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13 charged in plots against Michigan government

Seven men, all in custody, are linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen.

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Governor Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

Governor Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

Governor Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

Agents foiled a stunning plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in reaction to what a group viewed as her “uncontrolled power”, authorities said.

Six men were charged in federal court, while seven others accused of trying to target police and the state Capitol were charged in state court.

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

The six men charged in federal court plotted for months, consulting and training with members of a group that federal authorities described as a militia, and undertaking rehearsals in August and September, according to an FBI affidavit.

Four planned to meet on Wednesday to “make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear”, the FBI said in the court filing.

The FBI quoted one of the accused as saying Gov Whitmer “has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now. All good things must come to an end”.

Meanwhile, Gov Whitmer said in a speech later on Thursday that President Donald Trump’s words had been a “rallying cry” for extremists.

Gov Whitmer said the Republican president had spent the last seven months of the coronavirus pandemic “denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division”.

She singled out Mr Trump’s debate comments, when he did not condemn white supremacist groups and told one far-right extremist group to “stand back and stand by”.

“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry,” Gov Whitmer said.

“When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternise with domestic terrorists, they legitimise their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.”

The six men charged in federal court were arrested on Wednesday night and face up to life in prison if convicted. They were due in court Thursday.

Andrew Birge, the US attorney in western Michigan, called them “violent extremists”.

Gov Whitmer has been praised but also deeply criticised 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 Michigan Supreme Court last week said a 1945 law used as the foundation for many of the governor’s orders is unconstitutional.

The government said the plot against Gov Whitmer was stopped with the work of undercover agents and informants.

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 US 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 Gov Whitmer for “treason” and would execute the plan before the November 3 election, the government said. The group later shifted to targeting the governor’s holiday 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 US Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” the FBI affidavit said.

“They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavours to violent actions… Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor.”

Online Editors