One of the Michigan militiamen accused of conspiring to overthrow the state government, kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and put her on trial for “treason” before Election Day has pleaded guilty in the foiled plot.
Ty Garbin, 25, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to the kidnapping conspiracy, marking the first conviction in the bizarre case that made national headlines in October. Fourteen men were accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer and discussing plans to attack the state Capitol building and a police facility, and possibly take out Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, too. Prosecutors allege the group, which included several militia group members, were frustrated over strict COVID-19 lockdown orders in Democrat-run states.
According to the plea agreement, Garbin has agreed to “fully cooperate” with the federal authorities, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Michigan State Police, and other law enforcement agencies.
During a Wednesday hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker stressed to Garbin that, as part of the agreement, he may be “called to the courtroom and obligated to tell the truth… even if it ends up hurting people you know. Do you think you could do that?”
“I could, your honor,” Garbin replied.
The 25-year-old has also agreed to take a polygraph test and testify against his co-conspirators. Garbin is among six men—along with Adam Fox, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, and Barry Croft—federally charged in October with conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Eight others linked to the Wolverine Watchmen militia group have been charged with terrorism offenses for allegedly taking part in planning the Capitol attack and attempting to “instigate a Civil War.” Garbin and three others facing federal charges were also members of the self-styled militia group based in Michigan, according to the plea deal.
An FBI affidavit states that, through a militia group member who became an informant, federal agents became aware last year that the men were plotting “the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components” and taking “violent action” against state governments that they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution. This included kidnapping Whitmer in retaliation for her “uncontrolled power” amid the pandemic, according to the affidavit.
Garbin met Fox at a June 20 “Second Amendment” rally outside the state Capitol. At the rally, Fox said he wanted to “recruit 200 people to storm the Capitol, try any politicians they caught for ‘treason’, and execute them by hanging on live television.”
That same day, Garbin and other Wolverine Watchman leaders met with Fox, who proposed using Molotov cocktails and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) "to distract and hinder law enforcement during the operation."
While the original plan was to kidnap Whitmer in the last week of October, investigators allege that Fox believed it should occur a week earlier to have 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.”
In the plea agreement, Garbin admitted he “advocated waiting until after the national election, when the conspirators expected widespread civil unrest to make it easier for them to operate.”
The group conspired for several months to kidnap Whitmer and engaged in tactical training, including several unsuccessful attempts to make bombs, investigators alleged.
While an earlier plan was to storm the Capitol building and kidnap Whitmer, the group decided her vacation home was more secluded. In court documents, prosecutors said the men discussed various ways to kidnap Whitmer, including one iteration where they would use a boat to flee with her. Members then discussed taking the boat into Lake Michigan and leaving Whitmer in the middle of the Great Lake.
Prosecutors said Garbin was a willing participant in planning the vacation home attack. He hosted a training session in his rural home in Michigan and made explosives using black powder and balloons. In one court hearing, FBI Special Agent Richard Trask said Garbin even suggested “shooting up the governor’s vacation home.”
“He said he was ‘cool’ with going after the governor’s vacation home, however, even if it only resulted in [the] destruction of property,” Trask wrote in an affidavit. “Garbin offered to paint his personal boat black to support the surveillance of the vacation home from the lake where the vacation home is situated.”
By September, however, investigators say the plan began to unravel after the FBI informant introduced an undercover agent into the group, who posed as an explosives expert. The plea deal notes that in one Sept. 19 chat, Fox told Garbin he was preparing the basement of a vacuum cleaner supply shop as a training center to prepare to kidnap Whitmer, adding that he had a Taser and zip ties “which would be good for ‘neutralizing’ the governor.”
The men were arrested on Oct. 8 after the FBI and Michigan State Police raided several homes.
In previous court hearings, Garbin's defense attorney insisted his client had no intention of actually kidnapping Whitmer and was just speaking boldly among pals.
“Saying things like, ‘I hate the governor, the governor is tyrannical’ ... is not illegal, even if you’re holding a gun and running around the woods when you do it,” Mark Satawa said in October.