FBI reveals elaborate plot by Michigan militia members to kidnap Whitmer

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Michigan-based militia members plotted extensively to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her vacation home before the Nov. 3 presidential election, stockpiling weapons and explosives and twice staking out her residence, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday that described probable cause to charge six alleged conspirators.

The FBI, relying on confidential sources who recorded conversations and informed on the plot, became aware of the effort through social media chatter early this year and developed detailed insight on the purported plan over the ensuing months.

The FBI had already suspected the militia of plotting to kill police officers, and a member of the group concerned about that plan had agreed to become an FBI source, according to the affidavit.

The plan to kidnap Whitmer was hatched in the basement of a Grand Rapids business in June, according to the FBI filing.

“The attendees discussed plans for assaulting the Michigan State Capitol, countering law enforcement first responders, and using ‘Molotov cocktails’ to destroy police vehicles,” the affidavit indicates. “The attendees also discussed plans for an additional meeting during the first weekend of July when they also would conduct firearms and tactical training.”

The plot ultimately evolved into one in which the conspirators would storm her vacation home, blowing up a nearby bridge and grabbing Whitmer, if not killing her outright, the FBI indicated, citing recordings and internal communications it obtained from the alleged conspirators.

Whitmer, in her first term, has become a national figure this year and was considered by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as a potential running mate before he selected Sen. Kamala Harris. Whitmer has drawn the fury of President Donald Trump, who criticized her lockdown measures early in the coronavirus pandemic, tweeting “Liberate Michigan” in all caps on April 17. Trump also criticized Whitmer Thursday morning during a Fox News appearance, labeling her the “lock-up queen.”

Some of the alleged plotters were part of a group that initially met to discuss “creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient.”

“They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions,” per the FBI affidavit. “At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. 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 neighbors and spread their message.”

The FBI says it has probable cause to charge six of the plotters: Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta. All of the men live in Michigan with the exception of Croft, a Delaware resident.

By mid-July, the plot had evolved to include storming Whitmer’s vacation home.

“Fox said their best opportunity to abduct Governor Whitmer would be when she was arriving at, or leaving, either her personal vacation home or the Governor’s official summer residence,” the FBI affidavit notes, citing an audio recording provided by one of its sources. “Fox described it as a ‘snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ Governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over.'”

The plan included taking Whitmer to a “secure location” and holding a “trial.” Some members also discussed assassinating her outright, according to recordings and source information obtained by the FBI.

In late August, the conspirators allegedly staked out Whitmer’s vacation home, an episode recorded by one of the FBI’s confidential sources.

“Fox and the other individual located the vacation home, took photographs and slow-motion video from their vehicle as they drove by it, and discussed conducting additional surveillance from the water at a later date. The other individual then looked up the locations of the local police department and Michigan State Police in the area, and used them to estimate how long it would take law enforcement to respond to an incident at the vacation home,” according to the FBI affidavit.

During the surveillance operation, Fox said, “We ain’t gonna let ‘em burn our fuckin’ state down. I don’t give a fuck if there’s only 20 or 30 of us, dude, we’ll go out there and use deadly force.'”

The weekend of Sept. 12 and 13, the group surveilled the vacation home at night: “During the late night of September 12 and early morning of September 13, the group drove from Luther to the vicinity of the vacation home in three separate vehicles.

The affidavit described an exchange in which the alleged conspirators, returning to Garbin’s property, made sure they were all in agreement on the plan to kidnap Whitmer. “If you’re not down with the thought of kidnapping, don’t sit here,” one of them said. Garbin replied, “Oh no, we’re not kidnapping, that’s not what we’re doing,” prompting laughter.

By early this month, the group allegedly had made plans to purchase explosives and other equipment to carry out their plan.

Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, said during an afternoon press conference that she intends to issue additional charges under Michigan’s anti-terrorism statute against seven members of the militia group, dubbed the “Wolverine Watchmen.”

Nick Niedzwiadek contributed reporting.

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