DETROIT (CN) — Six men were arrested on federal conspiracy charges Thursday accusing them of scheming to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat and frequent target of right-wing vitriol.
The six men, five from Michigan and one from Delaware, allegedly plotted a violent takeover of the state government, according to unsealed court records.
“The FBI became aware through social media that a group of individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components,” an affidavit from an FBI agent states.
According to the filing, Adam Fox sought to assemble more than “200 men” to storm the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing to take hostages, including Whitmer. Fox allegedly said the group would try the Democratic governor for “treason” in a trial that would occur before the November election.
After Whitmer locked down the state in the spring to slow the spread of Covid-19, right-wing activists, including some carrying assault rifles, descended on the Michigan Capitol to protest her stay-at-home order. She has also been a target of criticism by Republican officials, including President Donald Trump, over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The affidavit says the FBI used confidential sources and undercover agents over the course of several months to uncover the alleged kidnapping plans.
In a press conference Thursday, FBI Special Agent Josh Hauxhurst got right to the point.
“The alleged conspirators are extremists who undertook a plot to kidnap a sitting governor,” he said.
Fox and another co-defendant, Barry Croft, are accused of using social media to organize a movement seeking to create a society that strictly follows the U.S. Bill of Rights.
Although peaceful methods were discussed, the affidavit accompanying the criminal court said several individuals spoke about Whitmer violating the U.S. Constitution and discussed “murdering tyrants” or “taking a sitting governor.”
Fox allegedly looked for help from a Michigan militia group called Wolverine Watchmen that the FBI was already monitoring due to threats to harm police.
The militia group is known to perform field exercises for firearm and tactical drills. In one secretly recorded conversion when he visited the group, Fox allegedly said he planned to attack Michigan’s Capitol but needed help to do so.
Fox hosted a meeting with militia members at his place of business and went out of his way to keep it secure, according to prosecutors. A trap door to the meeting room was allegedly covered with rug and all cellphones were confiscated before the meeting began. The FBI informant was able to keep his recording device on and capture audio of the gathering.
Michigan State Police Director Joe Gasper said at the press conference he was disturbed by the scope of the plot.
“This case is one of the largest cases in recent history. The nature of this case is rather unprecedented,” Gasper said.
In subsequent meetings over the summer, Fox allegedly determined the best way to kidnap Whitmer would be at her private vacation residence or the governor’s official summer home.
“Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude -- it’s over,” Fox told co-conspirators, according to the FBI affidavit.
Fox planned to transport Whitmer to Wisconsin for their version of a trial, prosecutors say. A co-defendant, Daniel Harris, was allegedly recorded advocating for the assassination of the governor in the secret meetings.
“Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her…at this point. Fuck it,” Harris allegedly said. “I mean…fuck, catch her walking into the building and act like a passers-by and fixing dome her then yourself whoever does it.”
Eastern District U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider called for civility in a statement Thursday.
"All of us can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever result in violence," Schneider said. "The allegations in this complaint are deeply disturbing. What matters most is that the people of Michigan should be reassured that our state and federal government are working together to keep us all safe.”
In another summer meeting, according to the affidavit, Fox seethed about the current government and suggested sending a bomb to the governor’s office.
“In all honesty right now…I just wanna make the world glow, dude. I’m not even fuckin’ kidding. I just wanna make it all glow dude. I don’t fuckin’ care anymore, I’m just so sick of it,” he allegedly said. “That’s what it’s gonna take for us to take it back, we’re just gonna have to everything’s gonna have to be annihilated man. We’re gonna topple it all, dude. It’s what great frickin’ conquerors, man, we’re just gonna conquer every fuckin’ thing man.”
Attorney General Dana Nessel on Thursday announced state-level charges against seven more Michigan citizens now in custody under the Michigan Anti-Terrorism Act for their alleged links to the militia group. Those defendants are accused of looking for the home addresses of police officers to intimidate them and using violence to instigate a civil war.
In a congressional hearing last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers that “the most lethal of all domestic extremists” are racially and ethnically motivated.
“Our domestic violent extremists include everything from racially motivated violent extremists all the way to antigovernment, antiauthority violent extremists, and that includes people from anarchist violent extremists who subscribe to antifa as well as to militia types,” he said.