By Gabriella Borter
Some suspects accused of trying to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer also discussed whether they should shoot her in the head and contemplated abducting Virginia Governor Ralph Northam as well, an FBI agent testified on Tuesday.
Thirteen people including at least seven tied to an armed militia were arrested last week and accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat assailed by Republican President Donald Trump and right-wing extremists for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Five of those defendants were subject to a bail hearing on Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, where a U.S. magistrate judge ordered one of them to be held without bail pending trial. The judge then paused the hearing before ruling on bail for the other four.
FBI Special Agent Richard Trask testified at the hearing, saying some of the suspects also discussed targeting Northam, a Democrat who also enacted coronavirus restrictions they opposed.
Trask described a planning meeting that included at least two of the co-defendants in Dublin, Ohio, in June, basing his testimony on evidence from confidential informants and encrypted communications from the group.
“At this 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,
The FBI gleaned from the group’s messages that one of the suspects had at one point suggested going to Whitmer’s house to “cap her,” possibly disguised as a pizza delivery man, Trask said.
One suspect floated the idea of grabbing a pizza delivery person and taking his shirt in order to carry out the plan, Trask said.
Their arrests last week, in the final stretches of the Nov. 3 presidential campaign, underscored the country’s political polarization as Trump seeks re-election against Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
The defendants in Tuesday’s hearing are among six people facing federal kidnapping charges who could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
The judge denied bail for defendant Kaleb Franks, calling him “a danger to the community.”
Franks’ defense lawyer Scott Graham argued that Franks was a follower, not a leader in any plot, and that he posed no flight risk.
The judge had yet to decide whether to grant bail to Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta. A sixth co-defendant, Barry Croft, was being held in Delaware and not part of Tuesday’s proceedings.
Seven other suspects associated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group face state charges in Michigan.
Trask said the plotters were eager to carry out some action before the election, with one suggesting they put Governor Whitmer on trial for treason.
Michigan is considered a state where voters could favor either Biden or Trump, potentially swinging a close national election.
Internal U.S. 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.
The plotting took place after Trump in April had tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” in reference to gun rights under the U.S. Constitution.