Six men accused in plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after Trump called to “liberate Michigan"

The men allegedly planned to put Whitmer on "trial" for "treason" over Michigan's coronavirus restrictions

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 8, 2020 2:27PM (EDT)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

The FBI has thwarted an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., and stage a violent coup against the state government, according to a federal criminal complaint published by The Detroit News.

In total, 12 people were arrested on Wednesday on state and federal charges. One day later, six men were charged in the alleged kidnapping plot. The FBI complaint alleged that the following individuals were involved in the plot: Daniel Harris, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Adam Fox, Barry Croft and Brandon Caserta.

The complaint was filed after the FBI raided Garbin's home in Hartland Township amid an investigation into a Detroit man killed in a shootout with FBI agents last week.

The FBI said the alleged plot involved a Michigan militia. Suspects allegedly surveilled Whitmer's vacation home twice and discussed bringing her to a remote area in Wisconsin to face trial for "treason."

"Several members talked about murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor," FBI agent Richard Trask said in the complaint. "The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message."

The timeline of the plot was unclear, but the investigation dates back to early this year, when the FBI found social media messages discussing a violent coup against state governments.

In June, Croft and Fox met with 13 other individuals in Ohio, including a confidential FBI source who recorded the meeting.

"The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient," Trask said in the complaint. "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 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. As part of that recruitment effort, Fox reached out to a Michigan-based militia group."

The group was not identified in the document, but Trask noted that its members met to hold firearm training and drills. The FBI was monitoring the group in March after police learned of alleged plans to attack officers.

"At the time, the FBI interviewed a member of the militia group who was concerned about the group's plans to target and kill police officers, and that person agreed to become a (confidential source)," Trask wrote.

In June, Fox recorded a Facebook video criticizing the state's lockdown.

"Fox referred to Governor Whitmer as 'this tyrant b*tch,' and stated, 'I don't know, boys, we gotta do something,'" the complaint said. "'You guys link with me on our other location system. Give me some ideas of what we can do.'"

The video was posted in June, after Trump repeatedly attacked Whitmer over her coronavirus restrictions. In April, the president called to "liberate Michigan." At least one of the members of the militia group was involved in a Second Amendment rally at the Michigan statehouse in June, according to the complaint.

"The lockdown has been a lightning rod for anti-government extremists in this country, and Gov. Whitmer has been on the forefront of their targeting," Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University's Program on Extremism, told The Detroit News.

In July, the members "discussed attacking a Michigan State Police facility, and in a separate conversation after the meeting, Garbin suggested shooting up the Governor's vacation home," the complaint said.

Later that month, Fox and an informant discussed the kidnapping plot.

"Snatch and grab, man. Grab the f*cking governor. Just grab the b*tch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it's over," Fox allegedly said, according to the FBI.

The complaint said four of the six men charged in the plot planned to meet on Wednesday to "make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear."

Some observers linked Trump's comments to the alleged plot.

"It's almost like 'LIBERATE MICHIGAN' was a dangerously indefensible message for the President of the United States to send," Steve Vladeck, a professor at the Texas University School of Law, wrot.

"If the president read his intel briefings and understood the dogma of white nationalist groups," wrote Politico's chief political correspondent Tim Alberta, "he'd realize that language like 'LIBERATE MICHIGAN!' is read as tacit permission — if not explicit encouragement — for militias to take action."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Coronavirus Covid-19 Donald Trump Gretchen Whitmer Michigan Politics