GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Members of anti-government paramilitary groups discussed kidnapping Virginia’s governor during a June meeting in Ohio, an FBI agent testified Tuesday during a court hearing in Michigan.
Special Agent Richard Trask was part of the investigation that led to six men being arrested and charged last week with plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Seven other men face state terrorism charges.
Trask did not name Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, during his testimony in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids. He said members of anti-government groups from multiple states attended the meeting.
“They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” Trask said. He said the people at the meeting were unhappy with the governors’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trask did not discuss further planning aimed at Northam.
The FBI did not brief Northam on any potential threat, according to a state official with knowledge of the governor’s briefings who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The June meeting was part of the FBI’s investigation of various anti-government groups, leading to last week’s stunning announcement that six men had been arrested for an alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer.
Tuesday’s court hearing was to review investigators’ evidence against Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta and whether they should be detained before trial. The men are all Michigan residents.
A sixth man, Barry Croft, was being held in Delaware.
The FBI used confidential sources, undercover agents and clandestine recordings to foil the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Some defendants had conducted coordinated surveillance of the Democratic governor’s vacation home in northern Michigan in August and September, according to a criminal complaint.
The men were trying to retaliate against Whitmer due to her “uncontrolled power” amid the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said. They said four of the men had planned to meet last week to pay for explosives and exchange tactical gear.
Whitmer, who was considered as Joe Biden’s running mate and is nearly halfway through a four-year term, has been widely praised for her response to the virus outbreak but also sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers and people in conservative areas of the state. The Capitol has been the site of many rallies, including ones with gun-toting protesters calling for her ouster.
Whitmer put major restrictions on personal movement and the economy, although many of those limits have been lifted since spring.
Fox, who was described as one of the leaders, was living in the basement of a vacuum shop in Grand Rapids. The owner said Fox was opposed to wearing a mask during the pandemic and kept firearms and ammunition at the store.
The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted.
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 providing material support for terrorist acts by seeking a “civil war.”
The investigation is ongoing.
Foody reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, also contributed to this report.