DETROIT (NewsNation Now) — Agents foiled a plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, authorities said Thursday in announcing charges in an alleged scheme that involved months of planning and even rehearsals to snatch Whitmer from her vacation home.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel will speak live with NewsNation’s Aaron Nolan Friday at 10 a.m. CDT; stream the interview live right here.
Six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the governor in reaction to what they viewed as her “uncontrolled power,” according to a federal complaint. Separately, seven others were charged under the state’s anti-terrorism laws for allegedly targeting police and the state Capitol.
“When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard, but I’ll be honest: I never could have imagined something like this,” Whitmer said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
The six men charged in federal court plotted for months, consulting and training with members of a group that federal authorities described as a militia, and undertaking rehearsals in August and September, according to an FBI affidavit. They were arrested Wednesday night and face up to life in prison if convicted.
The suspects in the federal case were identified as Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta, NewsNation affiliate WOOD-TV reports.
Four planned to meet Wednesday to “make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear,” the FBI said in the court filing.
According to the federal complaint, the group was angry about Whitmer’s mandates issued in response to the coronavirus that shut down businesses.
The FBI quoted one of the accused as saying Whitmer “has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now. All good things must come to an end.”
The Michigan Supreme Court last week ruled that a 1945 law used as the foundation for many of Whitmer’s orders was unconstitutional. The decision was 4-3, with justices who were nominated by Republicans in the majority.
Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney in western Michigan, called the accused “violent extremists.”
Through electronic communications, two of the alleged conspirators “agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution,” the FBI said.
Fox said he needed 200 men to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor, according to the FBI. He said he wanted to try Whitmer for “treason” and would execute the plan before the Nov. 3 election, the government said. The group later shifted to targeting the governor’s vacation home, the FBI said.
According to the federal complaint, Fox even inspected the underside of an M-31 highway bridge for places to lodge an explosive, purchased a taser for use in the kidnapping, and that the group succesfully detonated an improvised explosive device wrapped in shrapnel.
The government said the scheme appeared to have roots in a June gathering in Dublin, Ohio, attended by more than a dozen people from several states, including Croft and Fox.
“The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” the FBI affidavit said. “They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. … Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor.”
The state attorney general announced additional charges under Michigan’s anti-terrorism law. On Friday, they were arraigned. Seven men, all in custody, are linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen:
- Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford: Providing material support for terrorist acts, gang membership, and felony firearm. He was arrested in Columbia, South Carolina Wednesday and the Attorney General’s office is working to extradite him to Michigan for arraignment on charges in Jackson County.
- Sean Fix, 38, of Belleville: Providing material support for terrorist acts and felony firearm. He was arraigned in Antrim County Thursday.
- Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac: Providing material support for a terrorist act and felony firearms. He was arraigned in Antrim County Thursday morning.
- Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell: Providing material support for a terrorist act and felony firearms. He was arraigned in Antrim County Thursday morning.
- William Null, 38, of Shelbyville: Providing material support for a terrorist act and felony firearms. He was arraigned in Antrim County Thursday morning.
- Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 26, who live together in Munith, northeast of Jackson: threat of terrorism, gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts, felony firearm. They were arraigned Thursday afternoon in Jackson County.
Providing material support for a terrorist act, gang membership and threat of terrorism are all 20-year felonies. A felony firearm conviction carries a two-year sentence.
The seven men are suspected of attempting to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to “target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war.” They also planned and trained for an operation to attack the Michigan Capitol building and to kidnap government officials, including the governor, Attorney General Dana Nessel said.
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WOOD-TV contributed to this report.