Birge said law enforcement arrested several of the alleged conspirators “when they were meeting on the east side of the state to pool funds for explosives and exchange tactical gear.”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a news conference after thirteen people, including seven men associated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group, were arrested for alleged plots to take Whitmer hostage and attack the state capitol building, in Lansing, Michigan, U.S., October 8, 20
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Thirteen people, including seven men associated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group, have been arrested in a sweeping takedown of plots to kidnap the Michigan governor, attack the state capitol building and incite violence.
The group aimed to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has traded barbs with Republican President Donald Trump over her response to the coronavirus pandemic, ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election, according to a criminal complaint.
At a news conference, Whitmer accused Trump of encouraging extremist groups like the “sick and depraved men” that targeted her, citing his failure to condemn white supremacists at the recent U.S. presidential debate against Joe Biden as an example.
“When our leaders meet with, encourage and fraternize with domestic terrorists they legitimize their actions, and they are complicit,” Whitmer said.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany pushed back, saying Trump has condemned all forms of hate.
“Governor Whitmer is sowing division by making these outlandish allegations,” McEnany said in a statement.
Internal U.S. security memos in recent months have warned that violent domestic extremists could pose a threat to election-related targets, a concern exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, political tensions, civil unrest and foreign disinformation campaigns.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in September that his agency was conducting investigations into domestic extremists, including white supremacists and anti-fascist groups.
The FBI became aware through social media in early 2020 that a group of people were discussing the “violent overthrow” of multiple state governments and used confidential sources to track their movements, according to the complaint.
The six people facing federal kidnapping charges — Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
“Fox and Croft in particular… discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the area of the home and Fox even inspected the underside of a Michigan highway bridge for places to seat an explosive,” Andrew Birge, U.S. attorney for the western district of Michigan, told a briefing.
ACTION TIMED BEFORE ELECTION
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel disclosed additional state charges against seven men affiliated with the Wolverine Watchmen for allegedly violating the state’s anti-terrorism act by conspiring to kidnap the governor and propagate violence.
The Wolverine Watchmen has used Facebook since November 2019 to recruit members, and trained with firearms to prepare for the “boogaloo,” a reference to an uprising against the government or impending civil war, according to affidavits in support of the state charges.
Nessel said the group sought to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers to threaten them with violence. She said a total of 19 felony charges were filed against seven individuals — Paul Bellar, Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Michael Null, William Null, Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison — including counts for providing support for terrorist acts.
According to the FBI’s criminal complaint, Fox indicated that he wanted to kidnap Whitmer before the national election on Nov. 3 and he would try the governor for “treason.”
Michigan is a key swing state in the 2020 presidential race, and Trump and his supporters demanded the governor relax social-distancing rules. Militia members were among those that took to the streets in April to protest the various rules.
Trump encouraged the demonstrators, tweeting in April, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.”
Musico and Michael and William Null were among the hundreds of protesters who entered the Capitol building on April 30 as state lawmakers debated Whitmer’s request to extend her emergency powers to battle the coronavirus, according to Reuters photos from the day, which show all three men armed.
In one June video livestreamed to a private Facebook group, Fox called Whitmer a “tyrant bitch” as he complained about restrictions against gym openings.
“I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something. You guys link with me on our other location system, give me some ideas of what we can do,” Fox said on the video, according to the complaint.
Facebook said it first alerted law enforcement about content related to the Wolverine Watchmen more than six months ago and removed the group from its platform in June, after identifying some of the people running it as members of a boogaloo network, followers of which have been linked to several violent incidents during the recent wave of protests across the United States.
Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League, said militia movements generally support Trump and therefore have shifted their “anti-government anger” away from the federal government, where it has been traditionally aimed, and toward state leaders.
“In that sense, it’s not necessarily surprising that a militia cell might decide to target a high-profile Democratic governor,” he said.