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13 charged in plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Published: Oct. 8, 2020 at 12:07 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 8, 2020 at 4:19 PM EDT
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DETROIT (AP/WLUC) - UPDATE: Thirteen people have been charged in a plot to try to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her vacation home.

Michigan’s attorney general has charged seven people with plotting to target law enforcement and attack state Capitol building.

The announcement comes after six others were charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her vacation home in reaction to what they viewed as her “uncontrolled power,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday in federal court.

The state attorney general announced additional charges under Michigan’s anti-terrorism law. Seven men, all in custody, are linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen.

They are suspected of attempting to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to “target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war.” They also planned and trained for an operation to attack the Michigan Capitol building and to kidnap government officials, including the governor, Dana Nessel said.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP/WLUC’s earlier story follows below.

Gov. Whitmer offered remarks Thursday afternoon. Watch her remarks below.

The text of Gov. Whitmer’s remarks follow:

Good afternoon. Earlier today, Attorney General Dana Nessel was joined by officials from the Department of Justice and the FBI to announce state and federal charges against 13 members of two militia groups who were preparing to kidnap and possibly kill me.

When I put my hand on the bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard, but I’ll be honest – I never could’ve imagined anything like this.

I want to start by saying thank you to law enforcement. Thank you to the fearless FBI agents. And thank you to the brave Michigan State Police troopers who participated in this operation – acting under the leadership of Col. Joe Gasper.

I also want to thank Attorney General Nessel and US Attorneys Birge and Schneider and their teams for pursuing criminal charges that hopefully will lead to convictions, bringing these sick and depraved men to justice.

As a mom with two teenage daughters and three stepsons, my husband and I are eternally grateful to everyone who put themselves in harm’s way to keep our family safe.

2020 has been a hard year for all of us. Hard for our doctors and nurses. Truck drivers and grocery store workers. It’s been hard for teachers and students and parents. Hard for those who have had to stay isolated to stay safe. And it’s not over yet.

But here’s what I know: we are Michiganders. We have grit. We have heart. And we are tough as hell.

We made it through the Great Recession. We made it through auto bankruptcies. We made it through floods and polar vortexes. But none of us has faced a challenge like COVID-19. Not in our lifetimes.

I’ve said it many times – we are not one another’s enemy. This virus is our enemy. And this enemy is relentless. It doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Young or old. Rich or poor. It doesn’t care if we’re tired of it.

It threatens us all - - our lives, our families, our jobs, our businesses, our economy. It preys on our elderly and medically vulnerable residents. And it has exposed deep inequities in our society.

This should be a moment for national unity. Where we all pull together as Americans to meet this challenge head-on – with the same might and muscle that put a man on the moon. Seeing the humanity in one another and doing our part to help our country get through this.

Instead – our head of state has spent the past seven months denying science. Ignoring his own health experts. Stoking distrust and 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.

“Stand back, and stand by,” he said to them. “Stand back, and stand by.”

Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry. As a call to action.

When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.

When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists they legitimize their actions – they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech – they are complicit.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan spoke to the NAACP’s annual convention and his comments stand in sharp contrast to what we have seen on the national and state level from his own beloved party in 2020.

He said: “A few isolated groups in the backwater of American life still hold perverted notions of what America is all about.” “Recently in some places in the nation there’s been a disturbing reoccurrence of bigotry and violence.”

Then, Reagan sent a direct message to those “who still adhere to senseless racism and religious prejudice.”

“You are the ones who are out of step with our society,” he said. “You are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America. And this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct.”

So let me say this loud and clear: hatred, bigotry, and violence have no place in the great state of Michigan.

And if you break the law, or conspire to commit heinous acts of violence against anyone – we will find you, we will hold you accountable, and we will bring you to justice.

For the past seven months, I’ve made the tough choices to keep our state safe. These have been gut-wrenching decisions no governor has ever had to make.

And I get it: life has been hard for us all.

When I get out of bed every morning, I think about the high school seniors like my daughter who missed graduation ceremonies, or those Michiganders who have missed weddings and funerals. I think about all the moms who are working from home, making breakfast every day, logging kids into their zoom class, and doing laundry. I think about the small business owners who spent a lifetime building something great, who are now hanging on by their fingernails just to keep the lights on.

The disruption this virus has caused to our daily lives is immeasurable.

It has already taken the lives of more than 210,000 Americans – including over 6,800 right here in Michigan.

As painful as these losses are, our hard work and sacrifices have saved thousands of lives. We have one of the strongest economic recoveries in the nation.

Make no mistake: there will be more hard days ahead.

But I want the people of Michigan to know this: As your governor, I will never stop doing everything in my power to keep you and your family safe. You don’t have to agree with me. But I do ask one thing: never forget that we are all in this together.

Let’s show a little kindness. And a lot more empathy. Give one another some grace. And let’s take care of each other.

Wear your mask. Stay six feet apart. Wash your hands frequently. And look out for your neighbors.

We are Michiganders. I know we can get through this. We will get through this.

So let’s get through it together.

The government used informants and undercover agents to thwart the alleged plot. The six men were arrested Wednesday night and each faces up to life in prison. U.S. attorney Andrew Birge called them “violent extremists.”

“All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever amount to violence. Violence has been prevented today,” Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider told reporters.

The criminal complaint said the plan involved Whitmer and her second home in northern Michigan.

Whitmer has been praised but also deeply criticized for the state’s response to the coronavirus. She put major restrictions on personal movement throughout the state and on the economy, although many of those limits have been lifted. The criminal complaint did not mention those orders.

Through electronic communications, two of the alleged conspirators “agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution,” the FBI said.

The criminal complaint identified the six as Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, all of Michigan, and Barry Croft of Delaware.

Fox said he needed 200 men to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor, according to the FBI.

He said he wanted to try Whitmer for “treason” and would execute the plan before the Nov. 3 election, the government said.

Later, however, the group shifted to targeting the governor’s vacation home, the FBI said.

The government said the scheme appeared to have roots in a June gathering in Dublin, Ohio, attended by more than a dozen people from several states, including Croft and Fox.

“The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” the FBI affidavit said. “They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. ... Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor.”

Authorities held a Thursday afternoon news conference to talk about the case. Watch it below.

To read the entire criminal complaint, click here. To read the release from the United States Attorney’s Office, Western District of Michigan, click here.

“There has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,” Attorney General Danda Nessel said. “These groups often seek to recruit new members by seizing on a moment of civil unrest and using it to advance their agenda of self-reliance and armed resistance. This is more than just political disagreement or passionate advocacy, some of these groups' mission is simply to create chaos and inflict harm upon others.”

According to AG Nessel, through the efforts of more than 200 state and federal law enforcement officials – including experts from outside of Michigan – officers executed a series of search warrants and arrest warrants in more than a dozen cities around the state, including, Belleville, Cadillac, Canton, Charlotte, Clarkston, Grand Rapids, Luther, Munith, Orion Township, Ovid, Portage, Shelby Township and Waterford.

The following individuals were charged by Attorney General Nessel as part of the joint law enforcement effort:

These charges are subject to change after a complete review of the evidence obtained through the warrants, and differ from those charges issued at the federal level.

Michael Null, William Null and Molitor were arraigned today before Antrim County Magistrate Jessica Allmand. A cash bond of $250,000 was set for William and Michael Null, while Molitor’s bond was send at $250,000, 10 percent. Their probable cause conferences are set for 1 p.m. Oct. 14, and their preliminary exams are scheduled for Oct. 21.

Musico and Morrison are expected to be arraigned at 2 p.m. in Jackson County. Fix is in custody, and his arraignment is pending in Antrim County.

This story is developing and will be updated as more information is available.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press/WLUC. All rights reserved.

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