Hear­ing in ab­duc­tion plot

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KAYLA RUBLE AND DEVLIN BAR­RETT devlin.bar­rett@wash­post.com Bar­rett re­ported from Wash­ing­ton.

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.”

NI­COLE HESTER/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A Con­fed­er­ate flag hangs in Mu­nith, Mich., where of­fi­cials said sus­pects ac­cused in a plot to kid­nap Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer (D) met.

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