FBI claims Michigan militia group tried to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Ongoing updates: Plot to kidnap Whitmer | Who's charged, what's next?
Oct. 13: FBI: Whitmer conspirators wanted to leave her in lake, kidnap Va. governor

Note: This post contains explicit language

LANSING — Federal officials say six armed men and others piled into three vehicles late Sept. 12, traveling in the dark from a militia member's property in northern Michigan to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's cottage about a half-hour away. 

Those men, arrested and charged Thursday for conspiring to kidnap Whitmer before the November election, allegedly surveilled the governor's vacation residence and surrounding neighborhood in advance of a plot they hoped to finalize this week, according to an FBI affidavit.

"She f---ing g--damn loves the power she has right now," Adam Fox, who prosecutors alleged had hosted previous meetings at secret bunker below a business in Grand Rapids he worked at, allegedly told colleagues during the surveillance operation. 

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“She has no checks and balances at all," he continued in an apparent screed against executive orders the Democratic governor had issued to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"She has uncontrolled power right now.”

Prosecutors allege Barry Croft responded: “All good things must come to an end.” 

On the way to Whitmer’s cottage, men in one of the vehicles allegedly stopped under a highway bridge on M-31 and looked for places to plant an explosive device, which they intended as a distraction to draw police from the vacation home and leave the governor exposed. 

Prosecutors say they had already been working on it: Earlier in the evening, in a meeting secretly recorded by a government informant, Croft had allegedly used what he called a "chemistry set" to build an improvised explosive device with commercial fireworks, black powder, pennies and electrical tape.

The following morning, after completing the surveillance run, the group reconvened at a Luther property in Lake County owned by Ty Garbin, an alleged militia leader with a separate Hartland Township home that was raided by federal authorities late Wednesday. 

There, prosecutors allege they discussed the cost of explosives and agreed to meet this week Wednesday to "make a final payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear" they intended to use in the plot.

Those meetings and others are described in an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Richard Trask, unsealed Thursday, that lays out a months-long conspiracy that included weapons training, meetings across three states and early talk of attempting to storm the Michigan Capitol. 

Many of their meetings were secretly recorded by government informants and undercover agents.

Fox, Croft, Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were arrested this week. They are considered not guilty until proven otherwise but face up to life in prison if convicted for the alleged kidnapping plot. All are Michigan residents, except Croft, who lives in Delaware. 

"Federal and state law enforcement are committed to working together to make sure violent extremists never succeed with their plans, particularly when they target our duly elected officials," Andrew Birge, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, said Thursday in announcing the charges. 

Separately, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced her office has charged seven members of the "Wolverine Watchmen" militia group with various crimes under the state's anti-terrorism act. 

Those individuals allegedly called on militia members to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to target them, made threats of violence to instigate a "civil war" and trained for an operation to attack the Michigan Capitol and kidnap officials, including Whitmer, Nessel said. 

Federal authorities began investigating Croft, Fox and others this year after learning about social media posts discussing the violent overthrow of government and law enforcement entities, according to the affidavit. 

In a July 27 meeting at a Grand Rapids business, which was recorded by a confidential informant, Fox allegedly told co-conspirators that their best opportunity to abduct Whitmer would be when she was either departing or arriving at her Antrim County cottage or the governor’s official summer residence on Mackinac Island, according to the affidavit. 

Fox described it as a “snatch and grab, man,” according to the affidavit. “Grab the f--ing governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that dude — it's over."

In at least one instance, conspirators met in the basement of Fox’s shop in Grand Rapids, which was accessed through a trap door hidden under a rug, according to the affidavit. Fox gathered cell phones from all attendees to ensure secrecy, attorneys allege. 

"The attendees discussed plans for assaulting the MIchigan State Capitol, countering law enforcement first responders, and using 'Molotov cocktails' to destroy police vehicles,” Trask wrote of that June 20 meeting.

The affidavit lays out a series of meetings involving various members of the plot, including gatherings in Ohio and a firearms and combat training in Wisconsin, where Barry Croft and a member of the unnamed militia group allegedly attempted to build an explosive device using black powder, balloons, a fuse and BBs for shrapnel. 

At the late July meeting in Grand Rapids, Fox said the group “would remove Whitmer to a secure location in Wisconsin” for a trial of some sort. 

In previous meetings, members had called Whitmer a “tyrant,” echoing complaints over her COVID-19 business closures. 

In a July meeting in Ohio, Garbin allegedly said he did not want to attack the Capitol but was “cool” with going after the governor’s vacation home, even if it only resulted in property destruction. 

Talks eventually began to focus on action at the governor’s official and personal residences. 

At one tactical training exercise in Munith, south of Lansing, a man named Daniel Harris allegedly suggested “one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers, just cap her.”

The men were expected to meet on Wednesday to "make a final payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear," according to the affidavit. 

The federal felony conspiracy kidnapping charges filed against each are punishable by up to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

In rural Munith, 15 miles north of Jackson, the home where two of the alleged militia members lived was in disarray Thursday afternoon. A woman who described herself as a family friend told a Bridge reporter that a shattered window on the side of the home happened during a raid just after midnight on Thursday morning. 

Outside, a Confederate flag fluttered along with a Betsy Ross-style flag with “liberty or death” emblazoned in the space inside the circle of stars. The yard was littered with old furniture, children’s toys and other belongings. Car tires were piled on one end of the house. 

The home is adjacent to a campground where visitors said they heard helicopters buzzing overhead for more than two hours the previous night.

One neighbor interviewed said he was happy to see authorities taking action, noting that the activities taking place at the raided home had troubled him. “They’re not the only morons around here,” he said. 

The neighbor, who asked that his name not be used to protect his safety, said the people living in the home had moved in two or three years ago and “it slowly became the cesspool that it is now.” 

Three months ago, he said, roughly 20 people showed up in military fatigues carrying firearms and gathered in the yard. At least twice in recent months, he said he had called police after hearing what sounded like machine gun fire coming from the property. 

“They never came out,” he said of police, instead telling him that what he heard was likely something other than gunfire. 

The neighbor’s recollections loosely match the sworn statements of federal authorities, who said the people charged in the alleged conspiracy conducted tactical training exercises in Munith on June 28 and again on Aug. 9. 

The woman who identified herself as a family friend told Bridge that the nine people (six adults and three children) living in the home are now “homeless” following the raid. “I have no clue what they are going to do,” she said. 

She said she was speaking for the family because “I’m probably the most calm person you’re going to talk to. Everybody is worked up.” 

Things were calmer Thursday afternoon along the quiet, tree-lined street in northwest Michigan where Governor Whitmer’s family has a modest lakeside cottage. No vehicles were in the driveway and a few people walked along the road. 

“This is horrible,” said one woman, a retired teacher who lived on the lake, of the alleged plot. (Bridge Michigan is not identifying the woman or the lake to protect the governor's security.) “I was very upset when they came to the Capitol with guns," she said of armed protests over the governor's lockdown restrictions during the pandemic. "Now this.”

"All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics," Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said Thursday, "but the disagreements must never, ever amount to violence." 


Bridge correspondent Bob Campbell contributed to this report. 

A Confederate flag flutters in Munith yard of Joe Morrison and Pete Musico, where a woman who identified herself as a family spokesperson said law enforcements authorities conducted a raid after midnight Thursday morning tied to a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Bridge photo by Kelly House)

Whitmer Plot by AJ Jones on Scribd

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Comments

mw
Thu, 10/08/2020 - 1:36pm

Just read comments on social media regarding masks mandates or any other action from the governor and you can witness the hate that fuels this behavior firsthand.

M
Thu, 10/08/2020 - 1:47pm

Anybody want to ban guns at the capitol now? I'm sure the Republicans will be quick to defend them!

Mark Freeland
Thu, 10/08/2020 - 1:58pm

It is a sad day for all the good people of my state. Maybe the Republican Party here in Michigan can over rule the F.B.I., I know they like the militia groups. I will wait to hear the excuses from Republican Legislator's. Here is a prime example of misogynistic behavior in our society. What's next KK meetings and Lynching's ?

Cathy
Thu, 10/08/2020 - 2:13pm

Shirkey, these are the sorts you encourage and you in part own this.

MaryAnn S
Thu, 10/08/2020 - 2:19pm

What is wrong with you people??? She is a duly elected official and the vast majority of her constituents, Michigan voters, think she is doing a great job. This is how a republic works.

Leon Hulett
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 6:37pm

MaryAnn,

Hi.

I don't think she had been doing a good job. There was a '76 law that superseded the '45 law regarding Emergency Powers, that was passed during World War II. She used this older law to avoid the '76 law requirements that she had to work with the Legislature after 28 days. She declared a second Emergency on 1 May 2020, to avoid this '76 law. She has not been working with the Legislature. Over 500,000 fellow citizens collected over 500,000 signatures to allow the Legislature to act to remove the '45 law over the Governor's Veto. The same day these were submitted to the Secretary of State, The State Supreme Court also acted to rescind the '45 law. Our governor kept her powers in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling. Today the Supreme Court acted to strip her of all the Emergency powers she had ordered for herself without the consent of the people, in defiance of the Legislature, in also in defiance with the Supreme Court itself.

Yes, this is how our republic works, but it took from 1 May 2020 till today to strip a Dictator of the powers she alone, gave herself.

Leon

Linda
Thu, 10/08/2020 - 3:37pm

According to Trump, these militia guys "are very fine people." They're only carrying out his order to "liberate Michigan."

middle of the mit
Thu, 10/08/2020 - 9:04pm

addendum:

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/america-will-be-michig...

If you want a REAL breakdown of what is happening here? Go there! I haven't seen this kind of reporting in MI at all! ARE they correct? Push them! Cause I am going to push you!

The Michigan Supreme Court’s decision last week marks the apotheosis of this “totalitarian” line of thinking. Criticizing the Emergency Powers of Governor Act for giving Whitmer “concentrated and standardless power to regulate the lives of our people,” the Republican majority held that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the so-called nondelegation doctrine.

The doctrine ostensibly prohibits legislatures from passing laws that delegate too much power, or power of the wrong kind, to the executive branch. But the doctrine has never done meaningful work in U.S. constitutional law. It has not been used to strike down an act of Congress since 1935. It has never been used to strike down a Michigan state law, much less an emergency law that has been on the books for three-quarters of a century.
__________________________________

Is that what conservatives would call.......legislating from the bench? oOHHHH I know!!

It matters NOT! They have more judges on the bench. And that is all that matters. That IS apparently how American law works. Get those on the bench who agree with you....you have nothing to worry about. If America allows too many confederate judges...........yes! They ARE confederates..if you allow those people onto the judgeships in America.............WE will become the Confederate States of who knows what. The States and the Union will be bust!

Why? These people can't really think they can run a country. They are barely able to run a non sanctioned wannabe milita group.

The Confederates aren't even willing to admit there IS a pandemic!

Call them out for what they are!

Just a bunch of CONS! And NO! They are NOT CON artists! The arts are a liberal institution! What they are doing......is just a CON job!

George Hagenauer
Fri, 10/09/2020 - 9:08am

Those of us who live in Ypsilanti town or city are curious as to what happened here yesterday. At least one arrest warrant show that one or more of the Wolverine Watchmen was captured here but none of the conspirators have an Ypsilanti address. Instead we see references to the eastern part of the state etc. in the raid. It would be nice to understand what happened.

Erwin Haas
Fri, 10/09/2020 - 9:25am

Pst. I'll let you in on a little secret. The FBI is supposed to uncover antigovernment and terrorist plots so as to prevent them....
But mostly the FBI encourages, help, fund, a few mentally slow guys, fomenting some sort of weird activity like the one "uncovered" in these reports. When this is settled in the courts next year, I'd guess that the jury and judge pronounce "entrapment."

jesse atwell
Fri, 10/09/2020 - 5:10pm

I find it very hard to believe anything the FBI or the DoJ says these days. This smells like just another attempt by the higher ups in the FBI to sabotage election of Trump again. When does the FBI investigate BLM throwing Molotov Cocktails at police in the same manner as the militia in Michigan?