GRETCHEN WHITMER, GOVERNOR OF MICHIGAN, SPEAKS DURING THE VIRTUAL DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION SEEN ON A LAPTOP COMPUTER IN TISKILWA, ILLINOIS, U.S., ON MONDAY, AUG. 17, 2020. (PHOTO: DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Thirteen men, including members of the anti-government militia “Wolverine Watchmen,” are facing charges for allegedly conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her summer vacation home and “storm” the state Capitol building with 200 men.
The plot was revealed in an FBI criminal complaint that named six people as federal defendants, from Michigan, Delaware, and Ohio. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced state terrorism charges against an additional seven individuals Thursday, all tied to the Wolverine Watchmen, and praised the FBI for thwarting what she described as a “serious and credible threat to public safety.”
At the same time, the scale of the plot is just coming into focus; 200 state and federal law enforcement officials executed search warrants in more than 13 cities in Michigan. There’s also an ongoing investigation into a property in Munith, which the defendants used as a training ground, according to the FBI.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has been vilified in right-wing and far-right circles since she decided to institute a lockdown in Michigan amid rising cases of COVID-19 in the spring. The Capitol in Lansing became ground zero for the anti-lockdown protest movement that rippled across the U.S. In May, armed men, including many militia members even stormed the Capitol building.
President Donald Trump was criticized for egging on anti-lockdown protesters, at one point even tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” in April.
The FBI said that they started monitoring an online network who were discussing “the violent overthrow of certain government and law enforcement components” in early 2020. They zeroed in on the conversations between two individuals: Barry Croft of Delaware, and Adam Fox of Michigan, who were allegedly developing a recruitment plan with the end goal of taking violent action against “multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution.”
On June 6, right as the anti-lockdown protests were heating up, Fox, Croft and around 13 others — including the person who would later become the government’s confidential source — met up in Dublin, Ohio to discuss logistics. At that meeting, Fox said that he would need “200 men” to “storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages including Gov. Whitmer, according to the affidavit. The end goal would be to try Whitmer for treason before the Nov. 2020 election.
The conclusion of that meeting was that Fox would need a lot more help if he was going to actually kidnap the governor of Michigan, and so he decided to reach out to a Michigan-based militia to see if they’d be interested in coming on board.
As it just so happened, Wolverine Watchmen the militia group had been on the federal government’s radar since March, when members were allegedly plotting to target and kill police officers, and they had successfully turned a member of that militia into a confidential informant.
Wolverine Watchmen’s leadership got on a call with Fox after one of their “field training sessions” held on a remote property in Michigan, and made a plan to meet up at his business in Grand Rapids.
Fox was taking no chances with security for that meeting on June 20, despite unwittingly inviting a confidential FBI informant who was wearing a recording device. They met in the basement of his shop, accessed through a trap door hidden under a rug. Fox collected everyone’s phones, put them in a box and “carried them upstairs to prevent any monitoring.” In that meeting, they discussed plans to attack Michigan’s Capitol, and throwing “Molotov cocktails” at police vehicles.
A few days later, Fox live-streamed a video to a private Facebook group – which again, included the confidential informant — and complained about Michigan’s judicial system and Whitmer’s decision not to open the gyms due to Coronavirus.
“This tyrant bitch,” Fox said. “I don’t know boys, we gotta do something.”
From there, the plan was put into action. In July, Fox, Croft and others met up with the militia to participate in training. They tried to make explosive devices, but failed. They even shared videos of some of their activities on Facebook. They later met up in Ohio, where they talked about shooting up Whitmer’s vacation home, located in Western Michigan, or abducting her while she was leaving or entering her home.
“Snatch and grab, man,” Fox said, according to the FBI. “Grab the fuckin’ governor. Grab the bitch.”
They later successfully built explosive devices, which they discussed setting off as a distraction for police near Whitmer’s vacation home. They conducted surveillance near her home, and explored a nearby bridge to plant explosives.
Overnight, the FBI arrested the six men — Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta — who had been charged in the federal complaint with conspiring to kidnap the governor.
Nessel said that the seven individuals associated with Wolverine Watchmen were also in custody.
“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 a civil war, and engaged in planning and training for an operation to attack the capitol building of Michigan and to kidnap government officials including the governor of Michigan,” Nessel said.