attack the Michigan capitol building and to kidnap government officials, including the governor, Nessel said.
The news sent shockwaves through a country facing one the most contentious elections in its history and already marred by accusations of voter suppression, civil unrest linked to police brutality and sometimes violent incidents and protests by heavily armed rightwingers.
The FBI said in an affidavit that the plot to kidnap Whitmer had involved reaching out to members of a Michigan militia. The criminal complaint states that the alleged plot involved her second home in northern Michigan.
“Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” an FBI agent wrote in the document. “The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.”
The six men charged with plotting against Whitmer were arrested on Wednesday night and each faces up to life in prison. US attorney Andrew Birge called them “violent extremists”.
“All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever amount to violence. Violence has been prevented today,” the Detroit US attorney Matthew Schneider told reporters.
The affidavit was filed on Wednesday hours after FBI agents raided a home in Hartland Township, a community about an hour outside of Detroit.
The criminal complaint identified the six as Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, all of Michigan, and Barry Croft of Delaware.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has been the frequent target of protests by often heavily armed anti-lockdown groups who have launched numerous demonstrations against her efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. She put major restrictions on personal movement throughout the state and on the economy, although many of those limits have been lifted.
Whitmer’s moves once caused Donald Trump to tweet “Liberate Michigan” as an exhortation to his supporters against her policy. As news of the foiled plot unfolded, many commentators fingered the president’s words as a contributing factor to the alleged conspiracy.
Former FBI agent and national security commentator Asha Rangappa asked pointedly: “Who knew that Trump and Fox News’ exhortations to “liberate Michigan” might lead to an attempt to harm the governor and lead a coup? Completely unforeseeable.”
The Detroit News reported that the investigation dated to early 2020 when the FBI learned via social media that individuals were discussing a violent overthrow of several state governments. A confidential paid informant then recorded a meeting between more than a dozen people from several states that took place in Dublin, Ohio.
“The group talked about creating a society that followed the US Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” the affidavit said. “They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the US constitution, including the government of Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer.”
Through electronic communications, two of the alleged conspirators then “agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the US constitution”, the FBI said.
One of the alleged conspirators, Adam Fox, said he needed 200 men to storm the capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor, according to the FBI. He said he wanted to try Whitmer for “treason” and would execute the plan before the 3 November election, the government said.
Later, however, the group shifted to targeting the governor’s vacation home, the FBI said.
On 6 October Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, released his department’s annual assessment of violent threats to the nation. Analysts didn’t have to dig deep into the assessment to discover its alarming content. In a foreword, Wolf wrote that he was “particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years. [They] seek to force ideological change in the United States through violence, death, and destruction.”
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