Authorities in Michigan on Thursday arrested 13 men on charges of terrorism, conspiracy and weapons possession in a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). The plan included storming the State Capitol, capturing the governor and instigating a civil war.
The governor has been the subject of anti-government sentiment and dissatisfaction because of her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the FBI, the militia group surveilled Whitmer’s vacation home, with plans to abduct her before the November election. Authorities say the group also met multiple times over the summer to train, build explosives and discuss the mission.
FBI special agent Richard Trask II said in the criminal complaint that the group planned to capture Whitmer and move her to a “secure location” in Wisconsin for a “trial.”
Six of the men were taken into custody on Wednesday in Ypsilanti, Mich. An additional seven were arrested later for terrorism, use of firearms and gang membership. According to authorities, the 13 men were associated with the extremist group Wolverine Watchmen. The six men first arrested were charged by federal authorities while the latter seven were charged by the state.
“When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard, but I’ll be honest, I never could have imagined anything like this,” the governor said after hearing about the arrests.
Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel linked the incident to President Donald Trump‘s “stand back and stand by” comments towards right-wing extremist groups during the first presidential debate, as well as his overall refusal to condemn white supremacy.
“Just last week, the President of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups,” the governor said. She continued, saying hate groups “heard the President’s words, not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry — as a call to action.”
There is no indication, in the court documents, that any of the men were inspired by the president. However, Trump did encourage protests in Michigan over the governor’s executive orders to protect against COVID-19 by shutting down much of the state, posting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” to his Twitter feed. These protests often saw appearances of inverted swastikas, Confederate flags and semiautomatic weapons, as well as violent threats directed at the governor.
Regarding the arrest of the 13 militiamen and their ties to the April protests, Nessel stated, “We’re asking elected leaders to tone down these very dangerous messages to those who would commit such violence. I think today’s criminal charges are just the tip of the iceberg.”