Lansing, MI – Law enforcement officers across Michigan are even more concerned about the safety of themselves and their loved ones after federal investigators revealed that the group of extremists who allegedly plotted to overthrow, kidnap, and execute Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer also sought to “target and kill police” in order to instigate a “civil war.”
“We’re cautious. We’re absolutely more careful,” Michigan State Police (MSP) First Lieutenant Mike Shaw told the Detroit Free Press. “Law enforcement is the face of the government. If you’re mad at the government, you’re mad at the police.”
“This is one of the tactics these anti-government, domestic terrorism groups use,” Lt. Shaw added.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) brought its monthslong investigation to a close on Oct. 8 by announcing the arrests of 13 suspects allegedly involved in plotting the violent overthrow of multiple law enforcement and government components, The Detroit News reported.
The group allegedly called on its followers to seek out law enforcement officers’ home addresses in order to target them, and held trainings and planning sessions in preparation for a violent attack on the Michigan State Capitol, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said.
“The militia group had already been brought to the attention of the FBI by a local police department in March 2020 when members of the militia group were attempting to obtain the addresses of local law enforcement officers,” according to the criminal complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court on Oct. 6, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“At the time, the FBI interviewed a member of the militia group who was concerned about the group’s plan to target and kill police officers and that person agreed to become a CHS (confidential human source),” according to court documents.
Lt. Shaw said that the MSP and other Michigan law enforcement agencies are constantly having to evaluate the credibility of the threats being made against various facilities and law enforcement officers in order to reduce the risk of harm as much as possible, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“The threat is always there, but this raises it to another level of alarm when you start to target the officers when they’re not in their uniform, not on duty, not working. Now they’re tracking you,” explained Michigan Police Chiefs Association Executive Director Bob Stevenson.
Stevenson, a retired police chief, said that investigators have been doing a fantastic job identifying and neutralizing threats thus far.
Targeting law enforcement officers is not limited to a single political faction, he noted. Extremist groups at both ends of the political spectrum have officers on high alert.
“In our training, we view all extremist groups as dangerous,” Stevenson said. “A (2010) case involving the Hutaree militia, they planned to kill police and attack officers at the funerals. We’re not under the illusion that because someone’s politics are left or right that they’re not dangerous.”
University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy professor Javed Ali, a former National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism, said that the suspects’ alleged plot was brazen, dangerous, and sinister, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“Officer safety is absolutely a consideration. By trying to collect (home) addresses for individual law enforcement, it appears they were trying to prepare ‘targeting packages’ on those officers,” Ali said.
He noted that the group held weapons trainings, surveilled the governor’s summer home on Mackinac Island, built explosives, and communicated using encrypted messages.
“This was a sophisticated terrorist plot like I would see in my government career on the international side,” Ali told the Detroit Free Press. “This wasn’t a hoax.”
At least two of the 13 suspects arrested in connection with the kidnapping plot had prior military training.
Joseph Morrison, 26, had served in the Marine Corps Reserve since 2015, the Detroit Free Press reported.
He was a lance corporal who was last assigned with the 4th Marine Logistics Group in Battle Creek, but his military involvement ended on Oct. 8, when he was charged under the state’s anti-terrorism law.
Daniel Harris, 23, who has been federally charged for planning to kidnap and overthrow Whitmer, was a U.S. Marine Corps rifleman from 2014 until 2019, the Detroit Free Press reported.
His final assignment was at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Harris attended a Black Lives Mater protest back in June, according to The Washington Post.
The purported leader of the group, 37-year-old Adam Fox, complained in a Facebook video in June about Michigan’s judicial system and the effect the state’s COVID-19 restrictions were having on gyms, The Detroit News reported.
He referred to Whitmer as a “tyrant b—h,” and said that the group had to “do something,” according to the court affidavit.
Another suspect, 32-year-old Brandon Caserta, expressed his distain for the U.S. government in multiple online videos, Breitbart News reported.
Videos and images on Caserta’s since-deleted social media accounts showed him sitting in front of an anarchist flag and calling police “obedient order-followers,” Breitbart News reported.
At least one TikTok video showed him wearing a Hawaiian shirt – garb that is often worn by members of the antigovernment boogaloo movement, according to The Detroit News.
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and indifference to this notion is the means by which the people can and will secure their own oppression,” Caserta said in one video, according to The Detroit News. “Wake the f–k up.”
Although multiple news outlets described those arrested as being “Trump supporters,” Caserta never expressed any support for the President in his videos, Breitbart News reported.
“The Constitution is illegitimate,” he declared in one clip.
“Authority doesn’t exist, dude,” he said in another, while sitting in front of his anarchist flag. “Like, the law doesn’t exist.”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr explained during an interview last month that the boogaloo movement is not a “far-right” movement, The Epoch Times reported.
“Boogaloo is not radical right. And that’s one of the misconceptions that’s being essentially perpetuated by the media,” Barr said. “They are people who believe that the system, the current system, has to be torn down and completely replaced. People join it for different reasons, some have different visions of what the future should look like, but they’re all in agreement, it should be torn down. They’re anarchists.”
Another suspect arrested for allegedly conspiring to kidnap Whitmer, 44-year-old Barry Gordon Croft, was pardoned by Delaware Governor John Carney just last year, according to The Detroit News.
Carney pardoned Croft on charges of burglary, assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony – all of which he’d been convicted of in the mid-1990s, according to the paper.
He was also convicted of disorderly conduct, receiving stolen property, and conspiracy.
Carney signed off on the pardon paperwork on April 4, 2019, at the behest of the Delaware Board of Pardons, The Detroit News reported.
Delaware Department of Justice spokesperson Mat Marshall said that Croft’s pardon application was not opposed because the offenses had been committed more than 20 years earlier and “it appeared to everyone involved that his offenses were in his past and that he had gotten himself on the right track.”
“Needless to say, nobody — neither the DOJ nor the bipartisan Board of Pardons — would have endorsed a pardon had they known what the future held,” Marshall added. “Croft’s actions are horrific and another reminder about the rising tide of political violence by so-called ‘militias,’ the boogaloo boys, the Proud Boys and other extremist groups. We hope and expect that Croft and his conspirators will be prosecuted fully.”
Carney’s spokesperson, Jonathan Starkey, said that the allegations levied against Croft in Michigan are “disturbing,” The Detroit News reported.
“Everyone charged in this plot should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Starkey said.
The FBI opened an investigation into the group earlier this year after hearing about social media discussions regarding the violent overthrow of law enforcement and multiple state governments, The Detroit News reported.
Fifteen individuals from multiple states met it Dublin, Ohio, in June to firm up their plot, according to investigators.
Among them was an FBI confidential source who recorded the secret conversations, The Detroit News reported.
“The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” according to the FBI’s report. “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 Whitmer,” the federal investigation revealed.
They also allegedly talked about kidnapping Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, according to the Associated Press.
“They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” FBI Special Agent Richard Trask testified on Tuesday.
Agent Trask noted that those who attended the meeting were upset with how Whitmer and Northam had responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to recruit more people, Fox allegedly contacted a militia group based in Michigan that the FBI had already been keeping its eye on, The Detroit News reported.
The militia group, which was not named in the court filing, ended up on the FBI’s radar after a member became concerned about the group’s plot to target police and reached out to local law enforcement, according to federal agents.
That person ultimately agreed to become a confidential source.
Members of the group allegedly scoped out Whitmer’s vacation home on Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan on Aug. 29 and over the weekend of Sept. 12, to include calculating how long it would likely take law enforcement to respond to the home in the event of an emergency, The Detroit News reported.
One of the suspects, 24-year-old Ty Garbin, later wrote in an encrypted group chat that they could demolish a bridge near the governor’s vacation home in order to slow down officers’ response time, according to court documents.
Fox and two other members of the group allegedly photographed and videoed the property as part of their surveillance, The Detroit News reported.
“We ain’t going to let ’em burn our f–kin’ state down,” Fox said in one recording, according to the affidavit. “I don’t give a f–k if there’s only 20 or 30 of us, dude, we’ll go out there and use deadly force.”
“Snatch and grab, man,” he said, according to Breitbart News. “Grab the f–kin’ Governor. Just grab the b—h. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over.”
They allegedly discussed taking Whitmer to Wisconsin, where they said they would make her stand “trial” for treason and execute her prior to the Nov. 3 elections, according to The Epoch Times.
According to court documents, the group allegedly denotated at least one improvised explosive device loaded with shrapnel “to test its anti-personnel effectiveness,” then went and checked out the underside of the bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home to figure out the best place to attach an explosive, The Detroit News reported.
The suspects initially planned to hold one last training exercise in late October, but ended up postponing because of the November election.
Instead, they moved ahead with fundraising efforts to buy an 800,000-volt Taser, more explosives, and various other supplies, according to investigators.
It is unclear whether or not the group had selected another date to carry out the alleged kidnapping plot.
Members of the group were arrested during a meeting in eastern Michigan where they planned to exchange tactical gear and pool funds for more explosives, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge told The Detroit News on Oct. 8.
Nessel said that state and federal officers arrested a total of 13 people in connection with the alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer.
The FBI said that the conspiracy specifically involved Fox, Garbin, Croft, Caserta, Harris, and 26-year-old Kaleb Franks, The Detroit News reported.
They each face a potential life sentence if convicted of conspiring to kidnap the governor.
Seven other suspects who are allegedly linked to the Wolverine Watchmen militia group have been charged under the state’s anti-terrorism law, according to ABC News.
They have been identified as Morrison, 42-year-old Pete Musico, 38-year-old William Null, 38-year-old Michael Null, 38-year-old Shawn Fix, 36-year-old Eric Molitor, and 21-year-old Paul Bellar, The Epoch Times reported.
During an interview with “Good Morning America” on Friday, Whitmer blamed President Trump for the “ongoing” threats she and other government officials have been facing.
“There is ongoing rhetoric,” Whitmer said, according to ABC News. “Even the president last night in his tweet storm won’t stop attacking me, and I think that it’s creating a very dangerous situation — not just for me but for people in leadership roles who are trying to save lives all across this country.”
During a press conference just one day prior, the governor blasted Trump for allegedly “stoking” hate.
“Since he first called me ‘that woman from Michigan,’ we saw an increase in hateful language,” Whitmer complained during her “Good Morning America” interview.
She said that the President has encouraged domestic terrorism by being “complicit” regarding the threats she and other government leaders have faced, ABC News reported.
“Each time he has tweeted about me, each time that he has said ‘liberate Michigan’ and said I should negotiate with the very people who are arrested because they’re ‘good people,’ that incites more domestic terror,” Whitmer alleged.
“I am not the only governor going through this,” she continued. “Certainly, it’s been worse for me than most, but it is not unique to me, it is not even unique to Democrats. This White House has a duty to call it out and they won’t do it. In fact, they encourage it.”
Whitmer said that President Trump should have called her after the arrests to ask if she and her family were okay like presidential hopeful Joe Biden had done, ABC News reported.
“This was a very serious thought-out plot to kill police officers, to bomb our capitol, killing Democrats and Republicans alike, and to kidnap and ultimately put me on trial and kill me as well,” the governor added. “These are the types of things you hear from groups like ISIS. This is not a militia – it is a domestic terror organization.”