13 people charged in plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Whitmer

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Agents foiled a stunning plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, authorities said Thursday in announcing charges in an alleged scheme that involved months of planning and even rehearsals to snatch her from her vacation home.

Six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the governor in reaction to what they viewed as her “uncontrolled power,” according to a federal complaint. Separately, seven others were charged in state court under Michigan’s anti-terrorism laws for allegedly targeting police and seeking a “civil war.”

“All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever amount to violence. Violence has been prevented today,” Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider told reporters.

The six men charged in federal court plotted for months, consulting and training with members of a group that federal authorities described as a militia, and undertaking rehearsals in August and September, according to an FBI affidavit. They were arrested Wednesday night and face up to life in prison if convicted.

Four had planned Wednesday to meet to “make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear,” the FBI said in the court filing.

The FBI 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.”

Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney in western Michigan, called them “violent extremists.”

Whitmer, who was considered as Joe Biden’s running mate, has been praised but also deeply criticized by the Republican-controlled Legislature and conservatives areas of the state for Michigan’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 governor has exchanged barbs with President Donald Trump on social media, with the president declaring in April, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

He has referred to Whitmer as the “woman in Michigan.” There’s no indication in the criminal complaint that the men were inspired by Trump. Authorities also have not publicly said whether the men were angry about Whitmer’s coronavirus orders.

13 PHOTOSGretchen WhitmerSee GalleryGretchen WhitmerFILE- In an Oct. 12, 2014 file photo, Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, foreground, addresses the media following a town hall meeting in Detroit. The former Democratic legislative leader filed paperwork Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, to run for Michigan governor in 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez, File)GRAND RAPIDS, MI – MARCH 9:Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer looks on at an event at Cherry Health in Grand Rapids, MI on March 9, 2020. (Photo by Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images)Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the General Motors Detroit- Hamtramck assembly plant on January 27, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. – GM announced a $2.2 billion USD investment at its Detroit- Hamtramck assembly plant to produce a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs. GM’s first all-electric truck will be a pickup with production scheduled to begin in late 2021. Detroit-Hamtramck will be GM’s first fully-dedicated electric vehicle assembly plant. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks with Mark Reuss, General Motors president at their Detroit- Hamtramck assembly plant on January 27, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. – GM announced a $2.2 billion USD investment at its Detroit- Hamtramck assembly plant to produce a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs. GM’s first all-electric truck will be a pickup with production scheduled to begin in late 2021. Detroit-Hamtramck will be GM’s first fully-dedicated electric vehicle assembly plant. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)HAMTRAMCK, MI – JANUARY 27: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at an event where General Motors announce that GMs Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant will build the all-electric Cruise Origin self-driving shuttle on January 27, 2020 in Hamtramck, Michigan. GM will invest $2.2 billion at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant and 2200 jobs for an all-electric future for electric pickups, SUVs, and autonomous vehicles. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)LAKE ORION, MI – MARCH 22: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at an event where General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra announced a $300 million investment in the GM Orion Assembly Plant plant for electric and self-driving vehicles at the Orion Assembly Plant on March 22, 2019 in Lake Orion, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)DETROIT, MI – NOVEMBER 06:Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a Democratic election-night party on November 6, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)DETROIT, MI – OCTOBER 26: Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer walks onto the stage to speak at a Democratic rally attended by former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder at Detroit Cass Tech High School on October 26, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Obama, and Holder are among approximately a dozen democrats who were targeted by mail bombs over the past severaldays. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)DETROIT, MI – AUGUST 8: Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Democratic gubernatorial nominee, speaks with people after a Democrat Unity Rally at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel August 8, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Whitmer will face off against Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette in November. 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(Photo by Ali Lapetina for The Washington Post via Getty Images)FILE–In this March 18, 2019, file photo, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer listens to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in Clawson, Mich. Democratic governors in Midwestern states are reacting cautiously to impeachment proceedings beginning in Congress against Republican President Donald Trump. While some Democratic House members in the upper Midwest states were outspoken in calling for Trump’s impeachment, governors in the states _ several of which Trump narrowly won in 2016 _ were more cautious.(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)Up Next

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The Michigan Supreme Court last week ruled that a 1945 law used as the foundation for many of Whitmer’s orders was unconstitutional. The decision was 4-3, with justices who were nominated by Republicans in the majority.

The government said the plot against Whitmer was stopped with the work of undercover agents and informants.

Whitmer thanked law enforcement for thwarting the alleged conspirators and said she hopes that convictions will bring “these sick and depraved men to justice.”

“Hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in the great state of Michigan,” Whitmer said.

Through electronic communications, two of the alleged conspirators “agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution,” the FBI said.

The criminal complaint identified the six as Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, all of Michigan, and Barry Croft of Delaware. All but Croft appeared in federal court in Grand Rapids. They asked for court-appointed lawyers and were returned to jail to await detention hearings Tuesday.

Fox said he needed 200 men to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor, according to the FBI. He said he wanted to try Whitmer for “treason” and would execute the plan before the Nov. 3 election, the government said. The group later shifted to targeting the governor’s vacation home, the FBI said.

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.”

In a separate but related action, state authorities announced terrorism-related charges against seven men who were said to belong to or were associated with Wolverine Watchmen, which the government described as a militia group.

The seven men are accused of identifying the homes of law enforcement officers and making violent threats “intended to instigate a civil war,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

They trained for an operation to attack the Michigan Capitol and to kidnap officials, including the governor, Nessel said.

___ White reported from Detroit.

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