DETROIT — Photos and videos released by federal prosecutors Friday showed members of an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer firing weapons, threatening to kill law-enforcement officers and testing an 800,000-volt Taser that was supposed to be used to subdue Michigan’s highest-ranking politician.
The videos and photos are evidence that helped convince a federal magistrate judge to order five of the accused plotters to stand trial following an FBI investigation that revealed a broader plot to kidnap the governor and spark a civil war. In all, 14 people have been charged with crimes in state and federal court, including members and associates of an obscure militia, the Wolverine Watchmen.
The evidence released Friday shows accused plotters training at remote camps and surveilling Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan.
Prosecutors said one photo shows accused ringleader Adam Fox, 37, of Potterville, making a hand-drawn map of the lake near Whitmer’s vacation home and listing the mileage of the nearest police departments and the estimated response times.
Besides Fox, also known as “Alpha F — You,” the members ordered to stand trial on a conspiracy to commit kidnapping charge that is punishable by up to life in federal prison are:
Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, known as “Gunney”
Kaleb Franks, 26, known as “Red Hot”
Daniel Harris, 23, known as “Beaker”
Brandon Caserta, 32, known as “Debased Tyrant”
They are being held without bond.
A sixth man, Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware, is being transferred to Michigan to face the conspiracy charge.
Defense lawyers on Friday argued there was no conspiracy and that the accused were merely exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly and that threats to kidnap and kill Whitmer were “loose talk.”
One video released Friday shows Caserta and other accused plotters emerging from a vehicle and firing weapons during assault training.
“Training for things like breaching a house, using improvised explosive devices, assaulting cars, exfiltration from cars, this is a lot of nonstandard stuff that raised some flags,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said in court Friday.
The trove of evidence includes text messages exchanged among members via an encrypted app in a group chat titled “F — Around and Find Out.”
In one text, Garbin used symbols and emoticons to suggest blowing up a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home would slow law enforcement responding to the kidnapping, prosecutors said.
The texts include one from Harris discussing the kidnapping plot, prosecutors said.
“Have one person go to her house,” Harris wrote. “Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her.”
Daniel Harris sent this text during the kidnapping plot, suggesting someone go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s house and “just cap her,” prosecutors said.
Fox appears in another video released by the government.
In the short clip, Fox is shown rapidly reloading one weapon and brandishing a firearm from a holster on his right hip.
The state and federal cases filed last week have focused attention on anti-government extremism in Michigan amid fallout from lockdown orders aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19.
Members of the alleged conspiracy voiced displeasure with the lockdown, some protested at the Capitol and discussed “taking out” another state leader, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
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