Feds say plot was bigger than kidnapping Gov. Whitmer. It was civil war attempt.
The Wolverine Watchmen militia group didn’t just plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but they were on a mission to attack the state Capitol and target police officers at their homes as part of a broader mission to instigate a civil war, authorities said Thursday in announcing felony charges against 13 militia members accused in a sensational case of domestic terrorism.
Attorney General Dana Nessel referred to the accused as “extremists” who are hoping to recruit new members “by seizing on a moment of civil unrest” to wreak havoc on the country. She identified the militia group as the Wolverine Watchmen, whose members are accused of, among other things, conducting surveillance outside Whitmer’s vacation residence, using code language and encrypted messages to throw off police and planting a bomb under a bridge to divert law enforcement.
“There has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,” Nessel said at a press conference Thursday. “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.”
Nessel’s comments follow the filing of an FBI affidavit in U.S. District Court that alleges six militia members plotted a revolt on the government that included kidnapping Whitmer.
According to the FBI affidavit, the accused purchased items including a Taser and night goggles, conducted surveillance at Whitmer’s cottage, and discussed blowing up a bridge to divert police, kidnapping Whitmer, and taking her to Wisconsin to face a “trial” for treason.
The federal case is being prosecuted out of the Western District of Michigan. Charged in that case are: Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta, according to a criminal complaint. They are charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, according to the complaint.
All are residents of Michigan except Croft, who is a resident of Delaware, the complaint alleges.
While federal charges are pending against those suspects, Nessel announced a fresh batch of charges against seven additional defendants, including providing material support for terrorists acts —- a 20 year felony, and felony firearm. The suspects are:
- Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford
- Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville
- William Null, 38, of Shelbyville
- Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 42, both of Munith
- Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac
- Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell
Nessel said the suspects called on other 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 federal court records, the group hoped to carry out this mission before the Nov. 3 election and try Whitmer for treason.
The plot, however, foiled following a federal investigation that involved paid undercover informants and 200 state and federal law enforcement officials executing search warrants in more than a dozen cities around the state, including, Belleville, Cadillac, Canton, Charlotte, Clarkston, Grand Rapids, Luther, Munith, Orion Township, Ovid, Portage, Shelby Township and Waterford.
Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police, which is involved in the case, said “the nature of this case is rather unprecedented.”
“This case is one of the largest cases in recent history that the Michigan State Police been involved in, ” Gasper said. “It sends a very vivid reminder that while we may be in period of discourse … (with) fighting across the nation, law enforcement stands united.”
“All of us can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever result in violence. The allegations in this complaint are deeply disturbing.”
The alleged plot against the governor marks the second major militia case brought by federal officials in Michigan in the last decade.
The last one was a major embarrassment for the federal government as it ended with the vindication of all the defendants, some who were jailed for years. The case involved the 2009 arrests of seven Hutaree militia members who were charged with plotting a revolt against the government that included killing police officers with guns and bombs.
All faced up to life in prison, but their trial ended abruptly in 2012 when U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts concluded that the government failed to prove its case. In the end, the judge concluded, there was not proof of a real plot to overthrow the government or kill police, but people engaging in tough talk, she said