Daily Camera (Boulder)

13 charged in plots against Michi­gan gov­er­nor, po­lice

- By David Eg­gert and Ed White Crime · U.S. News · Society · Discrimination · Politics · Human Rights · Michigan · Lansing · FBI · United States of America · Detroit · Donald Trump · Joe Biden · Executive Office of the President of the United States · Republican Party (United States) · Delaware · Wood · Ohio · Dublin · Belleville · Cadillac Motor Car · Nevada · Las Vegas · Gretchen Whitmer · Wolverine · Watchmen · Schneider, Indiana · Daniel Harris · Grand Rapids · Dublin · Dana Nessel · Milford, MI · Cadillac, Michigan · Plainwell, Michigan · Shelbyville, Indiana · Munith, Michigan · The Watchmen

LANSING, Mich. — Agents foiled a stun­ning plot to kid­nap Michi­gan Demo­cratic Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer, au­thor­i­ties said Thurs­day in an­nounc­ing charges in an al­leged scheme that in­volved months of plan­ning and even re­hearsals to snatch her from her va­ca­tion home.

Six men were charged in fed­eral court with con­spir­ing to kid­nap the gov­er­nor in re­ac­tion to what they viewed as her “un­con­trolled power,” ac­cord­ing to a fed­eral com­plaint. Sep­a­rately, seven oth­ers linked to a para­mil­i­tary group called the Wolver­ine Watch­men were charged in state court for al­legedly seek­ing to storm the Michi­gan Capi­tol and seek a “civil war.”

The two groups trained to­gether and planned “var­i­ous acts of vi­o­lence,” ac­cord­ing to the state po­lice.

Re­hearsals for the kid­nap­ping plot took place in Au­gust and Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to an FBI af­fi­davit, and four of the men had planned to meet Wed­nes­day to “make a pay­ment on ex­plo­sives and ex­change tac­ti­cal gear.”

The FBI quoted one of the men as say­ing Whit­mer “has no checks and bal­ances at all. She has un­con­trolled power right now. All good things must come to an end.”

Au­thor­i­ties said the plots were stopped with the work of un­der­cover agents and in­for­mants. The men were ar­rested Wed­nes­day night. The six charged in fed­eral court face up to life in prison if con­victed. The state ter­ror­ism charges the other seven men face carry a pos­si­ble 20-year sen­tence.

An­drew Birge, the U.S. at­tor­ney in western Michi­gan, called the men “vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists.”

“All of us in Michi­gan can dis­agree about pol­i­tics, but those dis­agree­ments should never, ever amount to vi­o­lence. Vi­o­lence has been pre­vented to­day,” Detroit U.S. At­tor­ney Matthew Sch­nei­der told re­porters.

A few hours later, Whit­mer pinned some blame on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, not­ing that he did not con­demn white su­prem­a­cists in last week’s de­bate with Joe Bi­den and in­stead told a far­right group to “stand back and stand by.”

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

The White House called Whit­mer’s re­marks “out­landish.”

Whit­mer, who was con­sid­ered as Bi­den’s run­ning mate, has been widely praised for her re­sponse to the coro­n­avirus but also sharply crit­i­cized by Repub­li­can law­mak­ers and peo­ple in con­ser­va­tive ar­eas of the state. The Capi­tol has been the site of many ral­lies, in­clud­ing ones with gun-tot­ing pro­test­ers call­ing for her ouster.

Whit­mer put ma­jor re­stric­tions on per­sonal move­ment and the econ­omy, al­though many of those lim­its have been lifted since spring. The gov­er­nor has ex­changed barbs with Trump on so­cial me­dia, with the pres­i­dent declar­ing in April, “LIB­ER­ATE MICHI­GAN!”

There’s no in­di­ca­tion in the crim­i­nal com­plaint that the men were in­spired by Trump. Au­thor­i­ties also have not pub­licly said whether the men were an­gry about Whit­mer’s coro­n­avirus or­ders.

The crim­i­nal com­plaint iden­ti­fied the six ac­cused in the plot against Whit­mer as Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Har­ris, Bran­don Caserta, all of

Michi­gan, and Barry Croft of Delaware. All but Croft ap­peared Thurs­day in fed­eral court in Grand Rapids. They asked for court-ap­pointed lawyers and were re­turned to jail to await de­ten­tion hear­ings Tues­day.

Fox, who was de­scribed as one of the lead­ers, was liv­ing in the base­ment of a vac­uum shop in Grand Rapids. The owner said Fox was op­posed to wear­ing a mask dur­ing the pan­demic and kept firearms and am­mu­ni­tion at the store.

“He was anti-po­lice, antigov­ern­ment,” Brian Ti­tus told WOOD-TV. “He was afraid if he didn’t stand up for the Sec­ond Amend­ment and his rights that the coun­try is go­ing to go com­mu­nism and so­cial­ism.”

The gov­ern­ment said the plot against Whit­mer ap­peared to have roots in a June gath­er­ing in Dublin, Ohio, at­tended by more than a dozen peo­ple from sev­eral states, in­clud­ing Croft and Fox.

“The group talked about cre­at­ing a so­ci­ety that fol­lowed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-suf­fi­cient,” the FBI af­fi­davit said. “They dis­cussed dif­fer­ent ways of achiev­ing this goal from peace­ful en­deav­ors to vi­o­lent ac­tions. ... Sev­eral mem­bers talked about mur­der­ing ‘tyrants’ or ‘tak­ing’ a sit­ting gov­er­nor.”

The seven men charged in state court are ac­cused of iden­ti­fy­ing the homes of law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and making vi­o­lent threats “in­tended to instigate a civil war,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Dana Nes­sel said.

They were iden­ti­fied as 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, 42, who live to­gether in Mu­nith. Ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit, Mu­sico and Mor­ri­son are found­ing mem­bers of the Wolver­ine Watch­men, which au­thor­i­ties de­scribed as “an anti-gov­ern­ment, anti-law en­force­ment mili­tia group.”

The Watch­men have met pe­ri­od­i­cally for firearms and tac­ti­cal train­ing in re­mote ar­eas “to pre­pare for the ‘booga­loo,’ a term ref­er­enc­ing a vi­o­lent up­ris­ing against the gov­ern­ment or im­pend­ing po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated civil war,” state po­lice Det. Sgt. Michael Fink wrote in an af­fi­davit.

Some booga­loo pro­mot­ers in­sist they aren’t gen­uinely ad­vo­cat­ing for vi­o­lence. But the booga­loo has been linked to a re­cent string of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism plots, in­clud­ing the ar­rests of three Ne­vada men ac­cused of con­spir­ing to in­cite vi­o­lence dur­ing protests in Las Ve­gas.

Booga­loo sup­port­ers have shown up at protests against

COVID-19 lock­down or­ders and racial in­jus­tice, car­ry­ing ri­fles and wear­ing tac­ti­cal gear over Hawai­ian shirts.

Michi­gan be­came known for anti-gov­ern­ment para­mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity in the mid1990s, when a num­ber of loosely af­fil­i­ated groups be­gan or­ga­niz­ing and train­ing in ru­ral ar­eas. They used short-wave ra­dio, news­let­ters and early in­ter­net con­nec­tions to spread a mes­sage of re­sis­tance to what they con­tended was a con­spir­acy to im­pose world gov­ern­ment and seize guns.

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