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Photo: Brittany Greeson for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Six men have been charged in an alleged plot to violently overthrow the government and kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday. Seven other men linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen were charged by Michigan's attorney general for plotting to attack the state Capitol building.
Driving the news: Whitmer responded to the thwarted operation in an address on Thursday, calling for national unity and criticizing President Trump for his failure at the first presidential debate to explicitly condemn extremist groups. Hate groups heard Trump's comments "not as a rebuke, but as rallying cry, as a call to action," Whitmer said.
The big picture: Whitmer has been heavily criticized by some right-wing groups for implementing strict coronavirus restrictions. In April, hundreds of protesters, including armed members of local militias, stormed the Michigan Capitol in protest of Whitmer's stay-at-home order.
- President Trump faced criticism for encouraging the protests and calling on Whitmer to "give a little," tweeting at one point: "LIBERATE MICHIGAN."
- Violence by militia groups has become a growing concern in the past months. The details of the alleged plot revealed on Thursday shed more light on how people with extremist ideologies are organizing themselves.
The men charged were named as Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta.
Details: The FBI started tracking the conspiracy in early 2020 via social media channels through which individuals were plotting the violent overthrow of state governments and law enforcement. The FBI had an inside source at a meeting held in June.
- “The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” the source stated. “They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions."
- "At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer." Members of the group reached out to a Michigan-based militia group as part of a recruitment effort.
- The FBI was already tracking the militia in March because members were trying to acquire the addresses of local law enforcement officers, the FBI agent wrote.
- Reports out earlier this year suggested that militia groups had been posting threats about Gov. Whitmer in private Facebook groups.
In response to the news, a Facebook said, “We remove content, disable accounts and immediately report to law enforcement when there is a credible threat of imminent harm to people or public safety. We proactively reached out and cooperated with the FBI early in this ongoing investigation."
In August and September, members of the group staked out Whitmer's vacation home and discussed kidnapping or killing her.
- During the surveillance operation, Fox commented, “She fucking goddamn loves the power she has right now” and that “she has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now.”
- Croft stated, “All good things must come to an end,” to which Fox responded: “I can see several states takin’ their fuckin’ tyrants. Everybody takes their tyrants.”
The state of play: In recent weeks, the Michigan governor's residence received security upgrades, including a new perimeter fence.
- "As a matter of practice, we’re constantly reviewing security protocols and adjusting as needed," said Shanon Banner, spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police.
- "We don’t comment on specific threats against the governor nor do we provide information about security measures."