The men accused of conspiring to overthrow the government, kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and put her on trial for “treason” also discussed “taking out” another political leader: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, an FBI agent said Tuesday.
During a federal hearing for five of the six men accused of plotting with a militia group to kidnap Whitmer before Election Day, FBI Special Agent Richard Trask said that during an Ohio meeting in June the group discussed their outrage at the two Democratic governors’ decisions to lock down their states, and discussed ways they could take matters into their own hands.
“They discussed possible targets, taking out a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” Trask said, adding that the meeting brought together militias from at least four states, apparently to collectively plot. “The understanding at the time was to potentially kidnap a sitting governor and remove them from office.”
Tuesday’s hearing was held to decide if the five Michigan men—Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta—would be released on bond before a trial. A hearing for the sixth man, Barry Croft, will be held in Delaware.
While Trask didn’t discuss any further details about targeting Northam, his testimony provided new details of the alleged kidnapping plot, including an alleged plan to blow up a bridge to slow down any police response once Whitmer was kidnapped at her vacation home.
The June 6 meeting, the agent said, was just one part of the FBI’s investigation into the six men, who also allegedly discussed a plan to attack the state Capitol building and a police facility.
Kaleb Franks’ lawyer, however, claimed that the meeting was just bold talk—and his client was merely a follower who didn’t want to kidnap Whitmer.
“People who talk a lot, talk brashly, boldly, but never going to do anything to act on that. You’ve seen people like that?” Scott Graham asked Trask, according to the Detroit News. “I have seen that,” Trask replied.
The charges last week came in tandem with state charges against seven other men—linked to the Michigan militia group Wolverine Watchmen—who allegedly helped plan an attack the state Capitol building and wanted to instigate a civil war.
In a statement Tuesday, Northam’s press secretary said the FBI had “alerted key members of the Governor’s security team throughout the course of their investigation,” but that in line with “security protocols for highly-classified information, neither the Governor nor other members of his staff were informed.”
“At no time was the Governor or his family in imminent danger,” press secretary Alena Yarmosky said. “Enhanced security measures have been in place for Governor Northam and his family for quite some time, and they will remain.”
An FBI affidavit last week stated that one person who attended the June meeting in Ohio went to police “based on concerns [over] some of the directions that the group was headed and potential violence,” the affidavit said.
Through the militia member-turned-informant, the FBI became aware that Fox and Croft were discussing “the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components.” They’d agreed to “take violent action” against state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution. This included kidnapping Whitmer due to her “uncontrolled” power-grab amid the pandemic, according to the affidavit.
While the original plan was to conduct the operation in the last week of October, investigators allege that Fox believed the kidnapping should occur a week earlier to allow for more time before the 2020 presidential election.
“Snatch and grab, man,” Fox allegedly said in a recorded call from July 2020. “Grab the fuckin’ governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude—it’s over.”
The group allegedly conspired for several months, engaging in tactical training sessions, including several unsuccessful attempts to make bombs, investigators said.
In court on Tuesday, investigators said the men discussed other ways to kidnap Whitmer, including one iteration where the group would use a boat to flee with the governor. They would take the boat into Lake Michigan, before leaving Whitmer in the middle of the Great Lake. An earlier plan to storm the Capitol building and kidnap her was ditched when the group allegedly decided her vacation home was more secluded.
In one September meeting, according to the affidavit, the FBI overheard members laughing together after surveilling Whitmer’s vacation home. “Kidnapping, arson, death. I don’t care,” said Franks, who allegedly spent almost $4,000 on a helmet and night-vision goggles, and brought a rifle with a silencer to one of the group’s firearms trainings.
Later that month, however, the plan began to unravel after the FBI informant introduced an undercover agent into the group, who posed as an explosives expert. The men were arrested last week after the FBI and Michigan State Police raided several homes.
When charges were announced last week, Whitmer took aim at President Trump for refusing to denounce right-wing extremism. On Tuesday, Northam’s spokesperson also slammed the president, connecting the alleged kidnapping plot to Trump’s encouragement of violence—including April 17 tweets to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA.”
“Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to ‘LIBERATE VIRGINIA’ in April—just like Michigan,” Yarmosky said. “In fact, the President regularly encourages violence against those who disagree with him. The rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially deadly consequences. It must stop.”
Three of the five men were denied bond on Tuesday. The other two, Fox and Garbin, will hear the judge’s decision on Friday.