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Charges announced in plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan

Six men were charged in a plot alleged in newly unsealed court documents.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer listens to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the United Auto Workers Union Headquarters.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer listens as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the United Auto Workers Union Headquarters in Warren, Michigan, on September 9.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Six men have been arrested and charged with a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), the federal government revealed Thursday.

Angry at the governor’s policies to combat the spread of Covid-19, the men deemed Whitmer a “tyrant” and spent months planning to kidnap her, the government claims. They zeroed in on a plan to “use deadly force” to attack Whitmer’s vacation home, and planned to purchase additional supplies this week, FBI special agent Richard Trask wrote in an affidavit.

Six men — Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta — are being charged with conspiracy to kidnap the governor.

The government says the conspirators were in contact with a militia group based in Michigan — training in tactics and weapons with the group, and attempting to build an explosive device with a militia group member.

Though the group is not named in the federal government’s court papers, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel identified the group as the Wolverine Watchmen, and said her office has arrested and charged seven of its members under the state’s anti-terrorism act (in addition to the federal government’s charges against the six other men). Nessel said the charged men hoped to “instigate a civil war.”

According to Trask’s affidavit, Fox and Croft had been “discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components” since at least early 2020, asserting that they believed state governments were violating the Constitution.

In June, Fox focused his attention on Gov. Whitmer, calling her a “tyrant bitch” and livestreaming a video “in which he complained about the judicial system and the State of Michigan controlling the opening of gyms,” the government claims.

“Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ Governor. Just grab the bitch,” Fox said in a July conversation recorded by the FBI.

Harris also suggested in an encrypted group chat to “have one person go to her house, knock on the door, and when she answers it just cap her,” but the group settled on kidnapping, the government says.

Fox allegedly expressed hope that the plot would inspire similar overthrows of governors in other states. “I can see several states takin’ their fuckin’ tyrants. Everybody takes their tyrants,” he said, according to the government.

This plot looks like it wasn’t just idle talk

Trask’s affidavit goes on to give several details of the alleged conspiracy that make it seem like it wasn’t just empty talk — the planning had advanced quite far. The government claims:

  • The group started off by meeting secretly in the basement of Fox’s business, through a trapdoor that Fox kept covered with a rug. Fox didn’t permit cellphones to be brought down there (but one attendee was wearing a wire).
  • Over the summer, the men trained in tactics and weaponry at the home of one of the militia group’s members. They discussed storming the Michigan Capitol but soon concluded that Whitmer would be more vulnerable at either her vacation home or the governor’s official summer residence. “It’s a perfect fuckin’ setup. Out of everywhere that she resides, this is the only one that’s probably actually feasible,” one plotter said in a recorded conversation.
  • Eventually, some of the men made two trips to surveil Whitmer’s vacation home and discuss logistics for the kidnapping. They proposed bombing a nearby bridge to slow any police response. They also discussed setting off bombs elsewhere to distract the police while the kidnapping unfolded.
  • Fox said in an encrypted chat that he had bought an 800,000-volt taser for use in the operation, and he and several others planned to meet with someone (unknown to them, an undercover FBI agent) Wednesday to buy explosives.

This week, investigators made their move. According to Robert Snell of the Detroit News, the FBI raided a Michigan home Wednesday night, and the six men accused in the federal complaint were arrested.

On Thursday, Nessel said her office has filed state charges against seven of the militia group’s members, all of whom are now in custody, as well. She charged them under the state’s anti-terrorism act.

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