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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Explained: How the FBI foiled an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor

Federal authorities have arrested thirteen men — seven of whom have links to an anti-government militia group called the ‘Wolverine Watchmen’ — on charges of conspiring to kidnap the Michigan governor, attack the state legislature and target law enforcement.

By: Explained Desk | Margao | Updated: October 11, 2020 10:32:29 am
Explained: How the FBI foiled an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governorAccording to a detailed affidavit released by the FBI, the elaborate plot was hatched over several months and involved actual field training exercises, homemade explosive devices and extensive surveillance of Governor Whitmer’s vacation home.

The US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has thwarted an alleged plot to abduct and overthrow the Democratic Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. The suspects allegedly planned to kidnap Whitmer and take her to a secure location in Wisconsin for what they called a ‘treason trial’, the FBI announced on Thursday.

Federal authorities have arrested thirteen men — seven of whom have links to an anti-government militia group called the ‘Wolverine Watchmen’ — on charges of conspiring to kidnap the Michigan governor, attack the state legislature and target law enforcement.

According to a detailed affidavit released by the FBI, the elaborate plot was hatched over several months and involved actual field training exercises, homemade explosive devices and extensive surveillance of Governor Whitmer’s vacation home.

But, why were they targeting Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer?

Over the last few months, Whitmer had drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, several of his supporters and members of anti-government militia groups because of the strict restrictions on movement she had imposed in the state to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

In April, thousands of demonstrators — several of whom were heavily armed — stormed the Michigan state capitol in Lansing to demand an end to Whitmer’s lockdown orders. Standing on the steps of the capitol, the protestors loudly chanted, “Lock her up.” They were egged on by President Trump himself, who had tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

At the time, Whitmer was also being considered for the role of Democratic Presidential Joe Biden’s running mate. But later, Senator Kamala Harris was selected as the party’s Vice Presidential nominee.

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What was the group allegedly planning to do?

Out of the thirteen men who were arrested, six planned to abduct Governor Whitmer and hold a “treason trial” against her. According to the FIR affidavit, the names of the men were Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Casert and Ty Garbin.

The remaining seven, who are said to have been linked with the ‘Wolverine Watchmen’ militia group, are facing charges of gang affiliation and providing material support to terrorists. The suspects allegedly hoped to instigate a civil war by targeting law enforcement authorities and making threats of violence.

The men who had planned to kidnap the governor met several times during the summer for firearms training, combat drills and even practiced how to make explosives, the FBI said.

At a meeting held on June 6, two of them men — Croft and Fox — met with more than a dozen other people from several different states to discuss creating “a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” the FBI said. Realising that they needed more people, they reached out to a militia group.

The group wanted to gather around “200 men” to storm the Capitol building and kidnap top officials, including the governor, before the US’ election day on November 3. If their plan failed, they were going to allegedly attack the governor in her home.

They carried out “coordinated surveillance” of Whitner’s vacation home over the months of August and September to prepare for the abduction. They even tried to locate an appropriate spot to detonate a bomb nearby, so that they could distract law enforcement authorities when they finally executed their plan, the FBI affidavit stated.

At a secret meeting held on June 20, the men met in the basement of a building, accessed through a trap door hidden under a rug, investigators said. Their cellphones were collected before the meeting so that no details could be secretly recorded and shared. At the meeting, the men decided that they would use molotov cocktails to attack police and destroy their vehicles.

The accused had allegedly purchased weapons as well as an 800,000 volt taser to carry out the abduction. In an encrypted group chat, one of the men had even suggested showing up at the governor’s front door and killing her.

How did the FBI find out about the plot?

The investigation that ultimately led to their arrests involved several confidential sources as well as undercover FBI personnel, who attended some of the militia group’s secret meetings.

The FBI began monitoring a group of people early this year after it became aware of discussions about the “the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components,” the agency said. Two of the 13 men, Croft and Fox, were among those involved.

At the meeting on June 20, an undercover FBI informant wearing a secret recording device successfully recorded the group’s entire discussion about the governor’s abduction. During the meeting, the suspects had decided to purchase firearms and carry out training over a weekend in July.

How has the governor reacted to the arrests?

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Whitmer thanked the law enforcement officials responsible for the arrests. The Democratic governor accused President Trump of encouraging extremist groups by refusing to outright denounce them.

She slammed Trump for his comments at the first presidential debate where he did not condemn white supremacist groups and instead asked one such group called the ‘Proud Boys’ to “stand back and stand by”. “Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry,” Whitmer said.

“When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternise with domestic terrorists, they legitimise their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit,” she added.

She further alleged that the President had spent the last seven months of the Covid-19 pandemic “denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division”.

Responding to Whitmer’s comments, Trump tweeted, “Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist.” He accused her of doing a “terrible job” as a governor and said that she should open her state again.

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