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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer at the Romney Building where her office is located in Lansing, Mich., on May 18, 2020. (Photo: Brittany Greeson for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Months After Trump Declared 'Liberate Michigan,' 13 Charged With Plot to Kidnap Governor, Storm State Capitol

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been the target of right-wing ire this year over her stay-at-home orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Julia Conley

This is a developing story and may be updated.

Law enforcement officials announced Thursday they had charged 13 suspects with conspiracy to commit kidnapping and terrorism crimes, after an investigation revealed the right-wing plotters had planned to overthrow the state government of Michigan and take Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hostage. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday afternoon that while six men—all of whom were arrested by agents on Wednesday night—were being charged in federal court related to the kidnapping plot, another seven men, all linked to a group called Wolverine Watchmen and allegedly planning an attack on the Michigan State Capitol, are being charged in state court.

According to an affidavit filed as part of a federal criminal complaint on Thursday, hours after FBI agents raided one of the suspects' homes in Hartland Township, Michigan, the men began plotting a coup earlier this year and had been making preparations for a violent takeover since the summer. 

In April, amidst ongoing anti-lockdown protests in the state, President Donald Trump declared "Liberate Michigan!" in an all-caps tweet.

"This is a pattern: Trump paints a target. An attack or plot follows," tweeted Washington Post national security correspondent Greg Miller—one of several observers who connected the president's rhetoric to the violent plot. 

The suspects charged by the FBI—identified by the Detroit News as Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta—met for firearms training and attempted to make explosives over the summer, shortly after Whitmer became the focus of right-wing ire regarding economic shutdowns that were implemented to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

In June, two of the suspects met with 13 other people from several states, including an FBI source.

"The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient," an FBI agent wrote. "They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer."

According to the criminal complaint, one suspect said over the summer that he wanted 200 men to storm the Michigan Statehouse. In July, they discussed kidnapping Whitmer and taking her to a "secure location" where they would put her on "trial" for treason. 

Based on information put forth by the authorities, the men may have been planning to put their plot into action imminently. The New York Times reported that the six arrested by the FBI had scoped out Whitmer's vacation home in both August and September and wanted to abduct her before the November election.

The FBI reportedly learned via social media posts in early 2020 that individuals were discussing the overthrow of a number of state governments. Some of the suspects later connected with a Michigan-based domestic terrorist group that was under FBI investigation. 

"Several [militia] members talked about murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor," an FBI agent wrote in the court filing. "The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message."

The suspects connected with the militia and began making their preparations after a small, vocal minority of Michigan residents held a number of protests in the state capitol over Whitmer's stay-at-home order in accordance with public health guidelines. In April, armed protesters at the so-called "American Patriot Rally" attempted to enter the legislative chamber in the Statehouse while lawmakers were debating an extension of Whitmer's emergency order. Trump expressed strong support for the protests, which were partially organized by a group linked to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. 

Michigan state Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden suggested on Twitter that the fears she expressed while working the Statehouse during the "American Patriot Rally" were clearly not an "overreaction," as she was told at the time. 

"You weren't overreacting," replied Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). "Violence towards women in politics is on the rise in our country. Dangerous rhetoric from the White House to normalizing this type of violence, we need to be cautious."

The Michigan Supreme Court last week ruled that the governor did not have the authority to extend or declare a state of emergency in response to the pandemic, a ruling Whitmer said would make the state "the sole outlier" at a time when every state has some form of emergency order in accordance with public health guidance.


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