13 men charged in alleged plot to kidnap Michigan governor
6 men face federal charges, another 7 charged under Michigan state laws
U.S. agents foiled a stunning plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — in reaction to what the suspects viewed as her "uncontrolled power" — authorities said Thursday, announcing charges in an alleged scheme that involved months of planning and even rehearsals to snatch the Democratic politician at her vacation home.
Six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the governor, according to a federal complaint. Separately, seven others were charged under the state's anti-terrorism laws for allegedly targeting police and the state capitol.
"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 federally plotted for months, consulting and training with militia members, and undertaking rehearsals in August and September, according to the complaint. Four of the six men being charged federally planned to meet Wednesday 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."
The six men charged federally each face up to life in prison. U.S. attorney Andrew Birge called them "violent extremists."
The government used informants and undercover agents to thwart the alleged plot.
WATCH | Michigan officials provide details about the plot and charges:
When asked in an MSNBC interview if the plans were imminent, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said: "We were obviously concerned that these activities could take place at any time. My perspective is this: I would rather have the weakest conspiracy case than the strongest homicide case … but we think we have substantial evidence in this case."
Whitmer thanked law enforcement for thwarting the alleged conspirators and said she's satisfied that "sick and depraved men" will face justice.
"Hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in the great state of Michigan," she said.
WATCH | Whitmer blames Trump for stoking division in her state:
The criminal complaint said the plan involved Whitmer and her second home in northern Michigan.
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, who are all from Michigan, and Barry Croft of Delaware.
Accused of 'treason'
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.
Later, however, the group 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 endeavours to violent actions.... Several members talked about murdering `tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor."
While those six suspects faced federal charges, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that seven other men were facing state charges at Thursday's news conference.
The seven men, all in custody, are linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen. Many of the men have been charged with providing material support for terrorist acts, which is a 20-year felony.
They are suspected of attempting to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to "target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war." They also planned and trained for an operation to attack the Michigan Capitol building and to kidnap government officials, including the governor, Nessel said.
The presence of militia groups in Michigan first came to national prominence after Terry Nichols, a resident of the state, aided Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. Nichols is serving a life sentence for his actions connected to the domestic terrorism bombing, which killed 168 people.
In 2010, a Michigan militia called Hutaree were accused of plotting to kill law enforcement officers, but as the case progressed over the years, just two of nine accused would be convicted, of various weapons offences.
Contentious lockdown orders
Democrats nationally praised Whitmer's actions to combat the pandemic, and it was reported that she met with Democratic candidate Joe Biden as he narrowed down his choice of a vice-presidential running mate.
But President Donald Trump singled out the governor on more than one occasion during news conferences and on social media.
Trump tweeted in May that Whitmer was "way in over her head," a month after tweeting "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"
"What does that mean, exactly?" said Nessel to MSNBC, accusing the president of "trafficking in extremism."
The state saw demonstrations against the coronavirus lockdown orders in the spring, with many of the protesters armed.
WATCH l Armed demonstration at Michigan's Capitol in April:
As well, a Detroit man was arrested in April after allegedly making online threats involving violence against Whitmer and Nessel, though it is not yet clear if he'll be declared competent to stand trial.
Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a law Whitmer had used in the spring to unilaterally extend an emergency order and underlying virus-related restrictions.
"We conclude that the governor lacked the authority to declare a 'state of emergency' or a 'state of disaster' under the [Emergency Management Act] after April 30, 2020, on the basis of the COVID-19 pandemic," the court ruled.
Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, on Tuesday reinstated rules for nursing homes and other congregate-care settings. He also told local health departments to inform K-12 schools within 24 hours of learning of a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19. A school must post it on its website within 24 hours of being notified.
The steps came a day after Gordon ordered the wearing of masks and limits on gathering sizes.
Gordon said people may support or oppose Whitmer and his orders.
"For their sake, for their loved ones and for all of us, please wear a mask, socially distance, wash your hands," he said. "The virus doesn't care about the politics. The virus is on the move."
More than 7,100 residents have died with confirmed or probable COVID-19 infections in the state.
With files from CBC News