State of Michigan
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a recent press conference.
Months after President Donald Trump egged on right-wing protesters to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"
in a tweet, six men have been arrested and charged as part of an alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
According to an FBI affidavit revealed on Thursday, the men had allegedly planned to kidnap Whitmer ahead of the November election and hold her hostage in Wisconsin. The men went as far as surveilling Whitmer's vacation home on the west side of the state on two separate, coordinated occasions, and planned to use explosives to distract law enforcement, which they had began testing.
Attorney General Dana Nessel called the plot "serious and credible" in a press conference on Thursday. The men had been talking about the plan since at least the summer, Nessel said. Trump tweeted "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" in April. In May, Metro Times reported on Facebook groups that were calling for violence
against Whitmer, a violation of the company's policy. After being contacted by Metro Times
, Facebook removed at least one of the groups.
The men are Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta. All are from Michigan, except for Croft, who is from Delaware. Each could face up to life in prison if convicted.
"Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin' Governor," Fox said, according to a secret recording. "Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it's over."
Several of the men talked about overthrowing the government and creating a "self-sufficient" society, according to the complaint. Additional charges accuse seven members of the militia "Wolverine Watchmen" of working with the group, plotting to recruit 200 men to attack Michigan's Capitol Building, kidnap other government officials, attack law enforcement officers, and attempt to start a "civil war."
The men charged connected to Wolverine Watchmen are Paul Bellar of Milford, Shawn Fix of Belleville, Eric Molitor of Cadillac, Michael Null of Plainwell, William Null of Shelbyville, Pete Musico of Munith, and Joseph Morrison of Munith.
Nessel said the investigation started earlier this year after law enforcement became aware of the plot on social media. The would-be kidnappers used encrypted messaging platforms and code words to try to evade detection, but by using undercover agents and confidential sources, the FBI was able to thwart the plan.
Some of the code words included "cake" and "cupcakes" to refer to explosives, like, "Maybe we should just make a bunch of cupcakes and send them out."
The men even met in a secret basement
under the Grand Rapids vacuum shop where Fox was living, which was accessible from a hidden trapdoor under a rug. Though Fox took everyone's cellphones for security purposes, an undercover informant was wearing a wire.
The men were arrested when they met this week to pool money to buy weapons and explosives.
The investigation is ongoing.
"All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never amount to violence," Matthew Schneider, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District, said at the press conference
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, also denounced the would-be kidnappers.
"A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all," he wrote on Twitter
. "We condemn those who plotted against her and our government. They 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."
Previously, Shirkey called armed right-wing protesters who stormed the Capitol in April "jackasses."
However, Shirkey also contributed to the heated rhetoric around Whitmer's emergency powers, which she has used to manage the coronavirus pandemic. In April, Whitmer extended her emergency powers without Congressional authority.
"April 30, 2020: a day in our State’s legacy which will last in infamy.
Familiar and fear provoking words. But accurate and honest," he wrote on Facebook
, evoking the attack on Pearl Harbor. He also equated Whitmer to a tyrant. "Michigan now has earned the distinction of having a Governor, drunk on the addiction of unfettered power, declaring that she, and she alone, can and will continue to act unilaterally to lock down our society, our culture, and our economy," he added.
According to the FBI, Fox said Whitmer "has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now," and Croft said, "All good things must come to an end."
Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court struck down Whitmer's emergency executive orders
, declaring them unconstitutional.
Whitmer is expected to deliver a statement at 3 p.m.
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