Ongoing updates: Plot to kidnap Whitmer | Who's charged, what's next?
LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday she hopes the "sick and depraved men" accused of plotting to kidnap her will be convicted and brought to justice.
In her first public comments since the foiled plot was exposed, Whitmer praised law enforcement and warned that "if you break the law or conspire to commit heinous acts of violence against anyone" in Michigan, we will find you, we will hold you accountable, and we will bring you to justice."
The first-term Democrat also excoriated Republican President Donald Trump, accusing him of "fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.”
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Later Thursday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said "President Trump has continually condemned white supremacists and all forms of hate.
"Governor Whitmer is sowing division by making these outlandish allegations. America stands united against hate and in support of our federal officials who stopped this plot."
Later that night, Trump took to Twitter to say Whitmer has done a "terrible job" and claim he doesn't "tolerate ANY extreme violence."
Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job. She locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities. The Federal Government provided tremendous help to the Great People of Michigan. My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement announced...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2020
Court records show the conspiracy developed over the course of a tense summer marked by protests against Whitmer and her COVID-19 orders that the president had egged on.
"Liberate Michigan!" Trump tweeted on April 17 as activists rallied outside the Michigan Capitol in protest of Whitmer, who is a national campaign co-chair for Democrat Joe Biden's presidential campaign.
In a separate rally on June 18, two of the men accused of conspiring against Whitmer first discussed plans to join forces for an attack on the Capitol, a partnership that later evolved to focus on kidnapping, according to an FBI affidavit.
Michigan Republicans were quick to denounce the plot against Whitmer, which produced federal charges against six men punishable by up to life in prison. Attorney General Dana Nessel also charged seven members of the "Wolverine Watchmen" militia group with various and related crimes under state anti-terrorism laws.
“Violence has no place in politics. Ever," House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, wrote on Twitter. "It’s never a solution to disagreements. The people who targeted [Whitmer] and police officers are un-American. Justice should be swift and severe. It’s time to send a message that violence will not be tolerated."
Federal prosecutors say militia members were part of the Whitmer kidnapping plot, which included surveillance of the governor's northern Michigan vacation home, weapons training and construction of an explosive device.
A FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday does not identify Whitmer's COVID-19 orders as a possible motive for the plot, but one of the alleged conspirators was secretly recorded complaining about Whitmer's "uncontrolled power right now" and calling her a "tyrant."
In her afternoon news conference, Whitmer defended her response to the pandemic, arguing it has saved lives, and called for national cooperation.
"I've said it many times: We are not one another's enemy; this virus is our enemy," Whitmer said. "This should be a moment for national unity, where we all pull together as Americans to meet this challenge head on."
Trump has done the opposite, argued Whitmer, who is national co-chair of the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
In a debate last week, the president "refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups" involved in the kidnapping plot, she said.
"Hate groups heard the president's words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action," Whitmer continued. "When our leaders speak, the words matter."
Biden, asked about the kidnapping plot against Whitmer while campaigning in Arizona, offered a similar assessment.
"These militias are a genuine threat," Biden said. "I've got to compliment the FBI and the police agencies for what they did. They stepped up, but look, the words of a president matter... They can also breathe oxygen into those who are filled with hate and anger. I just think it's got to stop. The president has to realize it."
Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox, in a statement, praised law enforcement agents who thwarted the plot against Whitmer and said she was grateful no one was hurt.
"We live in a nation where we settle our political disagreements at the ballot box, not through violence, and any attempt to do otherwise is an attack on our Constitution, our values, and our American way of life," Cox said.
Bridge reporters Mansur Shaheen and Kathryn Dugal contributed to this report.