GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and have her ''stand trial’' in Wisconsin has been unveiled by federal investigators.
Six individuals have been named in a federal criminal complaint that was unsealed Thursday, Oct. 8. The offense, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, is punishable by up to life in prison.
And, in a related state case, seven people face numerous felony charges, including providing material support for terrorist acts.
At the core was dissatisfaction with government and restrictions tied to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 200 state and federal law enforcement officials were involved in the investigations, which lasted several months and spanned several states.
Out of all those involved, the six arrested on the federal kidnap conspiracy charge face the most serious penalty - up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The 15-page criminal complaint details the evolving plan to kidnap the governor and have her stand trial for treason. The plan included explosives and a Taser purchased for $4,000.
Ideally, it would be executed before the November 2020 elections, court records show.
Disturbing details contained in the criminal compliant includes discussions about assaulting the state Capitol and "shooting up'' the governor's vacation home.
Two people named in the complaint, Adam Fox of Grand Rapids, Mich. and Barry Croft of Delaware, gathered with approximately 13 others from several states in Dublin, Ohio on June 6.
“The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,’’ the criminal complaint states. “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,’’ the complaint states.
Photo: Mug shot from the Kent County Sheriff's Department
A Michigan-based militia group was brought to the attention of the FBI in March when members were attempting to obtain the addresses of local police officers.
At the time, the FBI interviewed a militia group member, who was concerned about the group's plan to target and kill police officers. The individual agreed to provide information to law enforcement.
Investigators determined that Fox, who lived at a business on South Division Avenue, met with members of the militia group at various times in June. Fox also disclosed plans to “attack the Capitol and asked them to combine forces,’’ the criminal complaint states.
At a meeting at the business where Fox lived, “attendees discussed plans for assaulting the Michigan State Capitol, countering law enforcement first responders, and using Molotov cocktails to destroy police vehicles,’’ court records show.
Fox, according to the criminal complaint, “said their best opportunity to abduct Gov. Whitmer would be when she was arriving at, or leaving, either her personal vacation home or the governor’s official summer residence,’’ the criminal complaint states.
Fox, 37, described it as a '‘snatch and grab.’’
He also discussed the need to train "for the next three months to be ready to engage.''
Fox stated: "In all honestly right now . . . . I just wanna make the world glow, dude,'' according to court records. "That's what it's gonna take for us to take it it back. We're gonna topple it all.''
After kidnapping Whitmer, the group “would remove her to a secure location in Wisconsin for trial.’’
Five of those arrested on federal charges are from Michigan; Croft is from Bear, Delaware. The Michigan defendants have preliminary hearings set for Oct. 13 in Grand Rapids.
The group communicated by encrypted messaging and used code words and phases in an attempt to avoid detection by law enforcement, investigators said.
The governor's vacation home was the subject of "coordinated surveillance'' on two occasions. Fox and Croft discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the area of the vacation home, investigators said.
Fox even inspected the underside of a highway bridge for places to seat an explosive, according to the criminal complaint. He also bought a Taser for use in the kidnapping, documents show.
"These alleged extremists undertook a plot to kidnap a sitting governor,'' Detroit FBI Assistant Special Agent Josh P. Hauxhurst said in a news release.
"Whenever extremists move into the realm of actually planning violent acts, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force stands ready to identify, disrupt and dismantle their operations, preventing them from following through on those plans.''
Meanwhile, some of the seven people facing state charges as part of the same investigation had court appearances in northern Michigan on Thursday.
Investigators say the seven are members of the militia group Wolverine Watchmen or associates of Wolverine Watchmen.
Three of the defendants have ties to western Michigan. They are Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac, Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell and William Null, also 38, of Shelbyville. The three were arraigned Thursday in Antrim County, in northern Michigan.
Charges against them include providing material support for terrorist acts, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Also facing state charges are Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford; Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville; Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 42, both of Munith, in Jackson County.
“There has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,’’ Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a news release.
You can watch the press conference and the governor's comment on the plot in the videos below.
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