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Far-right group also planned to kidnap Virginia governor, FBI says

Alleged conspirators ‘discussed possible targets’ following stay-at-home orders during coronavirus pandemic, according to law enforcement

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 13 October 2020 20:39 BST
Gretchen Whitmer hits out at Donald Trump as she denounces kidnap plot

An alleged far-right plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor also considered targeting Virginia Governor Ralph Northram, authorities revealed on Tuesday.

The FBI announced the arrests of 13 men last week allegedly involved with a far-right, anti-government attempt to storm Michigan’s Capitol to possibly kidnap the state’s governor Gretchen Whitmer and provoke a civil war as retribution for stringent stay-at-home measures during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, FBI special agent Richard Trask testified during a preliminary hearing in that case that the group “discussed possible targets” following “lockdown orders” across the US, including “taking a sitting governor, specifically governors of Michigan and Virginia, over shut down orders.”

"The understanding at the time was to potentially kidnap a sitting governor and remove them from office," he said.

Both Democratic governors invoked executive orders in March that restricted in-person gatherings and business openings during the onset of the public health crisis.

Six men face federal conspiracy charges in connection with the alleged plot.

Seven others, allegedly connected to the right-wing paramilitary group Wolverine Watchmen, face state terrorism charges.

 Two of the men, Adam Fox and Barry Croft, allegedly attended a meeting in Dublin, Ohio, in June with members of militia groups from several states. 

There, they reportedly discussed an interstate plan to “remove” sitting governors, Mr Trask said.

Mr Trask did not indicate whether the men had followed through with the Virginia attempt.

The FBI had communicated with the Governor Northam’s office through the course of the investigation, according to a statement from his office.

“Per security protocols for highly classified information, neither the governor nor other members of his staff were informed," press secretary Alena Yarmosky said in a statement. 

“At no time was the governor or his family in imminent danger," she said. “Enhanced security measures have been in place for Governor Northam and his family for quite some time, and they will remain."

The president – who encouraged right-wing anti-lockdown demonstrations at the Capitol in Michigan with a string of messages on Twitter instructing supporters to “liberate” states with Democratic governors – also took aim at Virginia and the state’s recently passed gun control measures in his posts.

Among his posts on 17 April, he said: “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

Virginia began its phased reopening in May but rolled back lifting some restrictions as cases began to rise in the weeks that followed.

“Here's the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to 'LIBERATE VIRGINIA' in April – just like Michigan,” Ms Yarmosky said in a statement.  “In fact, the president regularly encourages violence against those who disagree with him. The rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially deadly consequences. It must stop.”

FBI agents began monitoring the group on social media and relied on informants at its meetings, where they trained, performed drills and exercised for removing people from a building, according to court documents.

 The group reportedly discussed using 200 men to “storm” the Michigan’s Capitol in in Lansing and try Governor Whitmer for “treason."

“All of us can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever result in violence," Matthew Schneider, US attorney for Eastern District of Michigan, said in a statement last week.

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