NewsWhitmer Kidnapping Plot

Actions

How a group of extremists plotted to kidnap a sitting governor

Posted: 11:47 AM, Oct 14, 2020
Updated: 2020-10-14 12:08:33-04

A raid in Hartland on Oct. 7 echoed similar raids unfolding across the state of Michigan; men were taken into custody after a plan hatched on social media grew into a kidnapping plot of national interest that sharply highlighted political divisions.

Fourteen men are currently facing charges in a domestic terrorism plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and “try her” for treason.

The men facing charges had ties to an anti-government terrorism movement called Boogaloo, which aims to engage in violent acts and overthrow government, seeking a “civil war.”

How the plot unfolded

A criminal complaint from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan outlined the kidnapping plot and named six defendants: Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta. Croft is a Delaware resident, while the others reside in Michigan.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel later announced the state would be issuing charges against seven additional defendants in the plot: Paul Bellar, Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Michael Null, William Null, Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison. Later, Nessel announced an eight man had been charged by the state in the plot, identified as Brian Higgins, from Wisconosin.


Throughout the course of the investigation, there were confidential human sources (CHS) and undercover employees (UCE), who consensually recorded meetings and conversations.

Information in the complaint was provided by sources and employees identified as CHS-1, CHS-2, UCE-1 and UCE-2.

According to the affidavit, the FBI became aware in early 2020 through social media that a group was discussing the violent overthrow of government and law enforcement officials.

Croft and Fox were identified in the group; officials say they allegedly agreed to take “violent action” against multiple state governments and agreed to unite others in the cause.

On June 6, Croft, Fox and 13 other people from several states reportedly gathered in Dublin, Ohio, with CHS-1 in attendance.

The group allegedly spoke about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient, discussing different ways to achieve the goal, including violent actions.

"We’re gonna topple it all, dude. It’s what great frickin’ conquerors, man, we’re just gonna conquer every f----n’ thing man." - Adam Fox

According to the affidavit, the group discussed murdering “tyrants” or “taking” a sitting governor whom they believed was violating the U.S. Constitution; Whitmer’s name was brought up during this conversation, along with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

The group then decided they needed to increase their numbers; Fox allegedly reached out to a Michigan-based militia group as part of the recruitment effort, later identified as the Wolverine Watchmen.

Federal officials said the militia group had already been brought to the attention of the FBI in March 2020, when members were allegedly attempting to obtain the addresses of local law enforcement.

CHS-2 reported that the group would meet for field training exercises on private property in remote areas of Michigan; the exercises included firearms training and tactical drills.

During a meeting on June 18, which was consensually recorded by CHS-2, Fox allegedly said he needed “200 men” to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor.

Fox allegedly said they would try Whitmer for “treason,” and the plan would be executed before the November 2020 elections.

On June 20, officials say Fox, Garbin and several others, including CHS-2, met at Fox’s residence at a business in Grand Rapids, identified as a vacuum shop on Division Avenue. Fox collected all of their cell phones in a box to prevent any monitoring; however, CHS-2 was wearing a recording device.

During the meeting, the attendees allegedly discussed plans for storming the Capitol building, including countering law enforcement first responders and using “Molotov cocktails” to destroy police vehicles.

According to the affidavit, on June 25, Fox live-streamed a video to a private Facebook group that included CHS-2, where he complained about the judicial system and the State of Michigan controlling the opening of gyms.

He reportedly referred to Whitmer as “this tyrant b----h” and said, “I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something. You guys link with me on our other location system, give me some ideas of what we can do.”

Training and plotting to kidnap the governor

Over the weekend of July 10-12, officials say Fox, Croft, Garbin, Franks, Caserta and CHS-2 met in Cambria, Wisconsin, where they reportedly participated in firearms training and other combat drills. Attendees shared photos and video recordings of the exercise in Facebook discussions.

According to the affidavit, on July 11, Croft and a member of the group allegedly attempted to build an improvised explosive device using black powder, balloons, a fuse and BBs for shrapnel. Croft, Garbin and the member attempted to make a second IED using similar components.

However, officials say the construction was faulty and the devices did not detonate as planned.

Criminal Complaint Plot to ... by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

On July 18, Garbin, Fox, Croft, Harris, Franks, CHS-2 and others met in Ohio, where they allegedly discussed attacking a Michigan State Police facility. After the meeting, Garbin reportedly suggested “shooting up” Whitmer’s vacation home, located in the Western District of Michigan.

The same day, Garbin allegedly told the group that he did not want to go after the Capitol, and was instead “cool” with going after her vacation home, even if it only resulted in destruction of property.

On July 24, CHS-2 and Garbin had a call with Fox, in which he said he believed the governor kept only a ceremonial office in Lansing; Fox allegedly wondered aloud whether the group needed to “party it out, make a cake and send it,” which authorities believe was a coded reference to sending a bomb to the governor.

During the call, Fox allegedly said, “In all honesty right now . . . I just wanna make the world glow, dude. I’m not even f----n’ kidding. I just wanna make it all glow dude. I don’t f----n’ 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 have 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----n’ thing man.”

Additionally, Fox and Garbin reportedly discussed the need for the government to collapse because it has become “so tyrannical.”

"Snatch and grab, man. Grab the f----n’Governor. Just grab the b---h. Because at that point, we do that, dude -- it’s over." - Adam Fox

According to the affidavit, on July 26, 2020, Fox told CHS-2 that he had not heard back from the “baker,” which reportedly meant an explosives manufacturer.

Fox also said, “Maybe we should just make a bunch of cupcakes and send them out,” in an apparent reference to a more widespread bombing campaign.

On July 27, CHS-2 met Fox at his business in Grand Rapids, where he said the best opportunity to abduct the governor would be when she was arriving at, or leaving, either her personal vacation home or the governor’s summer residence.

He went on to say that after kidnapping her, the group would remove her to a secure location in Wisconsin for “trial.”

According to the affidavit, he described it as a “Snatch and grab, man. Grab the f----n’ governor. Just grab the b---h. Because at that point, we do that, dude -- it’s over.”

He also discussed the importance of knowing the layout of the yard, homes and security, suggesting they get a realtor to help find the exact location of the vacation home. Additionally, he said they needed to map out the surrounding property and gates, and they needed plumbers and electricians to help them read blueprints to refine their strategy.

On July 28, Fox allegedly told CHS-2 he had narrowed down his attack targets to the vacation home and summer residence; on the same day, Fox posted to a private Facebook page: “We about to be busy ladies and gentlemen . . . This is where the Patriot shows up. Sacrifices his time, money, blood sweat and tears . . . it starts now so get f-----g prepared!!”

On Aug. 9, Fox, Garbin, Harris, Franks and CHS-2 participated in a tactical training in Munith where Fox allegedly asked the group about kidnapping the governor. Garbin reportedly expressed reluctance to talk about the plan in that setting. After the training, during a group call, Fox allegedly suggested another member of the group could gather information about Whitmer’s primary residence in Lansing; he also reportedly discussed destroying her boat.

After the call, Fox, Franks, Garbin, Harris and CHS-2 communicated in an encrypted group chat, where Harris allegedly said, “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her . . . at this point. F--k it.” He added, “I mean . . . f--k, catch her walking into the building and act like a passers-by and fixing dome her then yourself whoever does it.” (sic). In a follow-up chat about the plan, Franks reportedly told CHS-2, “OK sounds good I’m in for anything as long as its well planned.”

On Aug. 18, Franks allegedly expressed interest in surveilling the vacation home; one of the members of the group named specific cities where it could be located and eventually found the name of the lake in northern Michigan where the vacation home is located – he said he was looking for an escape route using a boat on the lake.

The group conducted surveillance of the vacation home on two separate occasions. According to the affidavit, on Aug. 29, Fox, CHS-2 and another individual located the home and took photographs and slow-motion video as they drove by. Additionally, the other individual reportedly looked up the locations of the local police department and Michigan State Police in the area, estimating how long it would take for law enforcement to respond.

During the surveillance, Fox reportedly said, “We ain’t gonna let ‘em burn our f----n’ state down. I don’t give a f--k if there’s only 20 or 30 of us, dude, we’ll go out there and use deadly force.”

On Aug. 30, after Fox shared photos of the surveillance trip to the encrypted chat group, CHS-2 shared a hand-drawn map of the area with Garbin; the map, allegedly drawn by Fox, showed a bridge, which Garbin allegedly suggested demolishing in order to hinder a police response.


"Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her . . . at this point. F--k it." - Daniel Harris

Over the weekend of Sept. 12-13, Fox, Croft, Garbin, Franks, Harris, Caserta, CHS-2, a UCE and another individual attended another tactical exercise at Garbin’s property in Luther, an hour and a half from the vacation home.

Croft allegedly brought his “chemistry set,” which included components for an IED. He reportedly constructed an IED by removing the cap from a commercial firework, adding black powder and wrapping the device in pennies and electrical tape as shrapnel. Croft detonated the device to test its effectiveness.

During the exercise, Fox allegedly took aside Croft, Garbin, Franks, Caserta, CHS-2, two UCEs and four other people and briefed them on the plan to kidnap the governor.

He then planned nighttime surveillance of the vacation home to prepare for the kidnapping.

Fox allegedly told CHS-2 and another individual that the vacation home is the governor’s actual house, “And it’s a perfect f----n’ setup. Out of everywhere that she resides, this is the only one that’s probably actually feasible with a success rate.”

Overnight, the group drove from Luther to the vicinity of the vacation home in three separate vehicles; the surveillance participants were armed – Croft allegedly suggested they take the opportunity to conduct an act of violence that night, but was dissuaded of the notion.

According to the affidavit, Croft and Fox discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police. On the way, they stopped at the M-31 highway bridge, where Fox and the UCE reportedly inspected the underside for places to set up an explosive.

During the surveillance operation, Fox said, “She f----n’ goddamn loves the power she has right now” and that “she has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now.”

In response, Croft stated, “All good things must come to an end.” Fox also said, “I can see several states takin’ their f----n’ tyrants. Everybody takes their tyrants.” The group also discussed how many people should be involved in the kidnapping operation.

After arriving back at Garbin’s residence, CHS-2 asked, “Everybody down with what’s going on?” and someone stated, “If you’re not down with the thought of kidnapping, don’t sit here.”

In response, Garbin said, “Oh no, we’re not kidnapping, that’s not what we’re doing,” which sparked general laughter. Amidst the laughter, another voice said, “No children!” and a voice added, “We’re adult napping.”

Franks said, “Kidnapping, arson, death. I don’t care.” The group then started discussing destroying the vacation home.

On Sept. 13, officials say the group met again at Garbin’s property, where Fox gathered Croft, Garbin, Franks, Harris, Caserta, CHS-2, the UCEs and two other individuals, confirming they were the group that was going to kidnap the governor.

An FBI UCE allegedly told Fox that it will cost approximately $4,000 to procure explosives to blow up the bridge leading to the vacation home.

The group initially agreed the final training exercise would be conducted in late October, but on Sept. 14, Fox said he did not want that date because it would not leave enough time to execute the kidnapping before the November election.

Caserta allegedly said, “When the time comes there will be no need to try and strike fear through presence. The fear will be manifested through bullets.”

On Oct. 2, Fox allegedly confirmed he purchased an 800,000 volt taser for use in the kidnapping operation.

The FBI says the most recent encrypted group chats indicated that Fox, Garbin, Harris and Franks planned to meet with a UCE on Oct. 7 to make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear.

The aftermath

On Oct. 7, the FBI and Michigan State Police spent hours raiding a home in Hartland, continuing into the early morning hours. Several other raids were taking place at the same time across the state.

The next day, the FBI announced that six men had been charged in a plot to kidnap Whitmer; later, the attorney general announced additional charges for seven other men involved in the plot.

Whitmer said she "never could have imagined anything like this" about the foiled plot to kidnap her.

"These are the types of things you hear from ISIS," she said. "This is not a militia, this is a domestic terror organization."

She sharply criticized President Donald Trump for "stoking distrust" and "giving comfort to those who spread fear and division."

She said Trump refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups, comparing them to the militia groups involved in the kidnapping plot. She also called him “complicit” in extremist behavior.

In response, Trump accused Whitmer of “sowing division,” saying that she has done a “terrible job” as governor. He also said he does not tolerate any “extreme violence.”

In Lansing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called the kidnapping plot “appalling,” with some saying it is a reason to ban guns in the Capitol building.

Two suspects in the plot, Michael and William Null, were identified in a photo posted on April 30 by State Senator Dayna Polehanki. The photo depicted an armed protest against Whitmer’s executive orders regarding COVID-19.

Speaker of the Michigan House Lee Chatfield wrote an open letter to Whitmer on Oct. 10, asking why the Legislature wasn't warned about the kidnapping plot.

"These are the types of things you hear from ISIS. This is not a militia, this is a domestic terror organization." - Gov. Whitmer

He went on to encourage a “unified” message rather than “partisan finger-pointing.”

In response, the governor’s office called his letter a “partisan attack” and suggested Chatfield direct his concerns to the FBI and Department of Justice.

The governor’s security has been increased as a result of the plot – there will be careful consideration being given to public events which the governor may attend leading up to the election, with constant communication between intelligence agencies. Additionally, Whitmer’s family members will be given extra protection.

Neighbors of suspect not shocked by alleged involvement

In Milford, neighbors of Paul Bellar recalled him as the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain.

They said news of him being involved in an extremist group wasn’t surprising; he would allegedly spit on them, yell at them and walk around the neighborhood with rifles in his hand.

Michigan State Police and the FBI said Bellar planned the group’s tactical training.

In Grand Rapids, Brian Titus, who owns Vac Shack Vacuums, said he treated suspect Adam Fox like a son; he had been letting Fox stay on a blow up mattress in a basement room while going through difficult times.

Fox allegedly held meetings with the extremist group in the basement room of the vacuum shop.

Titus also said that Fox’s mother was shocked and hurt when she found out what her son was accused of.

What’s next for the suspects

All suspects involved in the plot face life in prison. Six are facing federal charges while seven are facing state charges.

The suspects facing federal charges are 23-year-old Daniel Harris of Lake Orion, 25-year-old Ty Garbin of Hartland, 26-year-old Kaleb Franks of Waterford, 32-year-old Brandon Caserta of Canton, 37-year-old Adam Fox of Potterville and 44-year-old Barry Croft, of Delaware. Croft will be extradited to Michigan.

During a court hearing on Oct. 13, one of 22 exhibits presented to the judge included a video of Caserta demonstrating rapid reloading of an assault rifle. The exhibits were presented to back the charge of conspiracy to kidnap.

Caserta also reportedly claimed to be “enslaved by the state.” His defense attorney said he was not part of the plan to kidnap the governor, did not do any surveillance on her vacation home and did not contribute any money to the plot.

Magistrate Judge Sally Berens said he is a danger to the community and ordered that he be held without bond.

Prosecutors argued that Harris said “just cap her” about the governor at one point; his attorney said Harris made statements, but there was no follow through.

Berens also ordered Harris be held without bond.

Franks’ attorney said he had diabetes and there was concern about contracting COVID-19 while in custody. The judge said she would make sure this was known in jail and ordered him to be held without bond.

Fox, the alleged ringleader of the plot, reportedly told the FBI after his arrest that he had a plan to kidnap the governor, take her on a boat to the middle of Lake Michigan, disable the engine and leave her to be rescued.

One of the 22 exhibits shown during the testimony was a photo of Fox taken by the informant; it depicts Fox doing surveillance on Whitmer’s vacation home. In another photo, Fox is shown drawing a map of the area surrounding the vacation home; the hand-drawn map was also included in the exhibits.

Attorneys for both Fox and Garbin asked the judge for more time to prepare their defense; the hearing will proceed on Oct. 16.

Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford, was arrested in South Carolina. The attorney general’s office is working to extradite him to Michigan for arraignment on charges in Jackson County. He is charged with:

  • Providing material support for terrorist acts, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine
  • Gang membership, a 20-year felony
  • Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony
  • Felony firearm, a two-year mandatory prison sentence

Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville was arraigned in Antrim County with bond set at $250,000. He is charged with:

  • Providing material support for terrorist acts, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine
  • Gang membership, a 20-year felony
  • Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony
  • Felony firearm, a two-year mandatory prison sentence

Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac, was arraigned in Antrim County with bond set at $250,000. He is charged with:

  • Providing material support for terrorist acts, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine
  • Gang membership, a 20-year felony
  • Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony
  • Felony firearm, a two-year mandatory prison sentence

Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell was arraigned in Antrim County with bond set at $250,000. He is charged with one count of:

  • Providing material support for terrorist acts, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine
  • Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony
  • Felony firearm, a two-year mandatory prison sentence

William Null, 38, of Shelbyville, was arraigned in Antrim County with bond set at $250,000. He is charged with one count of:

  • Providing material support for terrorist acts, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine
  • Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony
  • Felony firearm, a two-year mandatory prison sentence

Pete Musico, 42, of Munith was arraigned in Jackson County with a cash bond set at $10 million. He is charged with:

  • One count of threat of terrorism, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine
  • One count of gang membership, a 20-year felony
  • One count of providing material support for terrorist acts
  • One count for carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony
  • Felony firearm, a two-year mandatory prison sentence

Joseph Morrison, 26, of Munith, was arraigned in Jackson County with a cash bond set at $10 million. He is charged with:

  • One count of threat of terrorism, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine
  • One count of gang membership, a 20-year felony
  • One count of providing material support for terrorist acts
  • One count for carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony
  • Felony firearm, a two-year mandatory prison sentence