This post was updated Friday, October 9 at 8:45 a.m.
A gang of militia members violently opposed to Governor Gretchen Whitmer was putting in motion a plot to kidnap her, according to an unsealed criminal complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
An affidavit was filed Wednesday, hours after federal agents raided a Hartland Township home in relation to the scheme. Six individuals have reportedly been charged for conspiring to kidnap the governor: Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta.
During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Whitmer blamed President Donald Trump’s rhetoric in part for inspiring the men to act.
“Our head of state has spent the past seven months denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.”
The president tweeted a message in April calling for the liberation of the state:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
“When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit," Whitmer said. "When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.”
Late Thursday, Trump responded, saying, “You know I see Whitmer today she’s complaining but it was our Justice Department that arrested the people that she was complaining about. It was my Justice Department that arrested them.”
In her press conference, Whitmer also thanked members of law enforcement who charged and brought in the 13 men who were allegedly involved in a plan to kidnap her, and added that those who conspire to commit heinous acts of violence against anyone will be held accountable and brought to justice.
Details of the conspiracy
The complaint states that the investigation began in early 2020:
In early 2020, the FBI became aware through social media that a group of individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components. Among those individuals identified were CROFT and FOX. Through electronic communications, CROFT and FOX agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution.
This allowed the FBI to use undercover employees and confidential informants to monitor the men now charged.
As Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark explains, the men had an elaborate plan to kidnap the governor.
“They had meetings, in fact multiple meetings, over the summer. They met and they trained this year. They even conducted surveillance on the governor’s vacation home, that happened also over the summer. They had a taser in their possession. That was supposed to be part of the kidnapping. And also it appears they had some type of bomb," explains Clark.
"The group then wanted to take the governor to a place in Wisconsin, where somehow they were going to have her stand trial. And they wanted to do all of this before Election Day.”
According to the affidavit, the men surveilled Governor Gretchen Whitmer's vacation home during the day at the end of August and attempted to plan how long it would take law enforcement to reach the residence if they took the governor. In a subsequent chat, one of the conspirators discussed blowing up a nearby bridge to make police response tougher. In mid-September, the men surveilled the home again over two days. More individuals were involved in this surveillance and multiple cars, including at least one with a dashcam, were used.
The affidavit reveals Whitmer's actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic were a motivating factor for the men allegedly seeking the kidnap the governor and try her for "treason."
"She f***ing goddamn loves the power she has right now," the document quotes one of the men as saying. "She has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now," the man continued.
A number of anti-Whitmer protests have taken place since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in response to the governor's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" plan. The men charged in this case allegedly attended a June 18 rally at the Capitol, where they made an effort to recruit more members for the operation.
Attorney General Dana Nessel joined federal prosecutors to discuss the alleged conspiracy during a 1 p.m. press conference Thursday.
Legal next steps and additional charges
The federal charges will be prosecuted in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The Michigan Department of Attorney General will be pursuing state charges.
"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 leaders," said Andrew Birge, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan.
Nessel also revealed during the press conference that her office has charged and arrested seven other individuals linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchman. The charges are persuant to the Michigan Anti-Terrorism Act.
"The individuals in custody attempted to identify home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war, and engaged in planning and training for an operation to attack the Capitol building of Michigan, and to kidnap government officials, including the governor."
The seven individuals are Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford; Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville; Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac; Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell; William Null, 38, of Shelbyville; Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 26, who live together in Munith.
The affidvait noted that Musico and Morrison hosted "multiple tactical training sessions" with other members of the Wolverine Watchmen at their Munith property in Jackson County.
During these trainings, specific training was provided for members to learn and practice tactical maneuvers. The group has drawn upon their members’ individual skills for trainings including tactical skills, medical knowledge, communications knowledge, and weapons expertise.
Officials speak out
Speaking on behalf of President Trump from the 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 law enforcement who stopped this plot."
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) put out a comment condemning the conspiracy:
“A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all. We condemn the actions of the group of individuals that plotted against Governor Whitmer and state government. These people are not patriots. There is no honor in their actions. They are criminals and traitors, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Citizens who care about government show their passion by voting. Only terrorists resort to violence.
We extend our gratitude to the men and women in law enforcement for their work to thwart this plan and reach a safe conclusion. The Governor and her family are in our thoughts in prayers.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI 8) released the following statement:
"I am deeply disturbed to hear of the plot, conducted in part in my own district, to kidnap our Governor and commit violence against law enforcement. I’m so thankful to federal, state and local law enforcement for taking the threat seriously and getting to the perpetrators before they could act. If true, they are cowards and criminals and should be treated accordingly. Make no mistake: This is about as far from their proclaimed patriotism as one can get. This is terrorism.
I believe there is still a right and wrong. This plot is wrong. And it’s incumbent on all of us to stand up to oppose this behavior, and these growing threats."
State Speaker Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), who has openly supported the protests against the governor, tweeted criticizing the alleged conspirators, calling the "un-American."
Violence has no place in politics. Ever. It’s never a solution to disagreements. The people who targeted @GovWhitmer 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.
— Lee Chatfield (@LeeChatfield) October 8, 2020
State Sen. Lana Theis (R-Dexter) said in a statement, “There is absolutely no place for violence in American politics, even when we hold different political beliefs. A threat against the governor, or any elected official, is a threat against us all, and I strongly condemn the actions of the group of individuals who plotted against Gov. Whitmer and our state government."
This is a developing story.