(The Center Square) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michigan State Police, and other law enforcement officials say they foiled a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
A months-long investigation led to arrests and charges of several people from across Michigan this week. Thirteen individuals are accused of a litany of separate state and federal charges.
Nessel filed 19 state felony charges against seven individuals known to be members or associated of the militia group, Wolverine Watchmen.
- Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford:
- Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville
- Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac:
- Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell:
- William Null, 38, of Shelbyville
- Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 42, who live together in Munith:
“Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” the affidavit obtained by the Detroit News said. “The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.”
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge charged six individuals with separate, federal felony charges: Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
Earlier this year, the FBI learned through social media that individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of several state governments and law enforcement.
The FBI has paid one undercover informant $8,600 for expenses so far, and $14,800 to another.
Croft and Fox agreed to “take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution.”
“There has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,” Nessel said in a statement.
“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. 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.”
The now-arrested suspects allegedly called on members to target home addresses of law enforcement officers; as well as threatened violence and attempted to instigate a civil war; planned and trained to attack the state Capitol building; and kidnap the governor.
“Michigan law enforcement officers are united in our commitment to rooting out terrorism in any form and we will take swift action against anyone seeking to cause violence or harm in our state,” Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police said in a statement.
“The nature of this case is rather unprecedented, but it does send a very vivid reminder that while we may be in a period of discourse, possibly even divisiveness and fighting across the nation, law enforcement stands united.”
At one point, Fox said he needed “‘200 men to storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages, including the Governor,” the affidavit said. “Fox explained they would try the Governor of Michigan for ‘treason,’” and said they would execute this plan before the Nov. 2020 election – in 27 days.
The charges came after Facebook removed several anti-Whitmer Facebook groups in May after alleged threats against state officials.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey condemned the violent acts in a Thursday statement.
“A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all. We condemn the actions of the group of individuals that plotted against Governor Whitmer and state government,” Shirkey said. “These people 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.”
“Citizens who care about government show their passion by voting. Only terrorists resort to violence.”
Joseph G. Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, also issued a statement.
“The personal safety and security of Gov. Whitmer and her family is paramount,” Lehman wrote. “We condemn any effort to threaten or harm anyone, regardless of their background, stature, or politics.
“While the governor and the Mackinac Center have both agreed and disagreed from time to time, we believe it is the duty of all Michiganders – and all Americans – to respect our officeholders and our peaceful political process. This is an essential, fundamental value of our free society.”