Federal and local prosecutors in Michigan have charged 13 men with conspiring to kidnap the US state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, as part of a militia plot before November’s general election.

The FBI and state police arrested several of the men as they met “to pool funds for explosives and exchange tactical gear”, said Andrew Birge, the US attorney for the western district of Michigan.

The militia group, called Wolverine Watchmen, had in recent months held training sessions with weapons, successfully tested an explosive device and surveilled Ms Whitmer’s properties, authorities alleged.

One of the members of the alleged plot had called Ms Whitmer a “tyrant” and said “we gotta do something”, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court earlier this week and unsealed on Thursday.

“Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” the affidavit said.

Ms Whitmer has been the target of intense criticism and protests from the right over the lockdown measures she has ordered in the Midwest state in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including from Donald Trump. In April the US president tweeted: “Liberate Michigan.”

Ms Whitmer criticised the president in a press conference after the charges were announced. She cited Mr Trump’s remarks during his debate with Joe Biden last week, where the president told a right-wing extremist 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,” she said.

Ms Whitmer said that “when our leaders speak, their words matter, they carry weight”, adding: “When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit”.

The FBI affidavit said investigators had become aware in “early 2020” that “a group of individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components”.

The plot evolved to include the Michigan-based militia group that had been trying to “target and kill” local police officers, according to the affidavit.

Over the coming months the defendants met repeatedly to discuss their plans, which included “assaulting the Michigan State Capitol”, using Molotov cocktails against the police and “shooting up the governor’s vacation home”, the affidavit alleged.

The men charged by federal prosecutors were Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta. Mr Birge said they had been arrested on Wednesday night. A further seven men have been charged by state prosecutors.

The affidavit said the FBI had several informants and undercover agents who were able to record the defendants plotting.

In a June phone call, Mr Fox had said he wanted “200 men” to storm the Michigan capitol building, according to the affidavit. The plan was to try Ms Whitmer for treason, it claimed. “He said they would execute the plan before the November 2020 elections,” the affidavit said.

In another conversation in August, Mr Harris had allegedly said: “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her.”

Ultimately, the defendants settled on a plan to abduct Ms Whitmer from her vacation home, prosecutors alleged. As part of the plotting, Mr Fox allegedly inspected the underside of a Michigan highway bridge for places to put an explosive, said Mr Birge.

He alleged the defendants had planned to use an explosion to divert police away from Ms Whitmer’s residence.


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