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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Witness says alleged kidnapping plotters wanted to stop Biden from taking office

weapon in kidnapping evidence from U.S. Attorney's Office
Photo of a weapon submitted as evidence in the federal trial over the alleged conspiracy to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
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U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan

They wanted to stop Joe Biden from getting into office.

In the 18 months since the FBI arrested a group of men for allegedly plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, there have been a number of explanations for why they wanted to carry out the kidnapping: They wanted to push back on pandemic orders, they wanted to send a message, they wanted to incite a second American Civil War.

On Wednesday, a key witness in the federal trial added another explanation for why the men allegedly wanted to carry out their plot: They wanted to do anything possible to prevent Joe Biden from taking office.

“The goal was to complete it before the presidential election,” said Ty Garbin, a 26-year-old who was initially charged in the alleged plot, but who pleaded guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Prosecutors called Garbin to the stand to offer an inside view of the alleged plot to jurors on Wednesday. Over the course of his testimony, Garbin pushed back on the ideas pushed by defense attorneys, who are arguing that the four men on trial didn’t really know about, or agree to, a plan to kidnap the governor. Instead, they were entrapped by undercover FBI agents and informants, defense attorneys argue. “Did anybody make you join this conspiracy?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler asked Garbin on the stand Wednesday

“No,” Garbin said.

Kessler asked Garbin about a meeting in September of 2020, in which the alleged plotters trained with their weapons on Garbin’s property in Luther, Mich. It was at that gathering that some of the men decided to go on a nighttime outing to try to spot the governor’s cottage in Elk Rapids.

Garbin testified the men planned to take Whitmer from her home there.

The next morning, on September 13, a group of them met for a “circle of trust” meeting to make sure everyone was on board with the plan.

“Whatever we do in the future, this is my personal choice to be involved in here,” said one of the defendants, Brandon Caserta, on a recording made by an undercover informant who was in the meeting. “I, uh, accept responsibility for anything that happens to me.”

Adam Fox, another defendant, who Garbin identified as a leader of the group, also said the men would need to be “opportunistic,” in their planning, and be ready to go whenever they learned the governor would be at the Elk Rapids cottage.

Garbin said that meant they “couldn’t set a specific date” for executing the kidnapping plan. But, he said, Adam Fox wanted to make sure the plan was executed before November 3, 2020 - the date of the presidential election.

“6 week til election,” Adam Fox texted in an encrypted group chat, as the date approached.

Garbin said the reason the election was significant was, they believed Joe Biden was likely to win. If Biden took office, they believed he could appoint Whitmer to his cabinet, and beef up her security. The goal, Garbin testified, would be to prevent Biden from assuming office, if he won.

Garbin described his own political views as Libertarian, and pro-Second Amendment. In a video shared online before the trial, defendant Brandon Caserta railed against Donald Trump, Biden’s opponent in the election. In the video, Caserta called Trump a “tyrant.”

The men believed at the time that civil unrest would break out after the election, and talked about making a plan “in case sh– goes south.”

They were expecting, and preparing, for society itself to collapse. And their plan, Garbin said, would help make it happen.

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