The New York Times Company
Storming the state Capitol. Instigating a civil war. Abducting a sitting governor before the presidential election.
Those were among the planned plots described by federal and state officials in Michigan on Thursday as they announced terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges against 13 men. At least six of them, officials said, had hatched a detailed plan to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, who has become a focal point of anti-government views and anger over coronavirus control measures.
The group that planned the kidnapping met repeatedly over the summer for firearms training and combat drills and practiced building explosives, the FBI said; members also gathered several times to discuss the mission, including in the basement of a shop that was accessible only through a “trap door” under a rug.
The men spied on Whitmer’s vacation home in August and September, even looking under a highway bridge for places they could place and detonate a bomb to distract authorities, the FBI said. They indicated that they wanted to take Whitmer hostage before the election in November, and one man said they should take her to a “secure location” in Wisconsin for a “trial,” Richard J. Trask II, an FBI special agent, said in the criminal complaint.
Trask said that one of those arrested had bought a Taser for the mission last week and that the men had been planning to buy explosives on Wednesday. Court records indicated that at least five of the men had been arrested on Wednesday in Ypsilanti, Michigan; it was not immediately clear if the sixth man had been taken into custody.
“I knew this job would be hard,” Whitmer said Thursday, in reaction to news of the arrests. “But I’ll be honest, I never could have imagined anything like this.”
The FBI said a leader in the kidnapping plot had reached out to members of an unnamed anti-government group for help, and the state charged an additional seven men, all from Michigan, with providing material support for terrorist activities, being members of a gang and using firearms while committing felonies.
The seven men were said to be affiliated with an extremist group, known as the Wolverine Watchmen, and the state’s attorney general accused them of collecting addresses of police officers in order to target them, threatening to start a civil war “leading to societal collapse” and planning to kidnap the governor and other government officials.