Six men were charged federally and seven in state court Thursday in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap, or kill, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI).
Here’s what we know so far, according to court documents and statements from law enforcement officials.
The Men Allegedly Plotted To Kidnap Whitmer Because Of Her ‘Tyrannical’ Administration.
According to an FBI agent’s affidavit filed in the case against the six men allegedly plotting Whitmer’s kidnapping, the men were motivated by what they viewed as her “tyrannical” administration. In a June Facebook video, the leader of the group, Adam Fox, allegedly ranted about the judicial system and the state of Michigan “controlling the opening of gyms,” in as FBI agent’s words. Fox called Whitmer “this tyrant bitch,” and added, “I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something.”
Later that month, he discussed a plan to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor. The plan was to “try” the governor for “treason,” per the affidavit. In July, Fox allegedly spoke about a “snatch and grab” of the governor, after which the group would take her to Wisconsin for a “trial.”
The alleged plot reflects the tumultuous and sometimes violent year Michigan has had. In April, the President tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and other states, which his supporters took as a call to defy public health orders meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. In May, armed protestors stormed the Capitol in a rowdy protest against the governor’s COVID-19 orders. Last week, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Whitmer had violated her emergency authority in her response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
13 men in total were charged, in state and federal court. Some were involved in a local militia.
Aside from the six men charged federally with the kidnapping plot, seven more face state terrorism charges in connection with the case. They belong to the armed militia group called “Wolverine Watchmen,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said at a press conference Thursday.
In the affidavit filed in federal court describing the kidnapping case, an FBI agent describes how Fox, fellow defendant Barry Croft and others attempted to recruit from a militia to bolster their numbers during a meeting in Ohio in June. The militia, the affidavit noted, was already on law enforcement’s radar due to its attempts to obtain local law enforcement officers’ addresses. One member of the militia had reached out to law enforcement, the affidavit noted, “concerned about the group’s plans to target and kill police officers.”
They allegedly surveilled her vacation home and came up with elaborate plans.
The plot to kidnap Whitmer included multiple preliminary trips to surveil her home, according to the affidavit: On Aug. 29, Fox and others allegedly drove by the home and “took photographs and slow-motion video from their vehicle as they drove by it.”
They also discussed surveilling it from the water — defendant Ty Garbin allegedly offered to paint his personal boat black for the job — and worked out how long the police response to an incident at the home would be. Kaleb Franks, another defendant, allegedly told the group a few days earlier that he’d spent $4,000 on a helmet and night vision goggles.
They surveilled the home again overnight on Sept. 12. During that trip, the defendants split up into two cars, one of them setting up across a lake from Whitmer’s home. There, they tested whether their car’s lights were visible from across the water.
Fox allegedly said that night, referring to the governor’s home, “It’s a perfect fuckin’ setup. Out of everywhere that she resides, this is the only one that’s probably actually feasible with a success rate.”
They contemplated using everything from explosives to tasers and guns.
On the night of the group’s second surveillance trip, according to the affidavit, Fox checked out the underside of a local bridge “for places to seat an explosive charge,” according to the affidavit. In a text message a couple weeks earlier, Ty Garbin had spelled out why that might be useful: Tying up the police. “If the ? go ?, it also ❌ the ?,” he wrote.
The affidavit included several instances of the group discussing different plans for the governor’s kidnapping. Some involved driving her out-of-state for a “trial,” others simply involved killing her on the spot.
“Kidnapping, arson, death, I don’t care,” defendant Kaleb Franks allegedly said after the second surveillance trip, before the affidavit described the group discussing destroying the governor’s vacation home.
The men allegedly tried using code words and other methods to hide their plotting, but they’d been infiltrated by the feds
As the affidavit makes clear, the defendants went to great pains in an attempt to keep their plans under wraps. They allegedly used encrypted messaging apps, for example, and used code words like “cupcakes” and “baker” to refer to explosives and an explosives manufacturer.
At an early meeting at the location of one of Fox’s businesses, they met in the shop’s basement, “which was accessed through a trap door hidden under a rug on the main floor.” Fox collected every attendee’s phone and put them in a box upstairs, an effort to make sure the meeting wasn’t recorded. But it was being recorded: By an informant, one of two left unnamed in the affidavit, who was wearing a wire. (In addition to those sources, the affidavit notes two undercover employees that provided additional information.)
The group was paranoid enough: At one point, worried about government infiltration, attendees to a planning meeting “were required to bring personal documents to confirm their identities,” the affidavit alleged. Later, still concerned, they switched their communication to another encrypted messaging app. That didn’t work either. The affidavit noted, “Because the group still included [the second confidential human source], the FBI has maintained the ability to consensually monitor the chat communications.