13 charged in plot to kidnap US governor, start 'civil war'

©Agence France-Presse

Six members of a right-wing militia have been arrested for an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer

Washington (AFP) - Thirteen men, including members of a right-wing militia, have been arrested for plotting to kidnap the Democratic governor of the US state of Michigan and start a "civil war," officials said Thursday.

Announcing the arrests, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel described the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer as a "serious and credible threat."

Andrew Birge, the US attorney for the western district of Michigan, said six men were facing federal charges for conspiring to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in the state.

Birge said they had conducted surveillance of her residence and had even tested an improvised explosive device they intended to use to divert law enforcement away from her home.

Whitmer has been attacked repeatedly by President Donald Trump this year over her tough coronavirus lockdown and armed right-wing groups have staged protests in the state capital Lansing demanding it be lifted.

"LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" Trump tweeted in April.

Nessel, the attorney general, said that in addition to the six men arrested for plotting to kidnap Whitmer, seven members of a militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen were facing state charges.

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

They also planned to attack the capitol building in Lansing and kidnap government officials including Whitmer, she said.

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

- 'Violent overthrow' -

A sworn affadavit from an FBI agent detailed the outlines of the plot to kidnap Whitmer.

The FBI said it became aware through social media in early 2020 "that a group of individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components."

A confidential informant attended a meeting in June of around 14 people, the FBI said, where the group "talked about creating a society that followed the US Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient."

"They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions," the affadavit said.

"At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the US Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer," it said.

"Several members talked about murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor," it said.

The six men charged with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer were identified as Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta.

Croft is a resident of Delaware while the other five are residents of Michigan.

The affadavit said Fox was recorded in June saying he needed 200 men to "storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages, including the Governor."

"Fox explained they would try the Governor of Michigan for 'treason,' and he said they would execute the plan before the November 2020 elections," the affadavit said.