Echoes of Civil War in Plot Against Michigan Governor

October 14th, 2020 - by David Nir / Daily Kos & Robert Snell and Melissa Nann Burke / The Detroit News

Republicans in Michigan Are Following Trump’s Cues

David Nir / Daily Kos

(October 12, 2020) — Even in a year as horrifying as this one, the story still shocked: Radical right-wing extremists had spent months training with guns and explosives to kidnap Michigan’s governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, and “instigate civil war.” Thankfully, the plot was foiled by federal agents, but the incitement that gave rise to it continues to be perpetrated, not least by Donald Trump.

It was Trump who, in April, tweeted in all caps, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” amidst the lockdown Whitmer imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Three minutes later, he wrote, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” Trump’s call for armed insurrection against duly elected officials provided the backdrop—and very possibly the impetus—for the terrorists who sought to overthrow Whitmer.

Yet after the conspiracy was uncovered, Trump only amped up his incendiary rhetoric. “Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job,” he snarled. “She locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities.” He falsely claimed Whitmer had called him a white supremacist (she didn’t, even though he is), and then set about further undermining her authority: “Governor Whitmer—open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!” he brayed.

Republicans in Michigan are following Trump’s cues. Just hours after the FBI announced the plot against Whitmer, the Republican leaders of both chambers of the legislature joined in a protest at the state capitol targeting the governor and her efforts to keep the state safe. In a surreal moment, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was forced to explain to the press that “the people who attended Thursday’s rally are not the same people who were involved in the plot to kill the governor.”

It goes without saying that getting rid of Trump is priority No. 1 for all democracy-loving Americans. But we must also ensure that our state governments enjoy respect as well. Michigan Republicans have made it amply clear that whenever Democrats win elections, they don’t consider them legitimate. There’s no compromise with people like this. The only solution is to remove them from power at the ballot box.

That’s why Daily Kos has endorsed a slate of stalwart Democrats running to flip the Michigan House, where we need five seats to end the GOP’s majority. These candidates all revere the rule of law, cherish our democratic institutions, and will always settle their disputes legitimately. Right now in America, only one political party believes in democracy. We need to make sure that party wins.
David Nir is the Political Director at the Daily Kos, PO Box 70036, Oakland, CA, 94612.

Plans to Kidnap Whitmer, Overthrow Government Spoiled, Officials Say

Robert Snell and Melissa Nann Burke / The Detroit News

 (October 8, 2020) — Federal agents said Thursday they thwarted a plot to violently overthrow the government as well as kidnap and harm Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — a conspiracy that included visits to her home in northern Michigan and training with firearms and explosive devices.

The alleged plot mainly involved six conspirators unhappy in part about Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions, calling her a “tyrant.” They wanted to create a “self-sufficient” society free from what they called unconstitutional state governments and discussed plans to storm the Capitol and take hostages, according to FBI documents filed in court. 

Organizers allegedly met starting in June, including at a Second Amendment rally in Lansing and in a Grand Rapids shop basement accessed through a secret door hidden under a rug.

The plot also included at least seven members of a Michigan militia known as the Wolverine Watchmen accused by state officials on Thursday of targeting police, making threats to “instigate civil war” and helping to plan Whitmer’s kidnapping, according to state and federal officials. 

The federal court filing alleges the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer’s personal vacation home in northern Michigan and discussed kidnapping her to a “secure location” in Wisconsin to stand “trial” for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election.

“Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit. “The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.”

After the charges were revealed, Whitmer slammed President Donald Trump for failing to condemn in strong enough terms hate groups, such as the far-right Proud Boys, whom he told to “stand back and stand by” during the debate last week. 

“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, a call to action,” the Democratic governor said. 

She also warned those who threatened violence: “We will find you, we will hold you accountable and we will bring you to justice.”

The federal affidavit first reported by The Detroit News was filed hours after a team of FBI agents raided a Hartland Township home Wednesday and comes amid an investigation into the death of a Metro Detroit man killed during a shootout with FBI agents.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, federal and state officers on Thursday detailed charges against the 13 people and what they described as “elaborate plans” to kidnap Whitmer.

The nature of the case is “rather unprecedented,” Michigan State Police Col. Joe Gasper said at the news conference.

“But it does send a very vivid reminder that while we may be in a period of discourse, possibly even divisiveness and fighting across the nation, law enforcement stands united,” Gasper said.

The investigation is the result of months of work that culminated Wednesday night in the execution of a series of search warrants and arrest warrants — both in-state and out-of-state — related to acts of terrorism under Michigan state law. 

The conspiracy described by the FBI specifically involved six people, including Ty Garbin, 24, whose home was raided by agents in Hartland Township late Wednesday.

The affidavit filed in federal court details probable cause to charge the six men with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer. Those identified by name include:

  • Adam Fox, 37, of Potterville
  • Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware
  • Ty Garbin, 24, of Hartland
  • Kaleb Franks, 26, of Waterford
  • Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion
  • Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton Township

Fox, Garbin, Franks, Harris and Caserta made initial appearances in federal court Thursday and are being held without bond pending detention hearings. The conspiracy charge each is facing is punishable by up to life in federal prison.

“All of us standing here today want the public to know that federal and state law enforcement are committed to working together to make sure violent extremists never succeed with their plans, particularly when they target our duly elected leaders,” said US Attorney Andrew Birge of the Western District of Michigan.

Detroit resident Robert Tesh accused of death threats againsi Governor Whitmer.

‘Wake … Up’

Through confidential sources, undercover agents and “clandestine” recordings, federal agents tracked the six men during their planning to kidnap Whitmer as they communicated over encrypted messaging platforms using code words and phrases in an attempt to avoid detection by law enforcement, Birge said.

The group also allegedly participated in field exercises that included detonating an improvised explosive wrapped in shrapnel to test its capabilities, he said.

Caserta, 32, of Canton Township, posted several videos on TikTok, including one in which he is wearing a Hawaiian shirt, the trademark clothing of members of the antigovernment boogaloo movement.

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” Caserta said in one video. “And indifference to this notion is the means by which the people can and will secure their own oppression. Wake the f— up.”

Former US Rep. Mike Rogers, a former FBI agent who chaired the House Intelligence Committee, said the conspirators had taken “really extensive steps” to put their plan into action, which was “obviously very, very troubling.”

“I feel for the governor and her family. Politics is bad enough these days. To have to put up with somebody threatening to kidnap and probably kill you for some deranged political cause is over the top for sure. My heart goes out to her and her family,” said Rogers, a Howell Republican.

He said it seems the authorities appear to have a solid case against the accused.

“They got a level of evidence inside the organization that is going to be hard to deny,” said Rogers, noting information from an undercover agent, informants, as well as bugged phone and intercepted data conversations.

“It looks like the evidence was overwhelming, and they got to a point where they said, OK, we don’t want to take the chance that they actually flip the switch here, and went in and did it.

“We should all be concerned,” he added. “We really need to talk about how this stuff needs to be tamped down.”

The criminal charges were filed six days after another so-called boogaloo boy, Madison Heights resident Eric Allport, 43, was killed during a shootout with FBI agents at a Madison Heights restaurant.

Allport is not believed to have been involved with any of the people accused of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer or violently overthrow the government, a law enforcement source told The News.

Allport died of multiple gunshot wounds during a shootout with FBI agents in the parking lot of a Texas Roadhouse at about 4:30 p.m. Friday near John R and 12 Mile.

He had a violent, turbulent life. Allport served an 11-year prison sentence for shooting at two police officers, was a boogaloo adherent  and played a minor role in the infamous Ruby Ridge standoff in 1992, one of the darkest chapters in federal law enforcement history.

Members of the Wolverine Watchmen

The ‘Watchmen’

Separately, Nessel on Thursday announced state charges against the seven other individuals pursuant to the state’s anti-terrorism act, “all of whom are in custody and linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen.”

In total, 19 state felony charges for firearms and terror-related acts were filed by Nessel against seven individuals known to be members or associates of the Wolverine Watchmen.

The individuals include Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford; Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville; Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac; Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell; William Null, 38, of Shelbyville; Pete Musico, 42; and Joseph Morrison, 26, who live together in Munith. 

The suspects are alleged to have called on the groups’ members to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them; made threats of violence to instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse; and engaged in the planning and training for an operation to attack the state Capitol building and kidnap government officials, including Whitmer, according to a statement from Nessel’s office. 

“There has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,” Nessel said.

“These groups often seek to recruit new members by seizing on a moment of civil unrest and using it to advance their agenda of self-reliance and armed resistance. This is more than just political disagreement or passionate advocacy, some of these groups’ mission is simply to create chaos and inflict harm upon others.”

Musico and Morrison live in Munith in a rural area of Jackson County. Signs saying “private property” and “no trespassing” were in their home’s front yard Thursday evening. What appeared to be a Confederate flag could also be seen near the home, which was located along a wooded roadway and a river. 

Pam Karshnock of Munith lives next door to the property. She said she regularly hears the sound of gunfire that disrupt her quiet evenings in the country.

“For months, there’s been gunfire almost daily,” Karshnock said. 

“I’m still shaking, knowing that it was that close to me,” she added, “just thinking back to the times I almost approached them to ask them to stop.” 

A group of individuals was visible Thursday outside of the home. They appeared to be moving things from the residence into a trailer that was parked outside. A stack of tires, cars and an RV were all located near the home. 

The federal investigation dates to early this year when the FBI learned through social media that individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of several state governments and law enforcement.

In June, Croft, Fox and 13 others from multiple states held a meeting in Dublin, Ohio, near Columbus, according to the government.

Those present included an FBI confidential source who recorded the meetings. The source has been paid $8,600.

“The group talked about creating a society that followed the US Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” the FBI agent wrote.

“They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the US Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Whitmer.

“As part of that recruitment effort, Fox reached out to a Michigan-based militia group,” the agent added.

►Read the Filing: FBI affidavit: Conspirators wanted to kidnap gov to remote Wisconsin location

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.