The Slatest

FBI Arrests Right-Wing Extremists for Plotting to Kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer, seen in a leather jacket, speaks at a podium bearing a Michigan seal.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention on Aug. 17. Handout/Getty Images

Six anti-government extremists have been arrested and accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, “storm” the state Capitol in Lansing, and overthrow the state government, according to a court affidavit. In recorded communications, the men discussed “murdering tyrants” and indicated they were motivated in part by what they see as the tyranny of the state’s coronavirus public health measures.

According to the FBI, the suspects had already twice scoped out Whitmer’s vacation home to prepare for their attack and had said they planned to grab her before the election and whisk her away to Wisconsin, where they would have her stand “trial” for treason. The FBI charged all six with federal charges of conspiring to commit kidnapping, and they face life in prison if convicted.

Two of the suspects, Adam Fox and Barry Croft, appear to have been the main instigators in the group. According to the affidavit, Fox met a local militia group’s leaders at a Second Amendment rally at the state Capitol in June. At that meeting, Fox told one of that militia’s leaders, a 24-year-old named Ty Garbin, that he was going to “attack the Capitol and asked them to combine forces,” according to the FBI. Garbin was one of the six men charged.

The three other men charged in the plot have been identified as Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta; five of the six are residents of Michigan. (Croft lives in Delaware.)

At a press conference Thursday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that the state had also charged seven other men who were “associates of or linked to” the militia group known as Wolverine Watchmen for supporting the terrorist plot. The FBI had already been monitoring the group, as police had learned that its members were planning to kill local police officers and attack the state Capitol to instigate a civil war.

“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’ve imagined anything like this,” Whitmer said Thursday afternoon. In her comments, she pointed to what she saw as inflammatory comments by President Donald Trump. “Just last week, the president of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups,” she said. “Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action. When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.”

Earlier in the day, Nessel made a similar comment. “I have watched and have seen and listened over the course of these many months, and when we hear the president say ‘liberate Michigan’ or ‘there are very fine people on both sides,’ these are not just subtle winks or dog whistles. These are messages to people who want to do harm,” she said at the press conference.

The federal investigation began earlier this year, when the FBI learned from social media that the men were discussing a violent uprising. The men had allegedly talked about kidnapping multiple people, including Whitmer, from the Capitol. Fox specifically complained about the state’s restrictions on gyms during the coronavirus pandemic, and said, “I don’t know, boys, we’ve got to do something.”

Discussions—some of which took place in a hidden basement room—evolved to include other possible ways of kidnapping Whitmer, and the six men now facing federal charges met over the summer to train with firearms and attempt to make explosive devices. Fox and Croft discussed an additional plot in which they would blow up a highway bridge to distract police during their kidnapping. Fox went as far as to examine a bridge during one of two trips that he and several others took to Whitmer’s vacation home to surveil it. At one point, the men successfully detonated an improvised explosive device, wrapped in shrapnel, as a test.

Their alleged plans were exposed by confidential sources and undercover agents in their midst. They were arrested Wednesday night when they gathered to sort out tactical gear and gather their money to buy explosive devices in preparation for their plot.

The seven additional men charged at the state level have been identified as Paul Bellar, 21; Shawn Fix, 38; Eric Molitor, 36; Michael Null, 38; William Null, 38; Pete Musico, 42; and Joseph Morrison, 42. Each was charged with providing material support for terrorist acts and carrying a firearm while committing a felony, and each faces 20 years in prison.