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Kidnapping plot included leaving Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in boat in Lake Michigan, FBI says

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks to media outside of Meridian Elementary School in Sanford, Michigan, on May 27, 2020. (Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

An FBI special agent testified Tuesday, Oct. 13, that a leader of a group plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer considered leaving Whitmer in a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan.

Adam Fox, 37, identified by the FBI as a leader of a group, said the group considered taking Whitmer to the middle of the lake then disabling the boat’s motor, FBI special agent Richard Trask II testified.

Trask also revealed in his testimony that the group had talked about kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. The alleged plan was in response to Northam’s lockdown orders over the coronavirus, Trask said. The defendants were allegedly upset by Whitmer’s response to COVID-19.

Fox, along with Ty Garbin, 24, Kaleb Franks, 26, Daniel Harris, 23, and Brandon Caserta, 32, are undergoing preliminary examinations and detention hearings before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens.

She is expected to rule on bond requests this afternoon. The preliminary examination will resume on Friday.

Barry Croft, also described as a leader, has a hearing Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Delaware.

The attorneys for several defendants suggested that their clients were followers and didn’t play significant roles in the planning. They contended that their clients would not have followed through.

“Big talk?” Caserta’s attorney, Michael Darragh Hills, asked.

Trask said: “I can speculate, but that’s it.”

Defense attorneys also alleged their clients were pressured to go along with the plan by a man working for the government.

Seven others are facing anti-terrorism charges in state courts. They are accused of planning to storm the state Capitol and start a bloody civil war.

“The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient. They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions,” Trask wrote in a criminal complaint.

He said that the group identified state governments, including Michigan’s, that they believed violated the U.S. Constitution.

In a effort to increase their numbers, they were encouraged to share their message with neighbors. Fox reached out to a Michigan-based militia, the FBI agent said.

“Fox said he needed ’200\u2032 men to storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages, including the Governor,” Trask wrote.

“Fox explained they would try the Governor of Michigan for ‘treason,’ and he said they would execute the plan before the November 2020 elections.”

Fox invited others to a meeting at what was described as his business, Vac Shack Vacuums in Wyoming. Fox did not own the business. He worked there. The owner, Brian Titus, let him stay there because he had no place to live. Titus was angry that Fox used his business to allegedly plan the governor’s kidnapping.

On June 18, Fox, Garbin and a confidential source met in Lansing for a Second Amendment rally. Fox asked them to join forces in an attack on the Capitol, the FBI said.

Two days later, they met at Vac Shack. The FBI said participants had “access through a trap door hidden under a rug on the main floor to enter the basement. The owner disputed that characterization and said the floor opened to the stairs to the basement in the old building.

There was talk about assaulting police and destroying patrol cars with Molotov cocktails. On June 25, Fox did a live-stream video to a private Facebook group. He allegedly complained about the judicial system and government for closing gyms during the coronavirus crisis.

He called Whitmer a “tyrant … .”

Three days later, Fox, his girlfriend, Garbin, Franks and Caserta attended tactical training exercise at the Munith home of militia group member. Franks left early, the FBI said.

He later said he was “’not cool with offensive kidnapping,’” the FBI said.

But he allegedly continued with the plot.

Fox, Croft, Harbin, Franks, Caserta and others attended training exercises on July 10, 11, and 12 in Cambria, Wisconsin, the FBI said. Croft tried to make improvised explosive devices but they did not detonate as he hoped, the FBI said.

Franks allegedly had a rifle with a silencer.

A week later, several met in Ohio for a meeting. They discussed attacking Michigan State Police facilities, the FBI said. Garbin suggested shooting up the governor’s vacation home. He didn’t want to go to the Capitol.

The had a meeting at the Vac Shack in Wyoming on July 27, the FBI said.

Fox said the best chance for abducting Whitmer was when she was arriving at, or leaving, her vacation home or the governor’s official summer residence.

Fox allegedly described the plan as “Snatch and grab, man. Grab the … Governor. Just grab the … Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over.”

He said they would take her to a secure location in Wisconsin for a “trial.”

In a July 27 encrypted group chat, which included Garbin, Harris, Franks and the confidential source, Fox allegedly asked how others felt about the kidnapping. No one responded.

In early September, several members in three vehicles conducted surveillance of Whitmer’s summer home in Northern Michigan.


(c) 2020

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.