Thirteen men were charged on Thursday in a plot to allegedly kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the government, with plans to enlist members of a militia for help, according to a federal complaint reported by The Detroit News.
The affidavit names Michigan residents Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, and Delaware resident Barry Croft as the men who conspired to kidnap Whitmer. All six have been charged with federal crimes while seven others were charged with state crimes in what they called the "Wolverine Watchmen" militia group. According to the FBI, they have been aware of the group’s plans for some time after an informant became concerned about the group’s plans to “target and kill police officers” and came forward to federal authorities. The agency began monitoring the group’s communications in an online social media platform, and later sent the informant to a meeting attended by nearly a dozen people interested in the plans to overthrow the government.
"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 US Constitution," the complaint states. "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," according to the complaint.
The complaint further alleges that the group conducted surveillance on Whitmer’s vacation home twice, and wanted to kidnap her to a remote location in Wisconsin to stand “trial” for treason ahead of the upcoming presidential election. The group also attempted to build IEDs for use in their plan to “attack the Capitol” but the devices were faulty.
Whitmer has been on the receiving end of right-wing vitriol after pushing one of the most restrictive lockdown orders in the country early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. Such restrictions included limits to the number of essential workers allowed on shift at a time, and guidelines limiting certain businesses from conducting their usual sales, like gardening and home goods stores. For these reasons, the Michigan governor repeatedly attracted the ire of far right, anti-government protestors who were hellbent on reopening the state, despite it being one of the most infected in the country earlier this year.
Some people have pointed to President Donald Trump’s tweets at the time, encouraging his supporters to “liberate” states facing restrictive lockdown policies, while repeatedly directing his scorn at Whitmer. What's more, the militia group says they've been galvanized by Trump and the upcoming election, even citing the election in their plot against Gov. Whitmer.
Experts are increasingly concerned about the possibility of violence around the election, as President Trump continues to suggest without evidence that the Democratic party is trying to steal the election, or endorse the far-right white supremacist Proud Boys by cuing them to "stand by."
In an interview with CNBC, University College London professor Brian Klaas warned that Trump “is convincing his supporters, which is tens of millions of people, that if he loses, that it is because the election will be rigged, which is false.” Klaas continued, “I worry that if there is a close result, a contested result, that he will call on his supporters to take action.”
More details on the investigation are expected to come to light at a news conference later Thursday with remarks from Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan attorney general.