Six men have been charged in federal court with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her El Rapids vacation home, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday, and filed Tuesday, in federal court.
The FBI investigation, which involved multiple confidential sources and undercover FBI personnel, has been ongoing since the spring, and the militia’s activities included two surveillances of the governor’s northern Michigan vacation home this summer. Discussions were underway to kidnap Whitmer to a remote location in Wisconsin to stand “trial” for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election.
For months, the men plotted, consulted and trained, which involved firearms and the testing of explosives and tactical drills, with militia members while undertaking rehearsals in August and September, according to the complaint. Four of the six men planned to meet Wednesday to “make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear,” the FBI said in the court filing.
Court documents identify the defendants as Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta, all of Michigan, and Barry Croft of Delaware. Those same court documents reveal that FBI officials did not believe there to have been an imminent threat posed to Whitmer.
At a meeting in July, allegedly attended and recorded by one of the confidential sources, the men “discussed attacking a Michigan State Police facility, and in a separate conversation after the meeting, Garbin suggested shooting up the Governor’s vacation home,” authorities allege, according to court documents.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Thursday there has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies.
“These groups often seek to recruit new members by seizing on a moment of civil unrest and using it to advance their agenda of self-reliance and armed resistance,” she said. “This is more than just political disagreement or passionate advocacy, some of these groups’ mission is simply to create chaos and inflict harm upon others.”
According to court documents, Fox said he needed 200 men to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including Whitmer, and that he wanted to try Whitmer for “treason” and would execute the plan before the Nov. 3 election, according to FBI officials. Later, however, the group shifted to targeting the governor’s vacation home.
The FBI also 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.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmer has been praised but also deeply criticized for the state’s response to the coronavirus. She put major restrictions on personal movement throughout the state and on the economy, although many of those limits have been lifted. The criminal complaint did not mention those orders.
Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 invalidating Whitmer’s use of her emergency powers since April 30. MDHHS has since issued epidemic orders to reinstate major aspects of her previous executive orders aimed at protecting Michiganders from the spread of COVID-19.
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.”
On Wednesday, federal agents raided a property in Hartland. On Thursday, the Attorney General’s Office confirmed that as a result of that raid, seven men, known to be members of the militia group, Wolverine Watchmen or associates of Wolverine Watchmen, had been arrested and charged with 19 state felonies.
The suspects have been identified as Paul Bellar of Milford, Shawn Fix of Belleville, Eric Molitor of Cadillac, Michael Null of Plainwell, William Null of Shelbyville, and Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison, who live together in Munith.
According to the AG’s Office, the seven men are alleged to have called on the militia groups’ members to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them; made threats of violence to instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse; and engaged in the planning and training for an operation to attack the state Capitol building and kidnap government officials, including Whitmer.
The state felony charges are subject to change after a complete review of the evidence obtained through the warrants, and differ from those charges issued at the federal level.
Through the efforts of more than 200 state and federal law enforcement officials – including experts from outside of Michigan – officers executed a series of search warrants and arrest warrants in more than a dozen cities around the state, including, Belleville, Cadillac, Canton, Charlotte, Clarkston, Grand Rapids, Luther, Munith, Orion Township, Ovid, Portage, Shelby Township and Waterford.
Michigan State Police Col. Joe Gasper, director of The Michigan State Police, said Michigan law enforcement officers are united in their commitment to rooting out terrorism in any form.
“We will take swift action against anyone seeking to cause violence or harm in our state,” said Gasper. “Michigan residents can assist us in this mission by speaking up if you see suspicious activity or become aware of someone making threats. No tip is too small; don’t wait until it’s too late. Tips can be submitted confidentially 24/7 online at our website.”
Whitmer is expected to issue comments on this matter at 3 p.m. Look for updates to this story.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report