Seven men charged under State Terrorism Act in conspiracy to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has indicted seven men under state counterterrorism law for their involvement in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and violently overthrow the government. The charges, which Nessel announced on Thursday, come after months of high-profile disputes over the governor’s use of executive power to fight the coronavirus pandemic and a series of protests in opposition to his orders, some of which brought armed protesters to the Michigan State Capitol.
Six other men also face federal charges, which were unsealed Thursday. The suspects have been taken into custody and the investigation is continuing.
The group planned to kidnap Whitmer and move her to a “safe place” in Wisconsin to face a “trial.” They also wanted more than 200 men to storm the Michigan Capitol and threatened to start a civil war. They planned to create a “self-sufficient” society.
The charges laid by the state included counts of threatening terrorism, gang membership, material support for terrorist acts, and carrying or possessing a firearm in a felony. At a press conference, Nessel said there had been an increase in anti-government rhetoric and groups embracing extremist ideologies.
“Our efforts have uncovered elaborate plans to endanger the lives of law enforcement officials, government officials and the general public,” Nessel said. “The multi-front operation to apprehend the suspects in question was carefully coordinated and skillfully executed.”
According to the FBI criminal complaint, the men had been plotting with a Michigan militia at least since July to kidnap the Democratic governor, and had carried out combat drills, obtained guns and attempted to manufacture explosives. The group had also attempted to obtain the addresses of law enforcement officers to target them.
The FBI intercepted encrypted messages earlier this year and relied on undercover agents and informants working within the group.
Michigan residents Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta as well as Delaware resident Barry Croft were charged with conspiracy to kidnap the governor, according to the federal complaint.
Nessel indicted seven additional men, all residents of Michigan. Paul Bellar, 21 from Milford, faces three counts: providing material support for terrorist acts, gang membership, carrying or possessing a firearm while committing a crime .
Shaun Fix, 38 from Belleville; Eric Molitor, 36 years old from Cadillac; Michael Null, 36 from Plainwell; and William Null, 38 of Shelbyville, face two counts: providing material support for terrorist acts, carrying or possessing a firearm while committing a crime.
Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison, both 42 and living together in Munith, face four counts: one count each of terrorism threat, one count each of gang affiliation, one count each of support terrorist acts and one count each of possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime.
Whitmer has come under fire from conservative lawmakers and right-wing groups after he enacted emergency orders related to COVID-19. In April, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Lansing, Mich., To protest against the governor’s stay-at-home orders. Many of these protesters openly carried guns, which is legal in the Michigan Capitol.
The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that Whitmer exceeded her authority by issuing COVID-19 precautionary orders beyond April 30, claiming the law she was using to justify her actions was unconstitutional. Status of state regulations remains in limbo, some local governments job to fill in the gaps.
Whitmer maintains his decrees were justified because they were aimed at saving lives and protecting people from the coronavirus pandemic. A to study found that the governor’s stay-at-home orders may have saved tens of thousands of lives in the state.
At a press conference Thursday, Whitmer said she planned to face challenges as governor of Michigan, but said she “could never have imagined something like this.” She thanked federal and state law enforcement for their work, adding that she hoped the charges would lead to convictions that bring “these sick and depraved men to justice.”
Whitmer also condemned President Donald Trump for failing to reprimand white supremacists and said Trump’s inability to tackle the pandemic was the result of ignoring public health guidelines. In April, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” in response to Whitmer’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Our head of state has spent the past seven months denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking mistrust, stirring up anger and comforting those who spread fear, hatred and division,” Whitmer said. “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 militias. “
Has a presidential debate on September 29, Trump refused to denounce white supremacists and ordered a far-right extremist group to “stand back”.
“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry, as a call to action,” Whitmer said.
Andrew Birge, U.S. District Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, said the group used words and code phrases to avoid detection by law enforcement and monitored the governor’s vacation home. Two of the men discussed the laying and detonation of explosives to deter law enforcement. He also said the men could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty.
Michigan State Police Colonel Joseph Gasper said the MSP will take swift action against anyone who foresees or seeks to commit violence in the state.
“This case is one of the most important in recent history in which the MSP has been involved,” Gasper said. “I think the nature of this matter is rather unprecedented, but it sends a very vivid reminder that even though we are in a period of discourse, perhaps even division and fighting across the country, the forces of the order are united. “
Whitmer said the restrictions initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic were necessary to prevent more people from getting sick. Michigan has recorded more than 6,800 deaths from the coronavirus since March.
“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 country, ”said Whitmer. “Make no mistake, there will be tougher days ahead, but I want the people of Michigan to know – as governor, I will never stop doing everything in my power to ensure your safety and that of your family. “
Carter Howe and Leah Graham contributed reporting.
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