Hearing in abduction plot
A suspect said he got cold feet and deleted surveillance video of Mich. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s home.
grand rapids, mich. — A Wisconsin man charged in connection with an investigation of alleged extremists plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor told the FBI after his arrest that he destroyed video taken of some of the men conducting surveillance for their scheme, an FBI agent testified Friday.
Special Agent Richard Trask testified in federal court here about the arrest of Brian Higgins, who was charged a day earlier by state officials with providing material support for an act of terrorism. Higgins is accused of loaning night-vision goggles to the alleged conspirators and took dash-cam video of a “reconnaissance” mission to the vacation home of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Federal authorities have charged six men with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat, before Election Day. Trask has said they were angry about coronavirus-related restrictions imposed by the governor. Another eight men, including Higgins, have been charged in state court with providing material support to acts of terror.
Higgins, 51, apparently became reluctant to carry out the plot, according to evidence discussed in court Friday.
After his arrest, Higgins allegedly told FBI agents he decided after helping conduct surveillance on the governor’s home, he wanted “nothing to do with it” and deleted a video he had made of the surveillance, Trask said.
The FBI agent said Higgins had already given a copy of the video to an informant who was secretly working with the FBI’S investigation and recording conversations among the suspects. Higgins told agents in his interview that he “wanted to get the video back” but was unable to do so, Trask testified.
At Friday’s hearing, defense lawyers argued that much of the government’s evidence was “big talk” on the part of the group’s alleged leader, Adam Fox, and that many of their activities, such as firing guns and taking videos of the governor’s home, were not in and of themselves illegal.
Defense attorney Gary Springstead noted there are a “wide range of viewpoints” among selfproclaimed militia groups and their members throughout Michigan, claiming some just like to “play guns in the woods.” Springstead then portrayed his client, Ty Garbin, as a “laissez-faire libertarian” who thought action was not necessary because the government “would collapse on its own.”
Prosecutors countered that there was plenty of evidence, including Higgins’s actions and statements, that show dangerous intent.
“Did they think through what they would do after they took the governor? No, it does not look like they did,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said. “It doesn’t have to be a good plan to be dangerous. These people got caught because they were amateurs and they hadn’t thought it through.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens ruled Friday that the FBI had gathered sufficient evidence to proceed in court with the charges filed against the six men accused in the Whitmer kidnapping plot.
At a hearing earlier this week, Trask said some of those charged in the kidnapping plot also discussed in June the idea of “taking” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat whose coronavirus restrictions, like those imposed by Whitmer, had angered President Trump and some conservatives.
After the alleged discussion of grabbing the Virginia governor, Northam blamed Trump for using inflammatory rhetoric that encourages extremism.
“These threats and this rhetoric is not coming from another country,” the governor said at an afternoon news briefing in Richmond. “It’s coming from Washington. And that I regret, and it needs to stop.”
At Friday’s hearing, Trask said he was unaware of any discussion among the accused plotters of Trump’s April tweets, which demanded, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!”
Amid heightened concern about Election Day security, Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued guidance to local election officials Friday barring the open carry of firearms within 100 feet of a polling place.
“Fair, free and secure elections are the foundation of our democracy,” Benson said in a statement. “I am committed to ensuring all eligible Michigan citizens can freely exercise their fundamental right to vote without fear of threats, intimidation or harassment. Prohibiting the open-carry of firearms in areas where citizens cast their ballots is necessary to ensure every voter is protected.”
A Confederate flag hangs in Munith, Mich., where officials said suspects accused in a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) met.