Plot to kidnap Michigan governor thwarted; 13 arrested, officials say

Michigan Gov. Whitmer was the target of a kidnap plot revealed on Thursday. (AP/File)
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Updated 08 October 2020

Plot to kidnap Michigan governor thwarted; 13 arrested, officials say

  • Wolverine Watchmen militia group aimed to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat
  • The alleged plotters discussed recruiting a force of 200 to storm the state capitol in Lansing

Thirteen people, including seven men associated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group, have been arrested for alleged plots to take the Michigan governor hostage and attack the state capitol building, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The group aimed to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat and frequent target of Republican President Donald Trump’s ire, ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election, according to a criminal complaint filed in a Michigan federal court.
At one point, the alleged plotters discussed recruiting a force of 200 to storm the state capitol in Lansing and take hostages, but later abandoned the plan in favor of a scheme to kidnap Whitmer at her vacation home, the complaint said.
At a news conference Whitmer accused Trump of encouraging extremist groups like the “sick and depraved men” that targeted her, citing his refusal to condemn white supremacists at the recent US presidential debate against Joe Biden as an example.
“When our leaders meet with, encourage and fraternize with domestic terrorists they legitimize their actions, and they are complicit,” Whitmer said. “We are not one another’s enemy.”
Internal US security memos in recent months have warned that violent domestic extremists could pose a threat to election-related targets, a concern exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, political tensions, civil unrest and foreign disinformation campaigns.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said during congressional hearings in September that his agency was conducting investigations into violent domestic extremists, including white supremacists and anti-fascist groups. Wray said the largest “chunk” of investigations were into white supremacist groups.
Andrew Birge, the US attorney for the western district of Michigan, said the FBI became aware through social media that a group of people were discussing the “violent overthrow” of Michigan’s government, prompting a months-long investigation that relied heavily on confidential sources.
The group of six facing federal charges — Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on charges of attempting to kidnap Whitmer, Birge said told an earlier news conference to announce the charges.
“Fox and Croft in particular... discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the area of the home and Fox even inspected the underside of a Michigan highway bridge for places to seat an explosive,” Birge said, referring to planning to target Whitmer’s home.
Birge said law enforcement arrested several of the alleged conspirators “when they were meeting on the east side of the state to pool funds for explosives and exchange tactical gear.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel disclosed additional charges against seven men affiliated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group suspected of violating the state’s anti-terrorism act by conspiring to kidnap the governor and propagate violence.
“The individuals in custody are suspected to have attempted to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war,” Nessel said.
Nessel said a total of 19 state felony charges were filed against the seven individuals, including counts for gang membership and for providing support for terrorist acts, part of a sweeping execution of warrants in more than a dozen cities.
According to the FBI’s criminal complaint, Fox had indicated on numerous occasions that he wanted to kidnap Whitmer before the national election on Nov. 3. On one phone call recorded in June, Fox said he would try Whitmer for “treason” after taking her hostage, the complaint said.
On one June video livestreamed to a private Facebook group, Fox called Whitmer a “tyrant bitch” as he complained about the judicial system and restrictions against gym openings due to the coronavirus.
“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,” Fox said on the video, according to the complaint.
Facebook said in a statement that it “proactively reached out and cooperated” with the investigation.
Whitmer was targeted by Trump for her efforts to enforce coronavirus-related social distancing measures, and he tweeted in April, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.”
Matthew Schneider, US attorney for the eastern district of Michigan, said the arrests should send a message that violence will not be tolerated.
“All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics but those disagreements should never, ever amount to violence,” Schneider told the press conference.


French officers detained after fury over beating video

Updated 3 min 20 sec ago

French officers detained after fury over beating video

  • Images published by the Loopsider website show how music producer Michel Zecler was repeatedly beaten by police
  • Celebrities including football World Cup winners Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann condemned the beating

PARIS: French authorities on Friday detained four officers suspected of beating and racially abusing a black music producer in Paris in a case that has shocked President Emmanuel Macron and drawn outrage from celebrities and sports stars.
Images published by the Loopsider website show how music producer Michel Zecler was repeatedly beaten by police for several minutes and subjected to racial abuse as he tried to enter his music studio Saturday evening.
Celebrities including football World Cup winners Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann condemned the beating, while French star singer Aya Nakamura said she wished the producer strength, adding “thank you to those who filmed.”
A presidential official said Friday that Macron, too, was “very shocked” by the images.
The incident raised questions over the future of Paris police chief Didier Lallement, already in the spotlight after the controversial forced removal of a migrant camp in Paris earlier in the week.
It also put the government on the backfoot as it tries to push through new security legislation that would restrict the right of the media to publish the faces of police agents.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who is in charge of the police forces, told French television that the officers tarnished the reputation of France’s security forces.
The four officers, all men, were detained for questioning on Friday, a source close to the case told AFP.
The officers, who had already been suspended from duty, were being held at the National Police Inspectorate General (IGPN), and prosecutors opened an investigation into violence by a person in authority and false testimony, the source said.
Three of the four were being questioned on suspicion of “violence with a racist motive” committed intentionally in a group, prosecutors said. The fourth is being questioned on suspicion of using violence but is not accused of racism.
Zecler was initially himself detained for causing violence, but prosecutors threw out that probe and began investigating the officers instead.
Macron on Thursday held talks with Darmanin to call for tough punishments for those involved in the beating, a government source added.
“Nausea,” said the front page headline in the leftist Liberation daily over a close-up picture of Zecler’s swollen and bloodied face.
“The new video of a rare ferocity... adds to a problem fed over the last months by a succession of blunders and a tendency to revert to authoritarian tendencies,” it said.
The death in US police custody of George Floyd in May and the Black Lives Matter movement have reverberated in France where allegations of brutality against police officers are commonplace, particularly in poor and ethnically diverse urban areas.
“French police has a structural problem with violence, violence that is committed against visible minorities,” Fabien Jobard, a sociologist, told AFP.
“Unbearable video, unacceptable violence,” Mbappe wrote on Twitter next to a picture of the injured producer. “Say no to racism.”
The outcry comes after the lower house of parliament on Tuesday evening approved a security bill which would restrict the publication of photos or videos of police officers’ faces.
Media unions say it could give police a green light to prevent journalists from potentially documenting abuses, as well as stopping social media users from posting incriminating footage.
A protest against the draft law, which has yet to pass a Senate vote, has been called for Saturday in Paris.
In a sign that the government could be preparing to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced late Thursday that he would appoint a commission to redraft Article 24 of the law that would restrict the publication of images of the police.
But this in turn sparked accusations that the prime minister was trying to bypass the legislature.
“It is not for the government to substitute the work of an external committee in the place of parliamentary prerogatives,” the speaker of the lower house Richard Ferrand told Castex, his office said.
Macron swept to power in 2017 as a centrist who rallied support from across the political spectrum. But critics and even some supporters accuse him of tilting to the right as he seeks re-election in 2022.
“Already accused of attacking public freedoms through the security bill... the executive faces an accumulation of cases of violence and police abuse, the images of which have disturbed even the ruling party,” said Le Monde daily.