Star witness: Whitmer kidnap plotters wanted ‘boogaloo’ war to stop Biden
Militia activists who plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hoped to start a second civil war before the 2020 presidential election and keep Joe Biden out of office, a former colleague testified Wednesday in federal court.
Ty Garbin of Hartland — currently serving a 75-month sentence after pleading guilty to a kidnapping conspiracy charge in January 2021 — testified against remaining defendants Wednesday in the blockbuster federal trial that experts say is a test of the government’s ability to crack down on growing domestic extremism.
Plotters anticipated that kidnapping Whitmer would “kick off” the “boogaloo,” Garbin said, referencing a far-right movement whose adherents believe that the United States is poised for a new civil war that will lead to societal chaos.
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“The goal was to complete it before the presidential election,” Garbin said of the kidnapping plans in testimony before jurors who will decide the fate of four defendants on trial for the alleged plot. “We wanted to cause as much disruption as possible to prevent Joe Biden from getting into office.”
Plotters also worried that kidnapping Whitmer could be “more difficult” after the election if she joined Biden’s cabinet, Garbin said, alluding to 2020 reports that Biden considered the first-term Democratic governor to be his running mate, a position that ultimately went to Kamala Harris.
The men discussed “whether (Whitmer’s) security detail would increase from being state police troopers and state law enforcement to being federal secret service,” Garbin said, teling prosecutors the plan included blowing up a bridge near the governor’s northern Michigan vacation home to slow any police response.
The testimony from Garbin, a 26-year-old airplane mechanic, was among the most dramatic and overtly political to date at the ongoing trial of Adam Fox, 38, of Wyoming, Daniel Harris, 24, of Lake Orion, Brandon Caserta, 33, of Canton Township, and Barry Croft, 46, from the state of Delaware.
Kaleb Franks of Waterford Township also reached a plea with federal prosecutors and is expected to testify against defendants, who face the possibility of life in prison if convicted on kidnapping and weapons conspiracy charges.
Defense attorneys contend FBI informants and undercover agents entrapped the militia activists, whose frustration with Whitmer’s pandemic-era health and safety orders produced little more than “crazy talk” until they were egged on by the government that is now prosecuting them.
In cross examination Wednesday, defense attorney Julia Kelly sought to undermine Garbin’s credibility by pointing out inconsistencies between his courtroom testimony and his initial statements to the FBI on Oct. 7, 2020, the day he and other defendants were arrested in a sting operation.
Showing him a transcript of his initial FBI interview, Kelly reminded Garbin that he had initially downplayed the alleged plot, saying he was "turned off" by talk of a potential kidnapping and had stayed with the militia group "just to drink and hang out."
Garbin "lied to a federal agent,” said Kelly, who represents Harris.
Garbin repeatedly told Kelly he did not recall details of that FBI interview.
In testimony earlier Wednesday, Garbin told prosecutors that he and colleagues planned and trained to execute the plot, surveilling the Whitmer family’s vacation property and constructing a “shoot house” to simulate the extraction.
Garbin also testified all four defendants participated in key meetings. And he identified them in audio and video recordings obtained by FBI informants and undercover agents.
Fox, the accused ring leader, was saving money to purchase explosives and had discussed kidnapping Whitmer from her vacation home in a summer 2020 meeting where other defendants were “nodding their heads in agreement,” Garbin testified.
Croft — a self-described leader of the Three Percenters militia movement who the FBI says helped craft improvised explosive devices — “proposed committing a series of robberies to generate funding for firearms or whatever else we needed,” Garbin said.
Harris, he testified, did not join colleagues on a September 2020 surveillance mission at Whitmer’s vacation home because he had consumed too much alcohol that night.
But Harris appeared to be a willing participant who told colleagues he knew a bomb maker and warned them that at “some point we’re going to reach the point of no return, meaning that … we weren’t going to be able to return to our families or lead a normal life,” Garbin testified.
Another defendant, Caserta, also missed the nighttime surveillance mission because of “excessive drinking,” Garbin said, but fellow plotters gave him a “rundown” the next morning, and he was “nodding in agreement.”
Prosecutors played a recording of Caserta telling colleagues it was his “personal choice” to be involved in planning meetings and training exercises. And, on the day he was arrested in October of 2020, Caserta threatened violence against police after receiving a traffic ticket.
“If this s*** goes down, if this whole thing starts to happen, I'm taking out as many of those motherf***ers as I can,” Caserta said in a video played for jurors, which Garbin testified was an apparent reference to the “Boogaloo” war that the plotters believed their kidnapping would trigger.
“If we're doing a recon and we come up on them, you better not give them a chance,” Caserta continued in the recording. “You tell them to go, or they die. They are the f***ing enemy, period.”
Those recordings are among more than 100 pieces of audio and video evidence that prosecutors expect to use in the ongoing trial, which began March 9 and is expected to continue into April.
Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Michigan have already shown jurors weapons used by the defendants, along with dozens of chat logs from encrypted services the defendants used to communicate.
Defense attorneys are expected to continue questioning Garbin on Thursday.
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