More than a dozen people have been charged after what the FBI is calling a “violent” militia scheme involving people from several different states to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as a hostage and overthrow the Michigan government.
“The United States, including the FBI,” is investigating a conspiracy to kidnap the governor of Michigan," the criminal complaint reads.
6 men named in complaint
Five Michigan residents -- Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta -- and Barry Croft, of Delaware, have been charged with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer.
Officials said they became aware of the conspiracy in early 2020.
“A group of individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law enforcement components,” the complaint reads.
Croft and Fox agreed to recruit others to take “violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution,” federal officials said.
7 members of militia charged
Officers executed search warrants and arrest warrants in several Michigan locations, including Belleville, Cadillac, Canton, Charlotte, Clarkston, Grand Rapids, Luther, Munith, Orion Township, Ovid, Portage, Shelby Township and Waterford Township.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said 19 state felony charges were filed against seven people known to be members of the Wolverine Watchmen militia group or associates of the group.
Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford, was charged with providing material support for terrorist acts, gang membership and a felony firearm violation.
Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville; Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac; Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell; and William Null, 38, of Shelbyville, were each charged with providing material support for terrorist acts and a felony firearm violation.
Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 26, who live together in Munith, were each charged with threat of terrorism, gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts and a felony firearm violation.
Providing material support for terrorists acts, threat of terrorism and gang membership are each 20-year felonies. The felony firearm violations come with mandatory two-year prison sentences, to be served consecutively.
Michael Null, William Null and Molitor were arraigned Thursday before Antrim County Magistrate Jessica Allmand. The Nulls are being held in lieu of $250,000 bail, and Molitor is being held in lieu of $250,000 or 10%.
Probable cause conferences for all three are set for 1 p.m. Oct. 14, and preliminary examinations are scheduled for Oct. 21.
Musico and Morrison are expected to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Thursday in Jackson County.
Fix is in custody and is expected to be arraigned in Antrim County.
U.S. attorneys Andrew Birge and Matthew Schnieder, Michigan State Police Col. Joe Gasper and FBI assistant special agent in charge Josh Hauxhurst joined Nessel for the news conference.
You can watch Nessel’s full news conference below.
Group meets in Ohio
On June 6, Croft, Fox and around 13 others from multiple states gathered in Dublin, Ohio, to discuss creating a society that followed the Bill of Rights and allowed them to be self sufficient, officials said. A confidential informant for the FBI was at the meeting, according to court records.
They talked about different ways to achieve their goals, from peaceful to violent actions, feds said.
“Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” the criminal complaint says. “The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.”
Fox is accused of reaching out to a Michigan-based militia group to help in the scheme, officials said.
The group had already been brought to the FBI’s attention in March 2020 by a local police department, court records show. At the time, members of the militia group were trying to find the addresses of law enforcement officers, police said.
A member of the militia was interviewed by the FBI and agreed to becoming an undercover source, according to authorities.
Police said the militia group regularly meets in remote parts of the state to run through tactical drills and train with guns.
On June 14, one of the founders of the militia group said he had been introduced to Fox, according to the confidential source. Fox invited the leader to meet at his Grand Rapids business later in the week, the complaint says.
Fox met with members of the militia group multiple times throughout June, officials said.
On June 18, the confidential informant secretly recorded audio of a meeting in which Fox and militia leaders, including Garbin, met at a Second Amendment rally at the state Capitol in Lansing, the FBI said.
While trying to recruit more members for the operation, Fox told Garbin and the informant that he planned to attack the Capitol and asked them to combine forces, according to court records.
Plan to take Whitmer hostage
During a phone call with a confidential FBI informant, which was recorded by officials, Fox said he needed 200 men to storm the Capitol building and take hostages, including Whitmer.
Fox said they would try the governor for treason, authorities said.
The plan was to be executed before the November 2020 election, court documents show.
Meeting through secret trap door
On June 20, Garbin, Fox and several others went to Fox’s Grand Rapids business, meeting in the basement, which was accessed through a trap door hidden under a rug on the main floor, according to officials.
Fox collected everyone’s cellphones in a box and carried them upstairs to prevent the meeting from being monitored, authorities said. An FBI informant was wearing a recording device and captured audio of the meeting, officials said.
During the meeting, members discussed plans to assault the Capitol and use Molotov cocktails to destroy police vehicles, court records say.
They also talked about meeting over the first weekend of July for tactical and firearms training, authorities said.
During a private Facebook live stream on June 25, Fox complained about the state controlling the reopening of gyms, calling Whitmer “this tyrant b****," the criminal complaint says.
“I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something," he said, according to the FBI. “You guys link with me on our other location system, give me some ideas of what we can do.”
June training session
On June 28, Fox, his girlfriend, Garbin, Franks, Caserta and the FBI informant attended a tactical training exercise at the Munith, Michigan, home of a militia member, according to officials.
Franks left after the training, but others, including Fox, Garbin, Caserta and the informant, stayed there and were told to leave if they weren’t willing to participate in attacks against the government and kidnap politicians, FBI officials said.
Fox, Garbin, Caserta and the informant stayed for the rest of the meeting, records show.
July training, meetings
Over the weekend of July 10-12, Fox, Croft, Garbin, Franks, Caserta, the informant and others went to Cambria, Wisconsin, to participate in firearms training and other combat drills, officials said.
Croft, Garbin and a member of the militia group tried to construct an improvised explosive device using black powder, balloons, a fuse and BBs for shrapnel, according to authorities.
The devices didn’t work as planned, the complaint says.
Franks also brought and fired a rifle with a silencer on it, FBI agents said.
On July 18, Garbin, Fox, Croft, Harris, Franks, the informant and others met in Ohio to talk about attacking a Michigan State Police facility, officials said.
In a separate conversation, Garbin suggested shooting up Whitmer’s vacation home in Michigan, the informant said.
Garbin told the informant and others that he didn’t want to go after the Capitol, but he was “cool” with going after Whitmer’s vacation home, even if it was only to destroy property, according to court documents.
Plan to abduct Whitmer
During a July 27 meeting at Fox’s business, Fox said the best opportunity to abduct Whitmer would be when she was arriving at or leaving her vacation home or the official governor’s summer residence.
He described it as a “snatch and grab, man,” officials said.
“Grab the f****** governor,” he said, according to the FBI. “Just grab the b***. Because at that point, we do that, dude -- it’s over.”
Fox said after kidnapping Whitmer, they would move her to a secure location in Wisconsin for “trial," officials said.
He suggested recruiting a realtor to help them find the exact location of the vacation home and collect information about the surrounding homes and structures, FBI officials said.
The informant said Fox stressed the importance of mapping out the surrounding properties and recruiting plumbers and electricians to read blueprints and refine their strategy.
On July 27, Fox asked in an encrypted group chat that included Garbin, Harris, Franks and the informant, “OK, well how’s everyone feel about kidnapping,” authorities said. Nobody responded, officials said.
“We about to be busy ladies and gentlemen,” Fox posted in a private Facebook group, according to court records. “This is where the Patriot shows up. Sacrifices his time, money, blood, sweat and tears. It starts now, so get f****** prepared!!”
More discussions targeting Whitmer
When Fox asked the group about kidnapping Whitmer during an Aug. 9 tactical training session in Munith, Garbin was reluctant to talk about the plan in that setting, officials said.
During a group call afterward, Fox suggested a militia member gather information about Whitmer’s home in Lansing. He also discussed destroying her boat, court records show.
The FBI said after the call, Fox, Franks, Garbin, Harris and an informant communicated in an encrypted group chat, during which Harris said, “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it, just cap her ... at this point. F*** it. I mean ... f***, catch her walking into the building and act like a passers-by and fixing dome her then yourself, whoever does it."
in a follow-up chat about the plan, Franks told the informant, “OK, sounds good. I’m in for anything, as long as it’s well-planned,” according to authorities.
Franks expressed interest in surveilling the vacation home, officials said.
A member of the militia group named specific cities where the vacation home could be located, FBI agents said. On Aug. 18, that person told the informant the name of the lake in northern Michigan where the vacation home is located and said he was looking for an escape route using a boat on the lake, court documents say.
FBI officials said the group used encrypted online platforms and code words to avoid law enforcement detection.
During a July 24 call, Fox said he had researched Whitmer’s office in Lansing and believed it was only ceremonial, authorities said.
When Fox wondered whether the group should “party it out, make a cake and send it,” the informant believed he was referencing sending a bomb to Whitmer, according to the complaint.
“In all honesty right now, I just wanna make the world glow, dude,” Fox said another time, according to the FBI. “I’m not even f****** kidding. I just wanna make it all glow, dude. I don’t f****** care anymore. I’m just so sick of it. That’s what it’s gonna take for us to take it back. We’re just gonna have to. Everything’s gonna hve to be annihilated, man. We’re gonna topple it all, dude. It’s what great frickin' conquerors, man. We’re just gonna conquer every f****** thing, man.”
Fox and Garbin further discussed the government needing to collapse because it has become so tyrannical, officials said.
On July 26, Fox said he hadn’t heard back from the “baker,” which meant an explosives manufacturer, according to the FBI informant.
“Maybe we should just make a bunch of cupcakes and send them out,” Fox said, according to authorities. He was referencing a more widespread bombing campaign, the FBI alleges.
Lake Orion meeting
Garbin, Harris, Franks, Caserta, the informant and three others met at Harris' house in Lake Orion on Aug. 23, officials said.
They talked about concerns that the group had been infiltrated by authorities, so they were all required to confirm their identities, according to authorities.
The informant said Caserta asked Franks, “Franks, where you at?” Franks responded, “Same place. I’m ready to get it on. Doesn’t matter. It could be ‘cause somebody looked at us wrong," officials said.
The informant said Fox was “all about f****** killing her.”
“Go on someone’s property and stuff like that -- I would rather not scare them,” Caserta said, according to the FBI. “Especially if it’s a f****** political parasite. The world would be better without that person, I’ll say that.”
Court records show they talked about surveilling the vacation home to prepare for attacks on Whitmer, and Franks told them he recently spent almost $4,000 on a helmet and night vision goggles.
The group agreed to move their chat to a different encrypted messing application to address concerns about being infiltrated, authorities said.
Vacation home surveillance
Fox, the informant and another person conducted surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home on Aug. 29, officials said.
Fox tried to use his cellphone to find the residents, but they had trouble, court records show. He called a friend who had helped them in the past, and that person told him where the home was, even sending pictures from the internet, according to the FBI.
When they found the home, they took pictures and slow-motion videos from their vehicle as they drove past and talked about doing surveillance from the water, the criminal complaint says.
The third person looked up nearby police departments and estimated how long it would take officers to get to the vacation home, authorities said.
“We ain’t gonna let ‘em burn our f****** state down,” Fox said, according to court records. “I don’t give a f*** if there’s only 20 or 30 of us, dude. We’ll go out there and use deadly force.”
On Aug. 30, Fox shared the photos of the vacation home with a group chat and offered to paint his personal boat black to surveil the home from the lake, officials said.
During a conversation with the informant, Garbin used emojis to insinuate if the nearby bridge was taken down, police would take longer to get to the vacation home, court documents show.
Fox, Croft, Garbin, Franks, Harris, Caserta, the informant and another person went to Garbin’s property in Luther, Michigan, the weekend of Sept. 12-13, according to authorities. The property is about 90 minutes from the vacation home.
Croft brought what he called a “chemistry set," which included materials to create an IED, according to authorities. He created an IED by removing the cap from a firework, adding additional black powder and wrapping it in pennies and electrical tape as shrapnel, court records show.
The group set the device in a clearing surrounded by human silhouette targets, and Croft detonated it to test its effectiveness, officials said.
Fox took Croft, Garbin, Franks, Caserta, the informant and others aside to brief them on the plan to kidnap Whitmer, FBI agents said. They were told to conduct nighttime surveillance to prepare, according to the complaint.
Harris, Caserta and another person stayed at the camp in Luther, but the next day, Harris learned about the surveillance and said he regretted not being part of the operation, according to authorities.
On Sept. 12, Fox was driving from Garbin’s property to Cadillac to bring others to the property, officials said. He told them the vacation home was Whitmer’s actual house and said, “and it’s a perfect f****** setup. Out of everywhere that she resides, this is the only one that’s probably actually feasible with a success rate,” the criminal complaint reads.
The night of Sept. 12 and into the morning of Sept. 13, the group drove from Luther to the area of the vacation home in three separate vehicles, officials said.
Before leaving Luther, Croft asked Fox if the participants were armed, authorities said. When Fox confirmed that they were, Croft suggested they take the opportunity to commit violence that night, but he was eventually dissuaded so they could wait for a better time, court records show.
The first vehicle included Fox, Croft, the informant, an undercover FBI agent and someone from Wisconsin, authorities said. Croft and Fox talked about detonating explosives to divert police from the area of the vacation home, officials said.
They stopped at the M-31 highway bridge on the way, and Fox and the undercover agent inspected the bottom of the bridge for places to set an explosive charge, court records show.
Fox took a picture of the bridge’s support structure before they drove to a public boat launch across the lake from the vacation home to wait for the other cars in their group, according to authorities.
The second car included Garbin, Franks and another person from Wisconsin, officials said. A digital dash camera was mounted to record footage of the surveillance, the complaint says.
When the second vehicle arrived, they contacted Fox to check if they could see each other’s lights across the lake.
“Can you see my light?” Garbin asked the first vehicle, according to the FBI.
“You got our guys?” Croft asked the second vehicle, officials said.
“We got you,” the informant replied.
Two others and a second undercover FBI agent drove to the lake in the third vehicle. They were told by Fox to drive around and make sure nobody was following or surveilling the group, records show.
“She f****** d****** loves the power she has right now,” Fox said during the operation, according to the FBI. “She has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now.”
“All good things must come to an end,” Croft said, according to court documents.
“I can see several states takin' their f****** tyrants,” Fox said, according to the complaint. “Everybody takes their tyrants.”
The group also talked about how many people should be involved in the kidnapping operation, officials said.
“We’re doin' all the reconnaissance work, so it should go smooth,” Franks said during the ride back to Garbin’s property, court records say.
“If you’re not down with the thought of kidnapping, don’t sit here,” someone said when they got back to Garbin’s property.
“Oh no, we’re not kidnapping,” Garbin replied, according to authorities. “That’s not what we’re doing.” His comments were followed by general laughter, FBI agents said.
An audio recording revealed one voice saying, “No children" and another saying, “we’re adult-napping,” FBI officials said.
“Kidnapping, arson, death -- I don’t care,” Franks said, according to the criminal complaint.
The group also talked about destroying the vacation home, officials said.
Finalizing kidnapping plans
The morning of Sept. 13, the group reconvened at Garbin’s Luther property, authorities said. Fox gathered Croft, Garbin, Franks, Harris, Caserta, the informant, the undercover FBI agents and two others to confirm that would be the group kidnapping Whitmer.
One of the undercover agents told Fox it would cost about $4,000 to procure the explosives they wanted to use to blow up the bridge leading to the vacation home.
The group agreed to conduct a final training exercise in late October, according to court records.
Fox posted in the group’s chat Sept. 14 that he didn’t want the training to be the final week in October because it wouldn’t leave them enough time to kidnap Whitmer before the national election on Nov. 3, FBI agents said.
They agreed to use the time until the final training to raise money for explosives and other supplies, court records show.
On Sept. 17, Fox asked the group members what they thought of a militia group invitation to participate in an armed protest at the state Capitol.
“I would highly advise minimizing any communication with him,” Garbin replied, according to officials. “Also, there needs to be zero, and I mean zero, public interaction if we want to continue with our plans.”
“When the time comes, there will need to be no need to try and strike fear through presence,” Caserta replied, according to the criminal complaint. “The fear will be manifested through bullets.”
“Copy that, boys, loud and clear!” Fox responded, according to authorities.
Fox called the informant Sept. 30 to talk about buying a Taser to use during the kidnapping, officials said. He told the informant that Croft, Garbin, Harris, Franks and Caserta were aware of the $4,000 cost.
On Oct. 2, Fox confirmed he had purchased an 800,000 volt Taser, officials said.
Fox, Garbin, Harris and Franks planned to meet with an undercover agent Oct. 7 to pay for explosives and exchange tactical gear, court records show. Caserta said he couldn’t attend because of work, authorities said.
Croft had returned to Delaware and wasn’t available during the exchange, the complaint says.
You can watch Whitmer’s full response to the plot below.
Statements condemn plot
Here are statements from officials about the plot to kidnap Whitmer.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake):
"A threat against our governor is a threat against us all. We condemn the actions of the group of individuals that plotted against Gov. Whitmer and state government. These people are not patriots. There is no honor in their actions. They are criminals and traitors, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
"Citizens who care about government show their passion by voting. Only terrorists resort to violence.
“We extend our gratitude to the men and women in law enforcement for their work to thwart this plan and reach a safe conclusion. The governor and her family are in our thoughts in prayers."
Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox:
“I would like to thank the hard-working men and women of the FBI and state and local law enforcement who stopped this attack before it could happen, and I am grateful that no government officials, their families or Michigan citizens were harmed. We live in a nation where we settle our political disagreements at the ballot box, not through violence, and any attempt to do otherwise is an attack on our Constitution, our values, and our American way of life.”
NAACP National President Derrick Johnson:
"I am deeply troubled by the disturbing news of the kidnapping plot against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
"These events further manifest how extreme the levels of division and hatred have become across our nation, only fueled and reinforced by President Trump himself.
"President Trump, who claims to support law and order, has actively encouraged violence and chaos between our communities for his political gain.
“Today, President Trump can no longer hide in the shadows, denying the responsibility he holds in this hateful act.”
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider:
“All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics. But those disagreements can never, ever, result in violence. And because of the hard work of the men and women in law enforcement – police officers and federal agents – violence has been prevented today. This case is being brought in the Western District of Michigan. Some of the defendants reside in the Eastern District, where search warrants have been executed. But at the end of the day, what matters most is that the people of Michigan should be reassured that our state and federal governments are working together to keep us all safe. I want to thank Attorney General Nessel and her office, for their outstanding work and her committed partnership. 2 I also thank Colonel Gasper, Special Agent Hauxhurtst, and of course, U.S. Attorney Birge. Every day, police officers and federal agents put their lives on the line for us. In this case, arrests were made swiftly and safely by those officers and agents. We are most thankful to them.”