‘These hate groups are domestic terrorists,’ Michigan governor says of kidnap plotters

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday that governors from both major political parties have reached out to share stories of extremism in their states since authorities revealed that a group of men had been plotting for months to kidnap her.

“I know this isn’t unique to Michigan, but this is uniquely American in this moment and it’s on all of us, people of good will on both sides of the aisle, to take it on,” Whitmer, a Democrat, told The Associated Press.

Authorities announced Thursday that they had foiled an incredible plot to kidnap Whitmer in a scheme that even included rehearsals to snatch her from her vacation home before the Nov. 3 election. Her first term as governor runs through 2022.

Six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the governor in retaliation for what they viewed as her “uncontrolled power” and then take her to Wisconsin for a “trial,” according to a criminal complaint.

The court filing described Adam Fox, who had been living below a Grand Rapids vacuum shop, as a leader.

Whitmer “loves the power she has right now. … She has no checks and balances at all,” Fox said, according to FBI surveillance.

Separately, seven others linked to a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and seek a civil war. Four of them were accused of helping to scout Whitmer’s second home, and both groups trained together, according to a state affidavit.

Six of those seven men were also arraigned on Friday on domestic terrorism and weapons charges, while a seventh awaits extradition from South Carolina, authorities told Reuters.

They are accused of conspiring to abduct Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has clashed sharply with Republican U.S. President Donald Trump over her COVID-19 public health orders.

“There’s no question that these hate groups are domestic terrorists, and I think we need to call them that,” Whitmer said. “This is a group of people that are acting on bigotry and prejudice and acting with violence with intent to harm their fellow Americans.”

She said she had heard from other governors, Republican and Democratic, “to check in, to share some of the things that they’re seeing in their states as well.”

Whitmer also said she feels safe, adding, “I’ve never been afraid of my security.”

State Attorney General Dana Nessel, who joined federal prosecutors in announcing the charges, said Whitmer was regularly updated about the investigation over the past few months.

“There were family members that were in certain locations that we deemed to be potentially in danger and were asked to move from those locations,” Nessel told the AP. “Unfortunately for Gov. Whitmer, she’s been the subject and the target of constant threats for quite some time now.

“Those threats escalated since her executive orders were issued,” Nessel said, referring to steps taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Informants and undercover agents had penetrated the groups. Arrests were made Wednesday, the same day that four of the six men charged in federal court had planned to meet to make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear, the FBI said.

A message seeking comment was left for Fox’s attorney Friday.

Whitmer has been widely praised for her response to the coronavirus but also sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers and people in conservative areas who said her one-size-fits-all shutdown orders were excessive. Many have been eased seven months into the pandemic.

The six men charged by federal authorities had discussed using explosives, including one under a highway bridge, to divert police from the area near Whitmer’s vacation home, and even bought a stun gun to use in the kidnapping, said Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney in western Michigan.

Whitmer has pinned blame on President Donald Trump, noting that he did not condemn white supremacists in last week’s debate with Joe Biden.

“The rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House is dangerous and it is emboldening American domestic terrorists. That endangers all of us and our democracy. It cannot be tolerated,” she told the AP, adding that a Trump election defeat “would begin to heal this nation.”

Five of the six federal defendants live in Michigan. Barry Croft, who lives in Delaware, was pardoned last year by Gov. John Carney for a series of crimes there, including possession of a gun during a felony and receiving stolen property, The News Journal reported.

“More divided than ever”

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Whitmer said that she would continue to hold the president accountable for encouraging and stoking the actions of “domestic terrorists.”

“When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit. And when a sitting president stands on a national stage refusing to condemn white supremacists and hate groups, as President Trump did when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate, he is complicit,” wrote Whitmer.

Whitmer said in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 “should be the year for national unity” and for Americans to fight the virus together.

“But this country is more divided than ever. And instead of uniting the country, our president has spent the past seven months denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, and fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.”

Following news of the FBI’s uncovering of the plot, Whitmer also argued in a speech Thursday that Trump’s comments during the first presidential debate were a “rallying cry” for extremists across the nation.

When our leaders speak, their words matter,” Whitmer said during her speech. “They carry weight. When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.”

Trump, in direct response to Whitmer’s comments on Thursday, tweeted that the governor had “done a horrible job,” targeting her state’s strict coronavirus lockdown.

“Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist—while Biden and Democrats refuse to condemn Antifa, Anarchists, Looters and Mobs that burn down Democrat run cities,” wrote Trump.

“Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer—open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!”



White reported from Detroit. AP reporter John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, contributed to this story. 

— With files from Global News.

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