6 charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan governor

7 others accused of bid to 'instigate civil war'; militia members among those nabbed

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaking on Thursday at a news conference in Lansing, Michigan after 13 men, including seven associated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group, were arrested for two related plots to take her hostage and to "inst
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaking on Thursday at a news conference in Lansing, Michigan after 13 men, including seven associated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group, were arrested for two related plots to take her hostage and to "instigate a civil war". PHOTO: REUTERS PHOTO: REUTERS
Armed members of a militia group, who are among those charged in Michigan over terrorism-related acts, in the Lansing state capitol in April.
Armed members of a militia group, who are among those charged in Michigan over terrorism-related acts, in the Lansing state capitol in April. PHOTO: REUTERS PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Thirteen men, including members of two right-wing militias, have been arrested for two related plots to kidnap the Democratic governor of the US state of Michigan and to "instigate a civil war".

The plots they hatched included storming the state capitol, bombing a bridge to divert police attention, and abducting Governor Gretchen Whitmer before the presidential election, United States officials said on Thursday.

Mr Andrew Birge, US attorney for the western district of Michigan, said six men face federal charges for conspiring to kidnap the governor from her vacation home. He said they had conducted surveillance of her residence and tested a home-made bomb meant to be used to divert law enforcement away from her home.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and Michigan police arrested the suspects on Wednesday as they met to "pool funds for explosives and exchange tactical gear", the Justice Department said.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked Governor Whitmer, 49, over her tough coronavirus lockdown, and armed right-wing groups have staged protests against her in the state capital Lansing.

"LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" Mr Trump tweeted in April.

Late on Thursday, the President showed little sympathy when he commented via Twitter. "Rather than say thank you" for the FBI action, Mr Trump said, "she calls me a White Supremacist".

Without explicitly condemning the plotters, Mr Trump said: "I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President!"

Ms Whitmer said that when she took the oath of office, "I knew this job would be hard", but "never could have imagined anything like this".

She added: "We are not one another's enemy. This virus is our enemy."

She pointed to Mr Trump's refusal at the recent debate with Democrat Joe Biden to condemn white supremacists and "hate groups" like the two Michigan militias allegedly involved in the plots. "Stand back and stand by, he told them," she said. "Hate groups heard the President's words not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry, as a call to action."

The group of six that planned the kidnapping met repeatedly over the summer for firearms training and combat drills and practised 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 Ms Whitmer's vacation home in August and last month, even looking under a highway bridge for places they could place and detonate a bomb to distract the authorities, the FBI said.

They indicated that they wanted to take Governor Whitmer hostage before the election next month, and one man said they should take her to a "secure location" in Wisconsin for a "trial", Mr Richard Trask II, an FBI special agent, said in the criminal complaint.

Mr 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.

Meanwhile, Michigan's Attorney-General Dana Nessel said that seven members of a militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen were facing state charges over the other plot.

They are suspected of attempting to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them and "instigate a civil war", she said.

The seven were charged with various offences including providing material support for terrorist acts, gang membership and firearms violations.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2020, with the headline 6 charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan governor. Subscribe