FBI busts militia 'plot' to abduct Michigan Gov Gretchen Whitmer
The FBI says it foiled a plot to kidnap and overthrow Michigan's Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Ms. Whitmer has been the target of coronavirus skeptics after taking strict mitigation measures that were overturned by a judge last week.
Officials say the kidnapping involved six men who were planning to hold a "treason trial" for them.
"Hate, bigotry and violence have no place in Michigan," Ms. Whitmer said, describing the defendant as "depraved".
Top (L-R): Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Daniel Harris and Kaleb Franks. Bottom (L-R): Ty Garbin, Eric Molitor, Michael Null and William Null
What were they supposed to be planning?
Armed lockdown protesters at the Michigan Statehouse
What are US Militia Groups?
According to an FBI affidavit, an undercover law enforcement agency attended a meeting in Dublin, Ohio in June where a group of Michigan militia members discussed the overthrow of state governments "which they believed violated the US Constitution violated ".
"Several members spoke of murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a seated governor," the indictment said. In a video, a suspect condemned the state's role in deciding when to reopen gyms amid the coronavirus lockdown.
The men met in a basement that was accessible through a trap door hidden under a rug, investigators say. Their phones were collected and placed in a different room to avoid classified recordings, but the FBI source exposed was carrying a separate recording device.
13 people were arrested by investigators.
Six men - five from Michigan and one from Delaware - are charged in federal court with plotting the kidnapping. They allegedly were planning a "treason trial" against Ms. Whitmer.
These six have been named as Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Casert, and Ty Garbin. Mr. Garbin's home in a trailer park was searched by authorities on Wednesday.
The other seven will be charged with terrorism and gang-related crimes in a state court in connection with the alleged kidnapping.
They are Paul Bellar, Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Michael Null, William Null, Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison.
The group wanted to gather around "200 men" to storm the Capitol and take hostages, including the governor. They hoped to implement their plan before the November presidential election. If that failed, they planned to attack the governor at her home, officials say.
The defendant "coordinated surveillance of the governors' vacation home," the US attorney for the western district of Michigan said, adding that they were also planning Molotov cocktail attacks on police officers, bought a taser and pooled their resources to collect explosives Buy explosives tactical equipment.
What do we know about the group?
The defendants have conducted weapons training and at times attempted to make bombs in several states, the FBI says, adding that their training was videotaped.
Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel said seven "glutton guards" militia are being charged by the state with gang affiliation and material aid to terrorists. Ms. Nessel said the arrested militiamen hoped to start a civil war.
"Michigan law enforcement officers are united in our obligation to eradicate terrorism in all forms and we will act swiftly against anyone who intends to cause violence or harm in our state," said Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police Statement of the Indictment against the "wolverine guards".
Anti-lockdown protesters have labeled Ms. Whitmer as Hitler
What did the governor say?
In a press conference on Thursday, the governor linked the conspiracy against them with the rhetoric of President Donald Trump, who in recent months has "fueled distrust, stirs anger and comforts those who spread fear, hatred and division". .
The governor pointed to Mr. Trump's failure to explicitly condemn white supremacists in the first presidential debate last week and described his remarks as a "rallying call" for hate groups. In the days following the debate, he repeatedly condemned such organizations.
Joe Biden, who is running for president against Mr Trump, condemned militias as a "real threat" and said Trump's "liberating" tweet encouraged militias. "A president's words matter," he said, adding, "Why can't the president just say stop, stop, stop, stop?"
Numerous incidents of violence have been linked to citizen militia groups in the United States in recent years. Supporters, who are often white men, sometimes wave guns during protests. The Department of Homeland Security warned in an annual report this week that violent white supremacy is the "most persistent and deadly threat in the homeland".
Mr. Garbin's trailer was searched on Wednesday
Ms. Whitmer's blocking orders drew thousands of demonstrators to the state capital, where many compared her to the German dictator Adolf Hitler. In April, Mr. Trump implied support for the protesters and tweeted "LIBERATE MICHIGAN".
In May, armed protesters against the lockdown stormed the state capital.
"None of us faced a challenge like Covid-19," Ms. Whitmer said on Thursday. "We are not each other's enemy. This virus is our enemy, and this enemy is relentless."
Three hours before the arrests were announced, Mr. Trump appeared on Fox News condemning Ms. Whitmer as a "lockdown queen".
"What she did with it is this place is awful. She locked it up. She has people like in prison," said Mr. Trump. "The courts just overturned you. You said what you were doing was unconstitutional."
Last Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled that Ms. Whitmer did not have the legal authority to issue emergency ordinances and that that responsibility fell to the state legislature.
Following the verdict, the attorney who argued the case in the Supreme Court advised citizens to "burn their masks," which health officials say is necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
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