By Allan Lengel, Violet Iknomova and Alan Stamm
Federal authorities on Thursday charged six men with plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ governor. Just grab the bitch," one member said during the planning, according to authorities.
The alleged plot, according to an FBI affidavit filed in Grand Rapids federal court, involved reaching out to members of a Michigan militia and also attacking the state Capitol. The FBI penetrated the group with informants and "undercover employees."
"Several members talked about murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor," FBI agent Richard J. Trask II writes in the affidavit. "The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message."
The accused plotters opposed Covid emergency orders from the governor last spring that affected gatherings, businesses, schools and gyms. "She has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now," one was recorded saying."
Another defendant responded: "All good things must come to an end."
► Whitmer reacts, singles out Trump for 'rallying' militias
In all, the alleged conspiracy involved more than a dozen men. Federal authorities charged six men, including Ty Garbin, 24, whose home was raided by agents in Hartland Township late Wednesday.
Others named in the federal criminal complaint are Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta. All are Michigan residents, except Croft, who's from Delaware.
The state of Michigan also charged seven additional men affiliated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia.
► Update from AP writer in Lansing:
AG Nessel tells CBS This Morning that Gov. Whitmer and her family were at times moved around by authorities as law enforcement tracked alleged kidnapping plotters— David Eggert (@DavidEggert00) October 9, 2020
A confidential informant recorded June meetings in Dublin, Ohio, near Columbus, according to an FBI affidavit. He was paid $8,600.
In early 2020, the FBI became aware through social media that a group of individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components, the affidavit says. They trained and acquired weapons and explosives.
On June 6, Croft, Fox and about 13 other people from several states gathered in Dublin to talk about "creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient," the court document says. "They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions.
"Several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Several members talked about murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor."
The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to neighbors and spread their message. As part of that recruitment effort, Fox reached out to a Michigan-based militia group, the feds allege. The group has been identified by Michigan State Police as the Wolverine Watchmen.
In March, the militia group caught the attention of the FBI after members tried to get the addresses of local law enforcement officers. During interviews, a member expressed concerns about plans to target and kill police officers. That person became an informant.
The informant told the FBI that the group periodically meets for field training exercises on private property in remote areas of Michigan.
During one exercise, the group leadership had a call from Fox, who invited them to meet at his business in Grand Rapids. In June, at various times, Fox and Croft met with the militia.
On June 18, in a meeting recorded by the confidential source, the leadership -- including Garbin -- met at a Second Amendment rally at the State Capitol in Lansing. In an effort to recruit more members, Fox told Garbin and the source that he planned to attack the Capitol and asked to combine forces, the FBI document says.
The FBI agent goes on to write that the informant recorded a phone call with Fox, who described a meeting in Dublin. Fox said he needed “200 men” to storm the Capitol in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor.
Fox went on to explain they would try the governor for “treason,” and planned to pull off the operation before the November election.
On June 20, Fox and Garbin and several other individuals, including the informant, met at Fox's business in Grand Rapids.
Hidden Floor Entrance
For security, the group met in the basement of the shop, which was accessed through a trap door under a rug on the main floor. Fox collected all of their phones and took them upstairs to prevent any monitoring. But the informant wore a recording device.
The group, according to the FBI, discussed plans to attack the state Capitol, to counter law enforcement first responders and to use "Molotov cocktails” to destroy police vehicles.
On July 18, a group including the informant met in Ohio and discussed attacking a Michigan State Police facility. In a conversation after the meeting, Garbin suggested shooting up the governor’s vacation home in western Michigan.
The same day, Garbin told the informant that he and others did not want to go after the Capitol, but he was “cool” with attacking the governor’s vacation retreat if it only resulted in destruction of property.
On July 27, the informant met Fox at his business in Grand Rapids and Fox said the best opportunity to abduct Whitmer would be when she was arriving or leaving her personal vacation home or the governor’s official summer residence.
Fox described it as a “snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude -- it’s over.” Fox then said the group would take her to a secure location in Wisconsin.
Fox suggested they get a Realtor to help locate the homes and collect information about the layouts and surroundings. He said they needed plumbers and electricians to help them read blueprints of the layouts.
'It Starts Now'
On July 27, Fox asked in an encrypted group chat: “OK, well how’s everyone feel about kidnapping?” No one responded. The following day, Fox told the informant on the phone that he had narrowed down his attack targets to the vacation home and the summer residence.
The same day, according to the FBI, Fox posted on a private Facebook page: “We about to be busy ladies and gentlemen . . . This is where the Patriot shows up. Sacrifices his time, money, blood sweat and tears . . . it starts now so get fucking prepared!!”
Later, in an encrypted group chat, defendant Harris, stated: “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her . . . at this point. Fuck it.” He added, “I mean . . . fuck, catch her walking into the building and act like a passers-by and fixing dome her then yourself whoever does it.”
Later, another defendant, Franks tells the informant: “OK sounds good I’m in for anything as long as its well-planned.”
In a private chat later Aug. 18, the same person told the informant the name of the lake in northern Michigan where the vacation home is located, and he said he was looking for an escape route using a boat on the lake.
Franks later expressed interest in taking part in a surveillance of the vacation home.
At one point, the affidavit say, Fox wondered aloud whether the group just needed to “party it out, make a cake and send it,” a comment the informant said refered to sending sending a bomb to the governor.
It was Fox who perhaps expressed the sentiment of the group best.
“In all honesty right now . . . I just wanna make the world glow, dude. I’m not even fuckin’ kidding. I just wanna make it all glow dude," he said in a recorded conversation in July. "I don’t fuckin’ care anymore, I’m just so sick of it. That’s what it’s gonna take for us to take it back, we’re just gonna have to everything’s gonna have to be annihilated man. We’re gonna topple it all, dude. It’s what great frickin’ conquerors, man, we’re just gonna conquer every fuckin’ thing man.”
On Aug. 23, a group including the informant met at Harris' home in Lake Orion. The group expressed concerns about being infiltrated by law enforcement, and said all attendees were required to bring personal documents to confirm their identities.
During the meeting, Franks said: "I’m ready to get it on." The group discussed surveilling the vacation home and Franks said he recently spent almost $4,000 on a helmet and night-vision goggles.
On night of Sept. 12 and into the morning, the group drove three vehicles from a home in Luther, Mich., to the area of the vacation home for surveillance.
Before leaving Luther, defendants Croft asked Fox if the surveillance participants were armed, to which Fox said yes. Croft, according to the affidavit, suggested they take the opportunity to conduct an act of violence that night. Croft was eventually dissuaded, and decided to wait for a better time.
While in a vehicle, Croft and Fox discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the area of the vacation home, and stopped at the M-31 highway bridge on the way. Fox and another person inspected the underside of the bridge for places to set an explosive charge.
During the surveillance operation, Fox said: “She fucking goddamn loves the power she has right now” and that “she has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now.” Croft stated: “All good things must come to an end.”
Fox also remarked: “I can see several states takin’ their fuckin’ tyrants. Everybody takes their tyrants.” The group also discussed how many people should be involved in the kidnapping.
During the ride back to Garbin's property, Franks stated:
“We’re doin’ all the reconnaissance work, so it should go smooth.” After arriving back at the property, the informant asks: “Everybody down with what’s going on?” Someone responded: “If you’re not down with the thought of kidnapping, don’t sit here.”
Garbin replied replied: "Oh no, we’re not kidnapping, that’s not what we’re doing,” which sparked general laughter, the affidavit said. Another voice said, “No children!” and someone added: “We’re adult napping.” Franks piped in: "Kidnapping, arson, death. I don’t care.” The group then started discussing destroying the vacation home.
On Sept. 14, Fox posted in the group’s encrypted chat that he didn't want to execute the plan the last week in October because it was too close to the Nov. 3 election. The group agreed to use the time until the final training exercise to raise money for explosives and other supplies.
At the end of the month, Fox called the informant to discuss purchasing a Taser for the kidnapping. A couple days later, Fox confirmed he had purchased an 800,000-volt Taser.
Some on Thursday blamed President Trump for fanning the flames of hate against Whitmer.
“Make no mistake: President Trump’s rhetoric and the NRA’s enabling led us to this moment,” Nick Suplina, managing director of law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “President Trump cheered on armed extremists who stormed the Michigan Capitol, he told his supporters to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” on Twitter, and now, he’s issuing calls to action to right-wing hate groups from the debate stage."
Last May 1, a day after armed militia members protested outside and inside the Capitol against Whitmer's Covid emergency orders, the president tweeted:
The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2020
The seven men charged by the state include members and associates of the Wolverine Watchmen, a militia group:
Paul Bellar, 21, Milford -- 3 felonies: providing material support for terrorist acts, gang membership, felony firearm violation
Shawn Fix, 38, Belleville -- providing material support for terrorist acts, felony firearm
Eric Molitor, 36, Cadillac -- providing material support for terrorist acts, felony firearm
Michael Null, 38, Plainwell -- providing material support for terrorist acts, felony firearm
William Null, 38, Shelbyville (identical twin of Michael Null) -- providing material support for terrorist acts, felony firearm
Pete Musico, 42, Munith -- threat of terrorism, gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts, felony firearm
Joseph Morrison, 26, Munith -- threat of terrorism, gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts, felony firearm
Attorney General Dana Nessel said: "The individuals in custody are suspected to have attempted to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate civil war, and engaged in planning and training for operation to attack the Capitol building of Michigan, and to kidnap government officials including the governor of Michigan.”