By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The FBI thwarted a plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of the state of Michigan and forcibly depose its government, the bureau said in court documents unsealed Thursday.
The plot allegedly involved six men, five of whom are from Michigan, seeking to recruit members from a militia that was brought to the bureau's attention by a Michigan police department in March.
An unsealed criminal complaint says the men sought the help of 200 men to overrun the state capitol and take hostages, including Whitmer, who they sought to try for treason. The plot was to be launched before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
"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 their neighbors and spread their message," said the document.
Whitmer has said she has faced an onslaught of threats after imposing strict measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state. At least one man has already been taken into custody for making "credible threats" to kill the governor in a separate case.
A separate group of seven men allegedly affiliated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group were charged with 19 state felony charges, including providing material support for terrorism, according to Michigan's attorney general.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly singled out Whitmer, the state' Democratic governor, for criticism over her lockdown measures, vaguely tweeting in April, "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"
Shortly after the charges were officially announced, Whitmer slammed the president, accusing him of "denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear, and hatred and division."
"Just last week the president of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups," she said. "'Stand back and standby' he told them. Stand back and standby. Hate groups heard the president's words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying crying, as a call to action."
The six suspects facing federal charges were identified as Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
They allegedly surveilled Whitmer's vacation residence in August, taking photos and slow-motion video from a vehicle as they drove past, and looking up the location of local and state police in the area to estimate how long it would take officers to respond.
"We ain’t gonna let ‘em burn our ****** state down. I don’t give a **** if there’s only 20 or 30 of us, dude, we’ll go out there and use deadly force,” Fox allegedly said.
The group returned to the home overnight Sept. 12 to conduct nighttime surveillance, according to the criminal complaint.