Abstract: On October 8, 2020, Michigan’s Attorney General revealed that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies had thwarted a plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer. In the midst of the pandemic, in which Michigan had some of the highest infection rates in the United States, Whitmer, who had declared a state of emergency and instituted a “stay-at-home” order, became the focus of considerable ire from those opposed to her response to the unprecedented public health crisis. Former President Donald Trump publicly disparaged “the woman in Michigan” because her efforts to combat coronavirus contradicted his own desire to “open up” the United States, which helped fuel a wave of protest. This culminated in a group of armed men storming the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, on April 30, 2020, an event with clear parallels to the storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. The alleged plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer—14 defendants are currently awaiting trial, though one has already pleaded guilty—which began in early 2020 and coalesced over that summer, took place within this wider polarized political context. The case itself highlights the continuing evolution and complexity of the domestic violent extremism (DVE) threat landscape as well as its decentralized and amorphous nature. It also underscores the importance of encrypted digital technology and operational security measures as an increasingly integrated part of DVE activity.

On October 8, 2020, Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel held a press conference with colleagues from the state’s Eastern and Western Districts as well as state police and the FBI to announce that a “serious, credible threat to public safety” had been averted.1 The previous evening, the FBI and Michigan State Police had arrested six men, five in Michigan and one in Delaware, who they had charged, in a federal complaint, with conspiring to kidnap Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer.a Simultaneously, the State of Michigan had filed additional charges, pursuant with its Anti-Terrorism Act, against another seven men connected to a little known militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen.b In addition to being involved in the conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer, this group was also alleged to have targeted local law enforcement officials, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war, and planned and trained for an operation to attack the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan. An eighth alleged member of the Wolverine Watchmen was charged the following week, bringing the total number of individuals charged to 14.2 c

The following outline of the case against the 14 men and the allegations contained therein—derived from press reports, the criminal complaint, and court documents—remain to be tested in court at the time of writing (July 2021), and thus, all of those charged in connection to the plot referred to in this article are to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Defense attorneys for the men accused in the federal complaint of conspiring to kidnap Governor Whitmer argue that their clients were prone to “big talk” and were just blowing off steam; that their plans were “outlandish” and “absurd.”3 The prosecution takes the diametrically opposed view. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler argued in court that although these individuals “got caught because they’re amateurs and they hadn’t thought things through,” that did not mean that their plot, just because it failed, “wasn’t dangerous.”4

Indeed, a new indictment filed on April 26, 2021, saw a grand jury add three additional charges to the extant federal charge: conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, possession of an unregistered destructive device, and possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle. Prosecutors now allege that the group was “engaged in domestic terrorism” and intended “to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”5

While there is no statutory penalty for “domestic terrorism” at a federal level in the United States, framing the case in this way will likely significantly increase the penalties for the defendants if a jury convicts them. In doing so, the prosecution of the alleged plotters signals an early indication of how the Justice Department might be moving to handle cases of anti-government extremism in the aftermath of the storming of the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Five of the accused plotters are due to stand trial on October 12, 2021.6 d A sixth defendant, also charged in the federal case, has already pleaded guilty and agreed to “fully cooperate” with prosecutors in exchange for leniency.7 His former confederates face life in prison if convicted.8

This article gives an overview of the broader political context in which the plot began to coalesce followed by an overview of the Wolverine Watchmen militia group and the other key individuals involved. It details how the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer evolved, the planning and training that the conspirators undertook in pursuit of this end, and how the FBI and law enforcement compromised this conspiracy. The final section discusses the parallels between this case and the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and what the Michigan plot reveals about the broader evolution of, and the present threat from, domestic violent extremism in the United States.

The Political Context to the Plot
Before charting the genesis of the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer, it is necessary to outline the broader political context in which it occurred to fully comprehend how she came to be viewed with such venom by certain groups of people. On March 10, 2020, Whitmer declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which included a “stay-at-home” order until April 30 that year. These measures were unable to curtail the spread of the virus, however, and in a little over two weeks, Michigan had the fifth-largest number of COVID-19 cases in the country.9 e Her response to the pandemic was not universally popular, and Michigan experienced some of the earliest and largest ‘anti-lockdown’ protests in the United States.10

Governor Whitmer quickly became embroiled in a very public war of words with then President Donald Trump after challenging his response to the pandemic. She was one of several governors who implored Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would enable the government to compel private companies to switch their production to the manufacture of medical supplies, including masks and ventilators. When Whitmer publicly criticized the federal government’s lack of preparedness in an MSNBC interview on March 17, 2020,11 Trump responded on Twitter within minutes: “Failing Michigan Governor must work harder and be much more proactive. We are pushing her to get the job done. I stand with Michigan!”12

On March 27, 2020, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act. During the course of a White House briefing that day, he assailed Whitmer once more, seemingly because he considered her, and several other governors, insufficiently “appreciative” of his efforts. He revealed to journalists that he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence not to call those who depreciated his administration’s efforts. “I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor in Washington, you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan … You know what I say? If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.”13 He continued to publicly denigrate Whitmer during a Fox News interview later that day. “We’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman governor, you know who I am talking about, from Michigan. […] I mean, she’s not stepping up,” he told host Sean Hannity. “I don’t know if she knows what’s going on, but all she does is sit there and blame the federal government. She doesn’t get it done. We send her a lot.”14

“Hi, my name is Gretchen Whitmer, and that governor is me,” Michigan’s governor responded. “I’ve asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it. No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits. You said you stand with Michigan – prove it.”15 Trump responded instead with a barrage of personal insults: “I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic. Yet your Governor, Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer is way in over her head, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude! #MAGA.”16 Following a week of online feuding with Whitmer on Twitter and Fox News, Trump finally approved Michigan’s request for an emergency declaration, which Whitmer had asked for on March 26, 2020.17

As the Trump administration increased its demands for “opening up” the United States again, the Michigan Freedom Fund and the Michigan Conservative Coalition helped organize a demonstration outside the statehouse in Lansing on April 15, 2020. “Operation Gridlock” created a ring of traffic around the statehouse while, on the capitol’s lawn, protestors railed against Whitmer, including one holding a placard that read “Trump, lock up the Nazi woman from Michigan.” The demonstration was, noted one journalist, “half protest, half Trump rally.”18 The following day, the White House unveiled its guidelines for “Opening Up America Again.”19 Trump remained fixated upon Michigan, however. On April 17, he tweeted two words: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”20 Though the FBI would later state that the plot to kidnap Whitmer predated Trump’s tweet, the majority of the group’s meetings took place afterward.21

Following Trump’s tweet, anti-lockdown protests gathered momentum in Michigan. On April 29, 2020, three women associated with Michigan United for Liberty entered the gallery of the state’s House of Representatives, previously closed due to the lockdown, and began chanting “open Michigan now.” The House sergeant-at-arms asked them to leave and, when they refused, had them forcibly removed.22 The following day, on April 30, 2020, a large “American Patriot Rally” took place outside the Michigan Capitol building. During the course of the rally, dozens of armed protestors entered the building, demanding entry to the Senate floor where lawmakers were to debate extending Michigan’s state of emergency until May 28, 2020.23 “Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us,” tweeted Senator Dayna Polehanki as gun-toting agitators stood on a balcony above the legislators. “Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeant-at-Arms more than today.”24 Two of the agitators Polehanki photographed that day—the twin brothers Michael and William Null—were later charged with support for terrorist acts and weapons violations as part of the wider investigation into the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer.f Rather than denouncing the incursion into Michigan’s statehouse, Trump stated that Whitmer needed to compromise. “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” he tweeted the following day. “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely. See them, talk to them, make a deal.”25

The State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, on January 17, 2020 (Carlos Osorio/AP Photo)

The Wolverine Watchmen
Three others who entered the Michigan Capitol building on April 30, 2020, were later charged with plotting to abduct the state’s governor. The individuals in question—Joseph Morrison, Pete Musico, and Paul Bellar—had attended the rally to recruit people to their new group, the Wolverine Watchmen, efforts previously confined to Facebook.26 Morrison, a former Marine Corps reservist, and Musico, his father-in-law, had only recently founded their militia group immediately after Morrison had “concluded a weapons violation charge.”27 He and Musico lived together in rural Michigan on a 2.5-acre property in Munith where they regularly hosted militia-training exercises.28 “They were the kind of neighbors you stayed away from,” a local resident told The Daily Beast. “They were mean. You knew they were involved with the militia. That was obvious from the constant shooting.”29 Bellar, a former soldier30 who utilized his medical and firearms skills to design tactical training exercises for the group,31 had recently been dismissed from work at a local gun range, where he had shown up wearing “a LOT of tactical gear,” according to his former employer.32

A fourth ‘militiaman,’ who in reality was working as an FBI informant, joined the trio at the April 30, 2020, rally. He grew so concerned about their behavior during the course of the day that he addressed the FBI agents listening directly through his wire. The three men, armed with AR-15s, talked about storming the Michigan Capitol building. According to the FBI informant, Musico believed Governor Whitmer was actually in the building and informed his colleagues he “was going to go out to the opposite side of the building and catch that bitch as she was coming out of the emergency exit.”33 The group soon discovered, however, that there was no need to “bum rush the Capitol” because Michigan was one of the few states to allow open carry within the precincts of the building, rendering talk of breaching the doors redundant. “We couldn’t take signs, but we could bring our firearms,” the informant later testified. Once inside, the group joined the throng demanding access to the chamber but then began roaming the building searching for Whitmer’s office. Pounding on the door “in a show of force,” they realized she was not there, however, and so posed for photos instead.34

Adam Fox, another of the alleged co-conspirators in the plot to kidnap Whitmer, was present, as were the Null brothers and Paul Bellar, at a smaller anti-lockdown protest that took place outside the Michigan Capitol building two weeks later on May 14. Organized by Michigan United for Liberty, which had branded the protest “Judgement Day,” Facebook removed one of the pages associated with the event (“People of Michigan vs. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer”) before it took place as people began leaving comments calling for Whitmer to be shot, beaten, hanged, or beheaded. Michigan State Police closed the Capitol and legislators canceled their planned sessions.35

Online, Morrison called himself “Boogaloo Bunyan,”36 and the Wolverine Watchmen’s Facebook page had stated “Boojahidden only,”37 indicating its broader adherence to the Boogaloo movement, “a decentralized, anti-authority movement composed of a diverse range of actors mobilized in part by adherents’ belief that they are following in the footsteps of the United States’ founders and participating in a revolution against tyranny.”38 At least one of the other members of the Wolverine Watchmen, Brandon Caserta, also identified with this ideological tendency. Caserta, one of the alleged co-conspirators in the plot against Whitmer, posted a series of anti-government videos online.39 g While several Wolverine Watchmen clearly identified with the “Boogaloo” movement, their social media profiles indicate a degree of ideological diversity, however. Musico was avowedly pro-Trump; Caserta regarded him as a “tyrant.”40

The Wolverine Watchmen were not a white supremacist group. Indeed, as one of the FBI’s sources within the group subsequently testified, “The group was open for all walks of life. They would support BLM [Black Lives Matter] when they were at protests … It was open for anyone and everyone suppressed by the government.”41 h The accused’s personal profiles also highlight differing pathways to violence: several had a long history of involvement with armed groups while others, like Caserta, were relatively new to the scene, their radicalization accelerated by their reaction to Michigan’s lockdown.42

The Plot to Kidnap Governor Whitmer
The criminal complaint highlights that Adam Fox, 37, was the driving force behind the plot. He lived an itinerant life, dwelling in the basement—located under a trap door—of Vac Shack Vacuums in Wyoming, Michigan, just outside of Grand Rapids. Court records relating to his marriage “depict an angry, belligerent man who had trouble handling his liquor and his temper.”43 Fox had gotten involved with “militia-types” in the Owosso-Corunna area in early 2019, which “gave him a sense of belonging” he had previously lacked, according to his uncle.44 In December 2020, he had joined the Michigan Home Guard, which claims to be the largest, most active militia group in the state,45 but he was kicked out shortly after passing his three-month probation period because of “rage issues,” stated Rick Foreman, the group’s co-founder. Shortly after becoming a full member, “all of the sudden he’s all anti-government, he wants to start a war, he wants to take people out,” Foreman claimed.46 Fox was subsequently associated with the Wolverine Watchmen, though whether he formally joined the group is unknown. Court documents indicate that Fox was, however, listed as the leader or president of the “Michigan Patriot Three Percenters” on its Facebook page.47 i

The Three Percenters (also known as III%ers, 3%ers, and Threepers)48 derive their name from the belief that only three percent of American colonists actually fought the British during the War of Independence. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the group as a “core component” of the modern militia movement, alongside the Oath Keepers and the traditional militias, though these tendencies often overlap.49 The Three Percenters are not an “organization” but, as Sam Jackson observes, “a broad movement of unaffiliated groups that have adopted the rhetoric or the language of Three Percenters into their name or into their group iconography or something like that.”50

Barry G. Croft, Jr., a long-haul truck driver who lived in Delaware and is identified in the criminal complaint as a fellow ringleader, also affiliated himself with the Three Percenters movement, hosting meetings under that banner at Drury Inn in Dublin, Ohio.j Fox and another of the accused, William Null, attended these meetings.51 k FBI special agent Richard Trask II testified at Croft’s subsequent bond hearing that he had been talked about as a national leader of the group. Croft denies this.52 At the same hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler claimed that, based on the threats that audio recordings had captured him making, Croft was “probably the most committed violent extremist of the entire group [of six charged in the federal complaint].”53 He had a string of criminal convictions, including possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony for which he served three years from 1997. Delaware’s Governor John Carney granted him a pardon for his past convictions in 2019, the year before he became involved in the plot to kidnap Whitmer.54 Following his release, Croft had exchanged Facebook messages with Kevin Massey, former leader of “Rusty’s Rangers,” an anti-immigrant group noted for detaining migrants at gunpoint on the border between Texas and Mexico, who was then in hiding after violating his parole while on probation for a federal weapons charge.55 l

Croft, Fox, and roughly 13 other individuals, representing multiple militias from different states, met in Dublin, Ohio, on June 6, 2020, to discuss creating a society “that followed the Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” according to the criminal complaint.56 Their ideas ranged from “peaceful endeavors” to “violent actions.” Several of those present ventilated their belief that numerous state governments were violating the U.S. Constitution. This led to talk of murdering “tyrants” or “taking” a sitting governor during the course of which Whitmer and Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, both Democrats, were explicitly mentioned. To increase their numbers, the group was encouraged to spread the message. Fox stated he would reach out to a “Michigan based militia group”—the Wolverine Watchmen. Eight days after the Ohio meeting, the Wolverine Watchmen held a field training exercise on a private property in a remote area of Michigan during the course of which the FBI learned that Fox had indeed been in touch with the group.57

The Wolverine Watchmen were then an emergent group within Michigan’s militia milieu, but remained relatively unknown. Michael Lackomar, a communications officer and team leader for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, recalled the appearance of a small number of individuals during the anti-lockdown protests who had “expressed frustration” that the militia groups were not “doing enough” to combat what they perceived as the infringement of their constitutional rights.58 Fox appears to have offered such individuals the opportunity to do more.

At one meeting on June 14, 2020, the FBI informant within the Wolverine Watchmen recorded a telephone call with Fox who told him that he wanted “200 men” to storm the Capitol building and to take hostages, including the governor. Fox said she would be put on trial for “treason” at some point before the November 3, 2020, elections.59

Four days later, on June 18, 2020, Fox met with the leadership of the Wolverine Watchmen at a large “American Patriot Rally: A Well-Regulated Militia,” which convened outside the Capitol building in Lansing shortly after the Capitol Commission voted down a measure to ban the carrying of firearms within the Capitol building. Seven weeks earlier, on April 30, another “American Patriot Rally” outside the Michigan State Capitol had resulted in, as already outlined, dozens of armed protestors, including several later charged with the plot, entering the building. The June 18 event was attended by several other militia groups besides the Wolverine Watchmen, including The Michigan Liberty Militia, who provided an armed “security detail” for it, and the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia. Roughly a dozen members of the Proud Boys, an extreme far-right “Western Chauvinist” group that engages in street brawling, were also observed.60

Fox hardly kept a low profile. According to Rick Foreman of the Michigan Home Guard, whose group had expelled Fox, Fox tried to spark a physical confrontation with racial justice protestors from the “People of Lansing” group, who the militias had previously agreed to allow to pass through their own larger rally. According to media reports, Michael and William Null, twin brothers who attended the rally as part of the Michigan Liberty Militia, succeeded in calming Fox down; both men were subsequently charged for playing a role in the kidnap plot.61 In a calmer moment, footage captured by a local television reporter showed Fox, Morrison, and Musico talking to one another while wearing Hawaiian shirts,m further highlighting their identification with the “Boogaloo” movement.62

The criminal complaint records that Fox met the Wolverine Watchmen’s leadership outside the Michigan State Capitol that day (June 18, 2020) “to recruit more members” and reiterated his vague plan (first outlined four days earlier) to, at some point in the future, storm the building while the State Congress was in session. “Plan A” was to recruit 200 men and storm the Capitol building in Lansing while Congress was in session and “to take hostages, execute tyrants and have it televised. It would take about one week and that no one was coming out alive,” court documents record.63 A secondary suggestion was to barricade the building’s exits and then set it on fire so that those inside burned to death.64 Fox told alleged fellow plotter Ty Garbin, a licensed aircraft mechanic previously employed by SkyWest Airlines,65 and an FBI informant identified as “CHS-2” that he wanted to “combine forces” with the Wolverine Watchmen for such an endeavor.66 Musico, one of the Wolverine Watchmen’s founders, had tactical objections to Fox’s idea, not least of which was that it was a “fishbowl”—a comment presumably referring to security arrangements around the Capitol building. Instead, he suggested that, since “everyone has addresses,” they might target politicians in their homes.67

A confederate flag hangs from a porch on a property in Munith, Michigan, on October 9, 2020, where law enforcement officials said suspects accused in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer met to train and make plans. Officials said Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison lived at the Munith property. (Ann Arbor News via AP/Nicole Hester)

Planning and Training
From this point forward, the group appears to have narrowed its focus to Governor Whitmer, meeting regularly for “field training exercises” in remote parts of Michigan during which a more concrete plan to kidnap Whitmer began to coalesce. Numerous people attended these training exercises (which were legal), but it was only a “core group” of attendees who coalesced around Fox that were using them to advance a more nefarious purpose, argue prosecutors.68

At a meeting in Fox’s basement in Grand Rapids on June 20, 2020, two days after the June 18 “American Patriot Rally,” this smaller group discussed plans for assaulting the Michigan State Capitol building; how to counter law enforcement first responders; and the use of “Molotov cocktails” to attack police vehicles. It was at this meeting that Fox first appears to have proposed kidnapping Governor Whitmer more seriously than theretofore.69 During the course of a private livestream video with others on June 25, Fox appeared to be aggrieved that the State of Michigan had ordered the closure of its gyms and referred to Whitmer as “this tyrant bitch.” “I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something. You guys link me on our other location system, give me some ideas of what we can do,” he was recorded as saying.70

Three days later, during a meeting at Morrison’s Munith property on June 28, the group undertook “tactical training” during which Musico told those present, “If you’re not up for kidnapping, you need to leave.”71 No one did so, according to the criminal complaint.72 n At some point during the day, however, Musico (who as early as March 30, 2020, had advocated performing a citizen’s arrest on Whitmer and had expressed a desire to obtain her address) reiterated his doubts concerning Fox’s earlier suggestion to assault the Capitol building to another individual in the group. His preferred option—according to court documents—was to target the homes of politicians because the group had already practiced tactical team door entries and room clearance.73 Musico’s lawyer later stated that his client “got in a fight” with Fox as a result and “exited the group” at this point.74

While the plot to kidnap Whitmer originated in Michigan, much of the group’s preparatory activity took place in neighboring Wisconsin, on a two-acre homestead in Cambria. At one such exercise, held over July 10-12, 2020, the group practiced combat tactics, including assaulting motor vehicles using semiautomatic rifles and live ammunition.75 Alleged plotters Barry Croft, Daniel Harris, and Ty Garbin were also observed trying to construct two improvised explosive devices filled with shrapnel, though due to faulty construction neither would “detonate as planned.”76 Harris, a Marine Corps infantry veteran, had previously advised the group he “can make things go boom if you give me what I need” and could use a timing detonation cord.77 The group also constructed a “shoot house” from plywood, shipping pallets, and a door frame to help simulate assaulting the Michigan Capitol building, though by this juncture Fox appears to have realized that it would be a “difficult target,” and they began discussing assaulting Whitmer’s official summer residence on Mackinac Island or her private vacation home in northern Michigan.78

Michael Jung owned the Cambria property, where this training occurred. He subsequently told a local journalist he was the “second in command” of the Wisconsin branch of the Three Percenters. “We have a militia that trains here,” Jung stated. “We train, we do rifle training, some exercise and training, it’s mostly militia training, do a lot of shooting and targeting.” When asked specifically if the men had worked on explosives while there, he stated, “I can’t answer that” and denied any connection with the kidnap plot.79 No charges in relation to the plot have been filed against Jung.

Fox and other members of the group attended a meeting of “militia” representatives from several states in Peebles, Ohio, on July 18, 2020. At the meeting, Croft proposed firebombing a Michigan State Police facility to distract police from an assault on the State Capitol building while Fox told those present that the governor’s private vacation home in northern Michigan represented an “easier target.” Garbin suggested they shoot up the property, but from this point forth, the focus of the group increasingly coalesced around the idea of abducting the governor from either her official summer residence or her private vacation home.80 By July 24, using their encrypted chat group on Wire (called “F[**]k Around Find Out”), Fox mused about sending a “cake” to Whitmer, which the FBI informant understood to mean a bomb.81 o Two days later, Fox told the same informant that he had not heard back from the “baker,” which he (the informant) interpreted to mean an explosives manufacturer. The group’s recorded conversations also included Fox contemplating sending “a bunch of cupcakes” out to multiple targets, which the FBI interpreted as evidence of his willingness to engage in a more widespread bombing campaign.82

On July 27, 2020, Fox told the FBI informant that their best opportunity to kidnap Whitmer was as she was leaving from or arriving at her official summer residence or her private vacation home, highlighting that he had given the matter further thought. “Snatch and grab, man,” he was recorded saying. “Grab the f[**]kin’ Governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude… it’s over.”83 Having done that, Fox outlined a plan to remove Whitmer to a “secure location”—Wisconsin was one of several locations suggested—and put her on “trial,” the verdict presumably being a foregone conclusion. Later that same day, in an encrypted chat, Fox asked the group, which included alleged plotters Ty Garbin, Daniel Harris, Kaleb Franks, and the FBI informant, “OK, well how’s everyone feel about kidnapping?” No one responded, nor did anyone object.84

The following day, Fox told the FBI informant that he had narrowed the attack targets to Whitmer’s private vacation home and the summer residence, later posting on 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 fu[**]ing prepared!!”85 Following further training sessions, by the beginning of August 2020, the group was beginning to discuss reconnoitering Whitmer’s properties. During the course of an encrypted chat on August 9, Harris, called for bolder action: “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.”86 Harris also suggested that they “mug the pizza guy and take his shirt” and use it as a disguise to get close enough to kill Whitmer. The suggestion rang alarm bells for the FBI since this was the method Roy Den Hollander, a misogynist lawyer, had used only the previous month to kill the son and wound the husband of New Jersey federal judge Esther Salas while posing as a FedEx employee.87

When the group met again at Harris’ parents’ house in Lake Orion, Michigan, on August 23, 2020, they continued discussing surveilling Whitmer’s home, at which point Franks stated that he had spent nearly $4,000 on a helmet and night vision goggles.88 p Fox “seemed preoccupied” with killing Whitmer at this meeting, recorded an FBI informant. “The blood of tyrants needs to be shed,” Caserta had added.89 On August 29, Fox, the FBI informant, and another alleged plotter involved with the Wolverine Watchmen, Eric Molitor, reconnoitered Whitmer’s private vacation home during the day to figure out if it was a “feasible target,” alleged the prosecution.90 They took photos and video. Fox shared these in the conspirators’ encrypted chat group the following day. The reconnaissance group also researched online the locations of the local police department and the Michigan State Police, using this information to estimate their response time. “We ain’t gonna let them burn our f[**]kin’ state down,” Fox stated during this surveillance operation. “I don’t give a f[**]k if there’s only 20 or 30 or us, dude, we’ll go out there and use deadly force.”91

The critical juncture came over the weekend of September 12-13, 2020, when six of the men met at Garbin’s property in Luther for another training exercise during which, in teams, they practiced assaulting another “shoot house” constructed to simulate Whitmer’s private vacation home.92 Over the course of the weekend, they also discussed tactics for attacking Whitmer’s security detail. Croft suggested that they mount an AR-15 with a 37-millimeter projectile launcher on the back of a pickup truck to use against the lead vehicle in the governor’s convoy, stating that he had bought his “thirty-seven” for that purpose. He also advocated using incendiary devices and IEDs against the convoy.93 Fox also told some of his co-conspirators that he wanted to take Whitmer out on a boat into the middle of Lake Michigan, remove the engine, and leave her stranded there as a “statement.”94

It was at this meeting that Fox briefed those present, which by now had allegedly grown to include the Null brothers, Eric Molitor, Shawn Fix, and others (including several FBI sources—see below), on his plan to kidnap Whitmer. Thereafter, this group conducted nighttime surveillance of Whitmer’s private vacation home in preparation for the kidnapping. That night, the group took three separate vehicles,q driving the 90 minutes from Garbin’s property in Luther to Whitmer’s private vacation home. Fox gave each vehicle “mission tasks.” One car drove to the public boat launch on the opposite side of the lake to the governor’s private vacation home to see if they could see the lights of the second car as it drove past her residence. The third car circled around conducting “counter-surveillance” to ensure no one was following the other vehicles.95 On their way, Fox and Croft discussed destroying the M-31 highway bridge to distract police once their kidnapping was in progress. They stopped so that Fox could photograph the bridge’s support structure and find a place to mount an explosive charge, according to the indictment.96

When they returned to Luther, the FBI informant asked the group: “Everybody down with what’s going on?”97 Not everyone was. The third car had contained several individuals “who had kind of just showed up, had not been part of the [kidnapping] discussions beforehand.” Later that night, Molitor wrote in the encrypted chat “I’m not going to jail for this” and left the group.98 Brian Higgins, a member of the Wisconsin Patriot Three-Percenter Militia, who the FBI later claimed was an “intel guy” for the group, also signaled that if this was what the Michigan militiamen were about, he wanted no further part of the scheme either.99

The following day, September 13, 2020, there was a second explosives test. This time, Croft and Harris constructed a device containing shrapnel, which the group successfully detonated near human-shaped silhouette targets “to test its anti-personnel effectiveness” against Whitmer’s security detail and responding law enforcement officers, court documents state.100 Fox also asked those present to contribute toward the $4,000 sum to cover the cost of the explosives required to destroy the bridge.101 He planned to purchase these from “Red,” an expert in explosives and demolition who, unbeknownst to the conspirators, was actually an FBI undercover agent.102

The group agreed to conduct a final training exercise in late October 2020, but Fox highlighted that he did not want it to take place in the last week of that month because that would leave them insufficient time to kidnap Whitmer before the U.S. general election on November 3.r Fox informed the encrypted chat group on September 17, 2020, that Peter Musico, the co-founder of the Wolverine Watchmen, was back in touch, inviting them to participate in an armed protest in Lansing.s The group decided, however, in Garbin’s words, to have “zero and I mean zero public interaction if we want to continue with our plans,” a remark the FBI interpreted as further proof of the group’s criminal intent.103 This refusal to participate in public protest indicated a split within the Wolverine Watchmen between those like Musico who wanted to demonstrate publicly with their guns and Fox’s smaller clique who were “more action orientated.”104

Fox’s assertion on October 2, 2020, that he had purchased an 800,000-volt taser for use in the kidnapping (presumably to subdue Whitmer with), indicated to the FBI that the plot was reaching its final stages. Five days later, on October 7, four of the conspirators (Fox, Garbin, Harris, and Franks) and an FBI informant within the group traveled to meet with “Red” to pay him with “group cash” for explosives and tactical gear. “Red,” the men were about to learn, was an FBI agent. Upon their arrival at the rendezvous point in Ypsilanti, the FBI arrested the group.105 Law enforcement detained the other would-be kidnappers shortly thereafter. Following raids on related-properties, FBI agents seized over 70 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition. They also seized bomb-making components including over 6,000 ball bearings, which, as one explosives expert told The Detroit News “are to hurt people. That’s the only reason for the BBs.”106

How the FBI Compromised the Conspiracy
Extreme far-right groups are taking an increasing interest in operational security, using encrypted messaging services to obscure indicators that might otherwise signal that an act of violence is imminent.107 The Wolverine Watchmen were no different, their behavior in this sphere regarded as “indicative of their intent” by prosecutors.108 FBI Director Christopher Wray has testified that the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer “was only disrupted by well-timed human source reporting and the resulting undercover operation.”109 Indeed, a combination of Confidential Human Sources (CHS) and Undercover Employees (UCE) proved integral to the FBI’s ability to overcome the digital counter-measures the group put in place to avoid detection, though there was an element of happenstance in this.

In early 2020, “Dan,” a U.S. Postal Service worker who had served in Iraq110 and held libertarian beliefs, was browsing Facebook when the platform’s algorithm suggested to him that, due to his previous interactions with other pages that supported the Second Amendment and firearms training, he might be interested in a group called the Wolverine Watchmen as well. “I was scrolling through Facebook one day and they popped up as a suggestion post,” he later testified. “I clicked on the page and it had a few questions to answer.”111 Having answered these to the group’s satisfaction, “Dan” joined the militia group, and gained access to their encrypted chats. He quickly became “alarmed” after seeing a post from Musico concerning how to find the home addresses of police officers, interpreting this as a threat to “kill them.”112 Dan informed a friend in the police who relayed the information to the FBI who in turn recruited him to become a confidential informant, referred to as “CHS-2” in the criminal complaint.113

Thus, even before the Wolverine Watchmen had become embroiled in the kidnap plot, the FBI had a source at the heart of the group enabling them to document every step in the conspiracy’s evolution and to interdict it when they perceived the would-be kidnappers were moving from words to action. By the time they arrested the conspirators, the FBI had “multiple” sources within the group, including two UCEs. Indeed, the FBI appears to have had a CHS or a UCE, or both, present at nearly every group meeting, which collectively it either recorded or reported on in one way or another.114 Evidence from these sources (there appear to have been at least four) amounted to “hundreds of hours” of audio recordings and over 13,000 pages of encrypted chat messages, not to mention data recovered from mobile phones and computers as well as firearms and explosive device components that were seized when the men were arrested.115

Other sources of evidence include four separate Facebook accounts set up by Barry Croft, which the FBI had gained access to through a federal warrant from April 2020 onward, including one account, opened on September 26, 2020, through which he and Fox interacted.116 The FBI also gained a warrant for Croft’s two mobile phones, giving them access to the apps and social media accounts that he used to communicate with the group and which now form part of the case against the conspirators.117

Having a human source at the heart of the Wolverine Watchmen before anyone broached the idea of kidnapping Whitmer enabled the FBI to compromise the plotter’s subsequent operational security measures from the outset. During the course of one meeting on June 20, 2020, held in the basement of the shop that Fox was living in, which was only accessible through a trap door hidden under the carpet, all the plotters had to leave their mobile phones upstairs to prevent monitoring. It mattered little. CHS-2 was already wearing a wire and recorded the proceedings. As the plot progressed, the conspirators became increasingly paranoid about the prospect of infiltration by law enforcement and, at a subsequent meeting held in Lake Orion, all attendees were required to bring personal documents that confirmed their identities.118

Since he was a trusted member of the group, CHS-2 had access to their encrypted text messages, their private Facebook group, and recorded the phone calls and conversations he had with the other plotters. Rightly, as it transpired, Franks became worried that the “Feds” had access to their encrypted communications.119 At Harris’ suggestion, the conspirators ditched Wire on August 18, 2020, and then stayed offline until August 23 when they met at his home and adopted a new encrypted messaging service, Threema, which had the virtue of allowing the instantaneous deletion of their messages in the event of contact with law enforcement.120

In this instance, the FBI easily overcame these enhanced operational security measures because they retained access to the group’s encrypted communications through CHS-2, whom the other conspirators continued to trust.121 As previously mentioned, the group regularly employed “code words” in their communications to obfuscate their true intentions, which CHS-2 interpreted for his handlers based on the context of the conversations. When the group attempted to construct an IED while training in Wisconsin, CHS-2 provided the FBI with video of the event together with other photos and videos of their exercises shared in the group’s private Facebook discussions.122

On August 29, 2020, as the plotters’ activities were intensifying, CHS-2 accompanied Fox and another Wolverine Watchman, Eric Molitor, to conduct daytime surveillance of Whitmer’s private vacation home, and later supplied his handlers with an audio recording of the operation. Such was the FBI’s penetration of the group that by the time that Fox briefed eight members of the group about this surveillance effort and his plans to kidnap the governor (during a training exercise staged in Luther, Michigan, over the weekend of September 12-13, 2020), the FBI had a CHS and two UCEs present.123

As already outlined, on the evening of September 12, 2020, the group conducted a nighttime reconnaissance of the governor’s home, making the 80-mile trip from Ty Garbin’s property in Luther to Whitmer’s private vacation home in three vehicles. Several of the men were armed, according to the criminal complaint. Before they left, Fox had another member of the group scan each of the participants with a radio frequency interference device to detect any potential recording or transmitting devices, though this security measure failed to detect any FBI devices.124 The FBI had human sources in two of the cars. In the first car, Fox and Croft were joined by CHS-2, “Red” (an FBI UCE whom CHS-2 had introduced into the group), and “an individual from Wisconsin”125 who was also working for the FBI. This individual’s relationship with the FBI subsequently soured, however, and he currently faces weapons charges.126

When on that September night Fox stopped to inspect the underside of a bridge, which the group had discussed destroying with explosives to divert police away from Whitmer’s home, “Red” accompanied him. Fox discussed where best to place explosive charges before taking a picture of the bridge’s support structure, which he subsequently shared with CHS-2. “Red” told Fox he would need $4,000 worth of explosives to blow up the bridge. Even in the second vehicle, in which the FBI had no human source, the FBI still obtained the digital dash camera footage and its GPS data, which placed the vehicle right at the end of Whitmer’s drive, since one of occupants, Brian Higgins, shared this with CHS-2 who passed it on.127

The FBI moved to shut things down as the group began talking about enacting its plans before the November election but also in response to the “potential compromise” of one of its confidential sources.128 To end things, the FBI had CHS-2 inform the conspirators that “Red” was passing through and would do a “show and tell” for them to pick out the explosives and tactical gear they wanted.129 The journey to meet “Red” on October 7, 2020, was tense. Enroute to the rendezvous point, CHS-2 drove one of the vehicles. Harris sat in the seat behind him, repeatedly loading and unloading a semiautomatic pistol before pointing it at CHS-2’s head leading to an angry exchange of words.130 When Fox and his colleagues arrived to make a “good faith” payment for the equipment, the FBI arrested them.131 Fox had a meager $275 on him when detained.132

As it prepared to make the arrests, the FBI appears to have been concerned about how some in the wider Boogaloo milieu would react. On October 2, 2020, five days prior to the arrest of those now accused of plotting to kidnap Governor Whitmer, FBI agents had attempted to detain a man called Eric Allport on firearms charges. He was killed in the subsequent shootout in the parking lot of a Madison Heights restaurant. Allport had a violent past, having previously served an 11-year prison sentence for shooting at two police officers. Growing up, he and his family had lived next door to, and been friends with, Randy Weaver whose home in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, was subject to an 11-day siege by the FBI that ended in the death of Weaver’s wife and son and a deputy U.S. Marshall in 1992.133 Following his death, Boogaloo adherents hailed Allport as a hero online. Allport’s own Instagram account, since deleted, had included references to the Boogaloo movement, too. He had also posted memes on Facebook including vague threats about what would happen if someone tried to take his weapons.134

While Allport was unconnected to the kidnap plot, The Detroit Free Press, quoting unnamed sources, reported that the FBI had tried to arrest him after becoming aware of his “threatening comments” about the police on social media. Fearing that the arrest of Governor Whitmer’s would-be kidnappers “was just the kind of event that may set Allport off,” according to The Detroit Free Press, “The FBI figured it would have Allport behind bars by the time they arrested the kidnapping suspects and he couldn’t hurt any police officers.”135

The Michigan Plot, January 6, and the Evolution of Domestic Violent Extremism
In hindsight, the storming of the Capitol building in Lansing, which spurred the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer, has been interpreted as a prelude to the storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, during which four people died.t One journalist present reported having heard at least three different rioters express a desire to execute then Vice President Pence.136 In another echo of the Wolverine Watchmen’s plan to kidnap Whitmer, several of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol building also appeared prepared to take hostages.137

Asked for her thoughts on the violence in the U.S. Capitol, Governor Whitmer saw clear parallels between it and the entry of armed protestors into the Michigan statehouse in April 2020:

I think the worst part is, though, how many people were saying they can’t believe this can happen in the United States of America? All I can think was – were they not paying attention to what happened eight months ago?138

To date, 529 people have been charged federally in relation to the U.S. Capitol insurrection.139 The majority of the Trump supporters involved in storming the U.S. Capitol were unconnected with the organized far-right, though there is evidence of “militant networks, organized clusters, and inspired believers” taking part.140 FBI Director Wray testified that “almost none” of the 500 people charged with participating in the attack had previously been under FBI investigation.141

Among those charged, however, were notable clusters of arrestees from the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and the Three Percenters, the latter group, as noted above, being one with which several of the Wolverine Watchmen had identified.142 In June 2021, six alleged Three Percenters were subsequently indicted on conspiracy charges in relation to the assault on the U.S. Capitol.143 In the wake of the attack, there have been indications that despite the fissiparous nature of the extreme far-right, many of these groups, emboldened by the violence, were, online at least, increasingly cohering around the objective of overthrowing the prevailing political order.144

Highlighting the diffuse geographical distribution of arrestees, at least eight of those arrested for their role in the January 6 violence hailed from Michigan.145 Also among those who stormed the U.S. Capitol was an individual who a photographer had captured yelling at police officers during the anti-lockdown protest in Lansing in April 2020 when armed protestors, including several of those subsequently arrested for plotting to kidnap Whitmer, entered the statehouse building and intimidated lawmakers. This image went viral, helping to define that event visually.146 Another of those subsequently arrested (for assaulting a police officer during the January 6 riot) was a New York man who had searched online for “Gretchen Whitmer” together with the location of gun stores in the days prior to the U.S. Capitol insurrection,147 highlighting the extent of the animosity among these circles toward her. On January 6, 2021, a peaceful “Stop the Steal” rally took place in Lansing, though a bomb threat saw the Michigan State Capitol building closed for several hours the following day.148 u

While it is too simplistic to draw a straight line from Lansing to Washington, D.C., it is evident that what happened in Michigan was not an isolated incident either. Armed groups and individuals have been increasingly willing to target government buildings and intimidate politicians through incursions. This was seen at statehouses in Boise, Idaho, in August 2020,149 and Salem, Oregon, in December 2020,150 v both of which sought to disrupt pandemic-related legislative sessions. There were other ugly incidents prior to this as well. During a “Patriot Day Rally” rally in May 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky, a group of Three Percenters breached barriers to reach the front porch of Governor Andy Beshear’s Mansion House, heckling its occupants over his pandemic restrictions. The group then hoisted an effigy of the governor on a nearby tree, accompanied by the slogan “sic semper tyrannis” (“thus always to tyrants”) in a performative lynching.151

The conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer illustrates several points about the ongoing evolution of the threat from domestic extremism and terrorism in the United States. The plot to kidnap rather than simply murder Gretchen Whitmer, a high-profile female Democrat who during the Trump administration became a magnet for vitriol, was itself an unusual proposition given the wider practices of violence enacted by domestic extremists. Even allowing for its amateurish nature, the conspiracy itself was complex and involved an array of would-be perpetrators, some involved in established groups, others not. The plot also touches upon several ‘hot button’ issues, including the involvement and role of military veterans in radical “militia” groups (Morrison, Harris, and Bellar all had military backgrounds) and the increasing integration of digital technology into DVE activities.

More broadly, the Michigan plot also highlights how anti-government “militias” have continued to adapt and evolve, exploiting conspiracy theories and deliberate disinformation surrounding the pandemic, to remold traditional grievances about the “tyranny” of the U.S. government. While the plotters’ schemed clandestinely to kidnap Whitmer, a wider view of their activities highlights that several members of the group operated in plain sight, regularly attending armed demonstrations against Michigan’s lockdown measures, as they moved from anti-lockdown to anti-state activity. While the kidnap plot was an extreme act, arguably it cannot be fully comprehended without a broader appreciation of the wider mainstream political context in which it unfolded.

A prescient warning concerning the trajectory that some domestic extremists were following, from anti-lockdown to anti-state, appeared on October 6, 2020, the day before law enforcement arrested the plotters. On that date, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its first-ever “Homeland Threat Assessment,” highlighting almost all the elements discussed in this overview of the plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor. Its evaluation of the wider Domestic Violent Extremism (DVE) threat landscape (a category that excludes extremists inspired by the Islamic State, al-Qa`ida, and other foreign terrorist organizations)w observed how DVE actors were driving “lawful protests to incite violence, intimidate targets, and promote their violent extremist ideologies” by exploiting fears and grievances surrounding the pandemic. The report also presciently predicted how such activists “might target events related to the 2020 presidential election campaigns, the election itself, election results, or the post-election period,” though it did not reckon with the role that the then president himself would play in this context. “Such actors could mobilize quickly to threaten or engage in violence,” the report continued. “Violence related to government efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic and amidst otherwise ongoing lawful protests has exacerbated the typical election-season threat environment.”152

Pointedly, the “Homeland Threat Assessment” also highlighted the rise in domestic terrorism plots since 2018 “targeting individuals based on their actual or perceived political affiliations.” Also relevant to some of the dynamics in the Michigan plot, the report predicted that DVEs, likely emboldened by their success at exploiting otherwise peaceful protests as a cover for their own violent agendas, were “increasingly taking advantage of large protest crowds to conduct violence against government officials, facilities, and counter-protestors.” DHS remained “particularly concerned” that one of the impacts of the pandemic could be that DVEs might be motivated to use violence “in response to perceived infringement of liberties and government overreach” as the government attempted to limit the spread of coronavirus.153

DVE is not a uniform phenomenon. It represents a dynamic and multifaceted threat, consisting of a broad constellation of groups and ideological tendencies, each of which poses different types of risk. While these might overlap on occasion, they are distinguishable from one another based on differing goals, strategies, targets, and ideas.154 While the focus of U.S. counterterrorism in recent years has understandably concentrated upon lone actors (both DVE and HVE, homegrown violent extremists inspired by foreign terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State and al-Qa`ida) who continue to represent “the greatest terrorism threat to the United States,”155 the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer was a reminder that groups still matter, as do the amorphous radical milieu from which they emerge. Many of the would-be kidnappers self-identified with radical networks like the Three Percenters, whose activities received wider attention following the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. These decentralized networks operate with fungible boundaries, enabling them to accommodate a loose constellation of actors and fluid ideas that are often only united through a shared anti-government animus—thereby highlighting the nebulous and liminal nature of the wider radical milieu from which such loosely organized “groups” emerge in the first place.

The Michigan plot and the events of January 6 cemented concerns over the extreme far-right threat in the United States. Within the DVE category, racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists (REMVE), specifically white supremacists, represent, according to the October 2020 DHS threat assessment, “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”156 Together with Militia Violent Extremists (MVE), a bracket into which the Michigan plotters fit, REMVE represents the “most lethal” part of the DVE landscape, but here too the threat that these categories present differs, particularly with regard to its targets. REMVE militants are more likely to perpetrate mass-casualty attacks against civilians while MVE actors are more likely to target law enforcement, government personnel, and property.157

While the pandemic and lockdown energized those involved in the conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer, paradoxically the same period also witnessed a decline in the number of DVE-related murders. The Anti-Defamation League documented 17 murders as being perpetrated by “people associated with a variety of domestic extremist movements” during 2020. All but one of these were committed by right-wing DVE actors.158 Nine were committed by white supremacists, while five of these homicides were connected to anti-government extremists, including two killings committed by “Boogaloo” adherents.159 The 17 murders committed during 2020 represent a “significant decrease” from the 45 murders committed by domestic extremists that the Anti-Defamation League documented in 2019 and the 54 such killings identified for 2018. It is also the lowest annual total it had recorded since 2004.160

This lull is likely temporary, however. Mass violence by extreme far-right lone-actors will almost certainly re-emerge as the pandemic subsides and people gather in public in greater numbers. Indeed, this downward trend in murders committed by domestic extremist actors during 2020 is at odds with the broader arc of right-wing extremist violence, which has included 267 terror plots or attacks and at least 91 deaths since 2015, according to a Washington Post analysis of data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Indeed, though mass-casualty, right-wing extremist violence—of the scale seen in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2018) and El Paso, Texas (2019)—ceased during 2020, other forms of violence did not.161 According to CSIS, “In 2020, the number of domestic terrorist attacks and plots [across all perpetrator ideologies] increased to its highest level since at least 1994,” but despite “this sharp increase in terrorist activity, the number of fatalities from domestic terrorist attacks was at its lowest level since 2013.”162

FBI Director Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2021, highlighting that arrests of REMVE actors have almost tripled since 2017 and that REMVE extremism accounted for the “biggest chunk” of his agency’s domestic terrorism portfolio, which he stated currently entailed some 2,000 investigations.163 REMVE extremists were the “primary source” of lethal incidents in 2018 and 2019, though, as Wray highlighted, there has also been “an increase in lethal DVE attacks perpetrated by anti-government or anti-authority extremists,” which includes those involved with militias, who were responsible for three of the four lethal attacks in 2020.164 The pandemic, lockdown, widespread civil unrest, and political change have all served to transform the DVE landscape, ensuring that it assumed a “significantly larger role” in 2020 than HVE as compared to previous years, according to one intelligence assessment.165

The conspiracy to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer and more broadly the involvement of far-right “militias” in the assault on the U.S. Capitol also beg a more analytical question concerning the extent to which such groups continue to be designated as “anti-government.” As Sam Jackson highlights in relation to the Oath Keepers, Trump’s election was an “inflection point” for this anti-government group, which, for the first time in years, could imagine government not as an existential threat to life and liberty but as a “force for good.”166 Indeed, the threat from such militias that are increasingly politically partisan and continue to believe the lie that the election was “stolen” from Trump increases the likelihood that segments of the movement will become more rather than less hostile toward Democrats.167 x

The plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor was a further example, perhaps one of the starkest in recent years, of the type of threat that armed groups of men self-identifying as a “militia” can pose. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated in March 2021 that the MVE threat “increased” during 2020 and will likely remain “elevated” throughout the remainder of this year.168 Other agencies concur. For FBI Director Wray, DVE is his agency’s “top concern,”169 while DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas regards it as the “greatest” terrorist threat now facing the United States.170

The Biden administration’s approach to confronting domestic violent extremism represents “a sea change”171 in comparison to its predecessor, signaled most recently by the publication of the “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Extremism” in June 2021, the implementation of which is already “well underway.”172 The strategy, which articulates an overarching, government-wide framework for combating this multifaceted phenomenon as it evolves over the short- and long-term, reiterates the “elevated” threat posed by REMVE and MVE actors. While the strategy does not propose new domestic terrorism legislation, the document does indicate that the White House is also exploring ways to convene non-federal partners to have “open, robust exchanges of ideas” on issues such as how to make better use of laws that already exist across all 50 states to prohibit certain private “militia” activity, including state constitutional provisions requiring the subordination of the military to civil authorities, statutes prohibiting such activity without authorization from the state government, and state statutes criminalizing certain forms of paramilitary activity.173

Ultimately, only time will tell whether this new strategy is successful or not, though one thing is already apparent: there are likely no quick solutions in the months or indeed years ahead.     CTC

Graham Macklin is an assistant professor and postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX) at the University of Oslo, Norway. He has published extensively on far-right politics, transnational networks, violence, and terrorism in the United Kingdom and the United States, including, most recently, Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right (2020) and, as co-editor, Researching the Far Right: Theory, Method & Practice (2020). He is the co-editor of Patterns of Prejudice and Fascism. He also co-edits the Routledge Studies in Fascism and the Far Right book series. Follow @macklin_gd

© 2021 Graham Macklin

Substantive Notes
[a] The six men charged by the federal government are Adam Fox, 37; Ty Garbin, 24; Kaleb Franks, 26; Daniel Harris, 23; Brandon Caserta, 32—all from Michigan—and Barry Croft, 44, from Delaware.

[b] The seven men charged by the State of Michigan are Paul Bellar, 21; Shawn Fix, 38; Eric Molitor, 36; Michael Null, 38; William Null, 38; Pete Musico, 42; and Joseph Morrison, 26. Brian Higgins, 51, from Wisconsin, was charged with similar offenses the following week. The threat of terrorism charges against Morrison and Musico were dropped on March 29, 2021, though they still face other charges, including providing material support for terrorist acts, gang membership, and using a firearm during a felony. See “Members of Wolverine Watchmen to Stand Trial,” Michigan Department of the Attorney General, March 29, 2021.

[c] A 15th man connected to the group was charged with two felony weapons violations in March 2021. Maxwell Wyckoff, who had attended “multiple” field training exercises organized by the Wolverine Watchmen, was charged with one count of converting a semiautomatic weapon to an automatic weapon and one count of possessing a muffler or silencer device. See “Member of Wolverine Watchmen Faces Felony Weapons Charges,” Michigan Department of the Attorney General, March 22, 2021. Wyckoff subsequently reached a plea deal with Michigan’s Attorney General, pleading guilty to the weapons charges and co-operating in her ongoing investigation into the Wolverine Watchmen and those accused of plotting to kidnap the governor in exchange for a reduced sentence. See “Wolverine Watchmen Members Pleads Guilty to Weapons Charges,” Michigan Department of the Attorney General, May 19, 2021.

[d] This case represents the second time in a decade that the authorities have pursued a major prosecution involving a militia group in Michigan. In March 2010, law enforcement arrested nine members of the Hutaree militia, a small millenarian group operating in Lenawee County. They were charged with “seditious conspiracy” for allegedly plotting to kill a police officer and then target other officers in the funeral procession motorcade “with weapons of mass destruction” as a means of drawing the authorities into violent conflict. This, they believed, would provide the catalyst for a “wide-spread uprising” against the government. See United States of America vs. David Brian Stone et al, Case no: 2:10-cr-2023, March 23, 2010, and Amy Cooter, “The Hutaree: Who They Are, How They Differ from Other Michigan Militias, and Warning Signs of Problematic Behavior.” Before the case came to trial, however, the judge dismissed all of the most serious charges against the defendants because prosecutors had failed to prove the group had a specific plan, beyond their violent utterances. See James B. Kelleher and Rachelle Damico, “Hutaree militia walk from jail after charges dismissed,” Reuters, March 29, 2012. This was a major setback and presumably one that the FBI would have been mindful of while pursuing charges against those involved in the alleged conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer.

[e] By April 30, 2020, Michigan had recorded 3,789 deaths and 41,379 confirmed cases of coronavirus. See Dacie Moran, “Michigan coronavirus death toll hits 3,789, more than 41,000 cases confirmed,” Detroit Free Press, April 30, 2020.

[f] Michael and William Null, twin brothers who are charged in the Michigan complaint, were the men depicted in Senator Polehanki’s photograph, according to the journalist Heather Catallo in “Authorities: Some suspects charged in the kidnapping plot were inside the Capitol during anti-shut down protests,” ABC 7 Detroit, October 9, 2020. Other sources identify only one of the brothers as being in the photograph, but not which one.

[g] Details released during a detention hearing after Caserta’s arrest highlight his animus toward the police following a recent traffic stop. “The end times are approaching for these piece-of-shit cops. I mean that with every cell in my body. Our time is coming soon, boys, and it’s going to be satisfying,” he told fellow members of the group on September 19, 2020. Believing he was being “enslaved” by the state, Caserta also boasted of having obtained the addresses of the police officers who had pulled him over. “I could easily tap them and dip and no one would know a thing,” he stated during a conversation that also included him talking about obtaining weapons and a silencer. See “Transcript of Detention Hearing [Brandon Caserta] Before United States Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens,” October 13, 2020, Docket No. 1:20-mj-416. Prosecutors alleged that this, and other such talk, was evidence the group was planning to wrap up loose ends before kidnapping Whitmer, which they believed might energize the “Boogaloo.” See “Transcript Vol. 1.”

[h] On June 6, 2020, two of the accused in connection to the conspiracy against Whitmer, Daniel Harris and Paul Bellar, attended a racial justice protest in Lake Orion, Michigan, to protest the murder of George Floyd. Bellar was pictured holding a placard reading “B.L.M. – A Badge is not a license to murder.” See Aaron C. Davis, Dalton Bennett, Sarah Cahlan, and Meg Kelly, “Alleged Michigan plotters attended multiple anti-lockdown protests, photos and videos show,” Washington Post, November 1, 2020.

[i] Ben Collins, Brandy Zadrozny, Tom Winter, and Corky Siemaszko in “Whitmer conspiracy allegations tied to ‘boogaloo’ movement,” NBC News, October 9, 2020, report that Fox’s Facebook avatar was a skull and crossbones with a Three Percenter label and the phrase “Liberty or Death.”

[j] In a social media profile verified by NBC, Croft appeared wearing a tricorn hat and a sweatshirt bearing a Three Percenters insignia. See Collins, Zadrozny, Winter, and Siemaszko. Eric Molitor, another of the accused, also posted Three Percenter images on this Facebook page. See Tom Perkins, Kelly Weill, Will Sommer, and William Bredderman, “The ‘Wolverine Watchmen’ Accused of Targeting Michigan Gov Spooked Their Neighbors,” Daily Beast, October 8, 2020.

[k] Null’s twin brother, Michael, also flew a Three Percenters flag on his property. See Gus Burns, Roberto Acosta, and John Tunison, “The ties that bind the men behind the plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer,” Michigan Live, October 21, 2020.

[l] Massey subsequently committed suicide. See Kevin Krause, “North Texas militia vigilante who rounded up immigrants at border found dead after months on the run,” Dallas Morning News, January 10, 2020.

[m] Hawaiian shirts are an “aesthetic” of the Boogaloo movement. See Matthew Kriner and Jon Lewis, “The Evolution of the Boogaloo Movement,” CTC Sentinel 14:2 (2021).

[n] The federal criminal complaint notes that one of the conspirators, Kaleb Franks, had previously indicated on July 7, 2020, that he was “not cool” with “offensive kidnapping” but had nonetheless “actively continued” to participate in the plot thereafter. The “Affidavit in Support of Complaint” states that Bellar was a “sergeant” in the Wolverine Watchmen and had “designed tactical exercises for training” them. He subsequently appears to have disengaged from the group plotting to kidnap Whitmer in July 2020 when he relocated to Columbia, South Carolina, to live with his father. See Joseph Cranney, “Former soldier accused in Michigan governor kidnap plot arrested in Columbia,” Post and Courier, October 9, 2020. The affidavit against him [cited above] appears to be concerned with his activities on behalf of the Wolverine Watchmen rather than the plot per se. It states that he “provided plans for tactical maneuvers at trainings, coded language for covert communication, hosted meetings at his residence, provided ammunition, and coordinated logistics for trainings contrary to MCL 750.543k.”

[o] One of the suspects, Daniel Harris, confirmed this interpretation to the FBI during a pre-trial interview. “Transcript of Volume I of Preliminary Hearing Before United States Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens,” October 16, 2020, Case 1:20-mj-00416-SJB.

[p] “Transcript of Detention Hearing [Kaleb Franks] Before United States Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens, October 13, 2020,” Docket No. 1: 20-mj-416 features the testimony of FBI agent Richard Trask who stated that Franks had also tried to persuade Garbin and the FBI informant to help him obtain a “ghost gun,” a weapon with no serial number that the authorities could not trace, for a friend who was a drug dealer.

[q] Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020, states that the group could not find Harris and Caserta when they came to depart, though Harris later expressed his regret to the group that he had not gone with them, Garbin later told prosecutors.

[r] While Fox allegedly wanted to enact his plan before November 3, 2020, fellow conspirator Ty Garbin suggested that they wait, anticipating that widespread civil unrest in the aftermath of the election would make it easier for the group to operate. See Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020.

[s] It is not clear if this was a protest Musico was organizing himself or the “Boogaloo Bois” rally that took place in Lansing on October 17, 2020. See Craig Lyons, “Boogaloo Bois say ‘unity is the mission’ at Capitol rally,” Lansing State Journal, October 17, 2020.

[t] A fifth person, Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, died the following day having suffered a series of strokes. This was the ruling of the Washington, D.C., medical examiner. See Bart Jansen, “US Capitol Officer Brian Sicknick died of strokes the day after riot, medical examiner rules,” USA Today, April 19, 2021.

[u] The perpetrator, who police arrested later that day, was also charged over death threats he had previously made to Detroit Democrat Cynthia Johnson on December 12, 2020. See Michael Chad Varrone, “Affidavit of Probable Cause,” January 8, 2021.

[v] In June 2021, State Representative Mike Nearman (R) was expelled from the Oregon Legislature for intentionally (and with premeditation) letting the armed protestors into the locked building, which was then in special session. Nearman is the first person ever to be expelled from the Oregon House. See Dirk Vanderhart, “Oregon House expels state Rep. Mike Nearman, plotter of the Capitol incursion,” OPB, June 11, 2021, and Rebecca Ellis, Dirk Vanderhart, and Sam Stites, “‘OPD Politics Now’: New evidence and the latest fallout in the saga of Rep. Mike Nearman,” OPB, June 11, 2021.

[w] DHS defines a Domestic Violent Extremist (DVE) as “an individual based and operating primarily within the United States or its territories without direction or inspiration from a foreign terrorist group or other foreign power who seeks to further political or social goals wholly or in part through unlawful acts of force or violence.”

It defines a Homegrown Violent Extremist (HVE) as “a person of any citizenship who has lived and/or operated primarily in the United States or its territories who advocates, is engaged in, or is preparing to engage in ideologically-motivated terrorist activities (including providing support to terrorism) in furtherance of political or social objectives promoted by a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), but is acting independently of direction by an FTO. HVEs are distinct from traditional domestic terrorists who engage in unlawful acts of violence to intimidate civilian populations or attempt to influence domestic policy without direction from or influence from a foreign actor.” “Homeland Threat Assessment – October 2020,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, p. 17.

[x] Though not a militiaman, Cesar Sayoc, who in October 2018 sent 13 explosive devices through the mail, targeting primarily though not exclusively leading Democrat politicians (including the current president and vice president), might be viewed as an early example of this shift. See United States of America v. Cesar Altieri Sayoc.

[1] “Watch: FBI and DOJ hold news conference on foiled kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Whitmer,” PBS News Hour – YouTube, October 8, 2020.

[2] Sheena Jones and Theresa Waldrop, “14th person charged in alleged plot to kidnap Michigan governor,” CNN, October 16, 2020.

[3] “Transcript of Volume I of Preliminary Hearing Before United States Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens,” October 16, 2020, Case 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, hereafter “Transcript of Volume I” and “Transcript of Volume II of Preliminary Hearing Before United States Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens,” October 16, 2020, Case 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, hereafter “Transcript of Volume II.”

[4] “Transcript of Volume II.”

[5] “United States of America vs. Adam Dean Fox et al. – Superseding Indictment,” April 26, 2021, Case no. 1:20-CR-00183, hereafter “Superseding Indictment.”

[6] “Trial postponed until October for 5 men in alleged Gov. Whitmer kidnapping plot,” Detroit Free Press, February 11, 2021.

[7] Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020.

[8] Tresa Baldas, “Hartland man pleads guilty in Whitmer kidnap plot, agrees to ‘fully cooperate,’” Detroit Free Press, January 27, 2021.

[9] Frank Witsil, “Coronavirus in Michigan: A timeline of how the pandemic unfolded since last year,” Detroit Free Press, March 9, 2021.

[10] For instance, Jane Coaston and Aaron Rupar, “Thousands of Michiganders took to the streets to protest the governor’s stay-at-home order,” Vox, April 16, 2020.

[11] Brad Reed, “Here’s the interview with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that drove Trump up the wall,” YouTube, March 17, 2020.

[12] President Donald J. Trump, “Failing Michigan Governor must work harder and be much more proactive …,” Twitter, March 17, 2020.

[13] Christina Wilkie and Kevin Breuninger, “Trumps says he told Pence not to call governors who aren’t ‘appreciative’ of White House coronavirus efforts,” CNBC, March 27, 2020.

[14] Fatima Bangura, “Gov. Whitmer takes on Trump after he again slams her response to COVID-19,” WXYZ Detroit, March 27, 2020.

[15] Governor Gretchen Whitmer, “Hi, my name is Gretchen Whitmer, and that governor is me …,” Twitter, March 27, 2020.

[16] President Donald J. Trump, “I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them …,” Twitter, March 27, 2020.

[17] “State of Michigan Request for Presidential Disaster Declaration Major Disaster,” State of Michigan Office of the Governor, March 26, 2020.

[18] Caleb Ecarma, “Trump Supporters Are Staging Armed Protests to Stick It to Coronavirus,” Vanity Fair, April 16, 2020.

[19] “President Donald J. Trump Announces Guidelines for Opening Up America Again,” The White House, April 16, 2020.

[20] President Donald J. Trump, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Twitter, April 17, 2020.

[21] “Transcript of Volume II.”

[22] Paul Egan, “Scuffle erupts between protesters, security in Michigan House gallery,” Detroit Free Press, April 29, 2020.

[23] Pilar Melendez and Will Sommer, “Trump World Star and Budding Conspiracy Theorist Lead Protest of Michigan’s Virus Lockdown,” Daily Beast, April 30, 2020.

[24] Senator Dayna Polehanki, “Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us …,” Twitter, April 30, 2020.

[25] President Donald J. Trump, “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire …,” Twitter, May 1, 2020.

[26] Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico, “Affidavit in Support of Complaint.”

[27] “People of the State of Michigan vs. Pete Musico,” Case no. 2003173 FY.

[28] Violet Ikonomova, “Meet ‘Boogaloo Bunyan,’ Founder Of Michigan Militia That Plotted Government Overthrow,” Deadline Detroit, October 9, 2020.

[29] Tom Perkins, Kelly Weill, Will Sommer, and William Bredderman, “The ‘Wolverine Watchmen’ Accused of Targeting Michigan Gov Spooked Their Neighbors,” Daily Beast, October 8, 2020.

[30] Joseph Cranney, “Former soldier accused in Michigan governor kidnap plot arrested in Columbia,” Post and Courier, October 9, 2020.

[31] Paul Bellar, “Affidavit in Support of Complaint.”

[32] Chad Livengood, “Whitmer plot suspect’s past employment at Huron Valley Guns prompts Trump campaign to cancel event at gun range,” Crain’s Detroit Business, October 12, 2020; Camille Amiri and David Komer, “Trump rally changes venue from gun business after Whitmer kidnap suspect found to have worked there,” Fox2 Detroit, October 12, 2020.

[33] Jonathan Oosting, “FBI informant: Facebook led me to infiltrate plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer,” Bridge Michigan, March 5, 2021.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Aaron C. Davis, Dalton Bennett, Sarah Cahlan, and Meg Kelly, “Alleged Michigan plotters attended multiple anti-lockdown protests, photos and videos show,” Washington Post, November 1, 2020; Steve Neavling, “Gov. Whitmer becomes target of dozens of threats on private Facebook groups ahead of armed rally in Lansing,” Detroit Metro Times, May 11, 2020; Veronica Stracqualursi, “Michigan closes state Capitol as protesters gather against stay-at-home order,” CNN, May 14, 2020.

[36] Ikonomova.

[37] “People of the State of Michigan vs. Pete Musico,” Case no. 2003173 FY.

[38] Matthew Kriner and Jon Lewis, “The Evolution of the Boogaloo Movement,” CTC Sentinel 14:2 (2021): pp. 22-32.

[39] Ben Collins, Brandy Zadrozny, Tom Winter and Corky Siemaszko, “Whitmer conspiracy allegations tied to ‘boogaloo’ movement,” NBC News, October 9, 2020.

[40] George Hunter, “Alleged Whitmer kidnapping plotter posted anti-Trump video,” Detroit News, October 9, 2020.

[41] Omar Abdel-Baqui and Joe Guillen, “FBI informant in planned governor attack details time embedded in alleged terrorist cell,” Detroit Free Press, March 6, 2020.

[42] Collins, Zadrozny, Winter, and Siemaszko.

[43] M. L. Elrick, “Family reveals inside life of Adam Fox, alleged mastermind in Whitmer kidnapping plot,” Detroit Free Press, January 13, 2021.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Malachi Barrett, “Who are Michigan’s militias? Armed ‘patriot’ groups resurface during anti-government climate,” Michigan Live, January 31, 2021.

[46] Paul McLeod, “A Man Charged With Plotting To Kidnap Michigan’s Governor Was Kicked Out Of A Local Group For His ‘Rage Issues,’” Buzzfeed News, October 9, 2020.

[47] “Transcript of Volume II.”

[48] Backgrounder on the “Three Percenters,” Anti-Defamation League website.

[49] “Antigovernment Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center. See also Alejandro J. Beutal and Daryl Johnson, The Three Percenters: A Look Inside an Anti-Government Militia (Washington, D.C.: Newlines Institute, 2021).

[50] Barrett.

[51] Shawn Ley and Dane Kelly, “Guns, maps, audio recordings – New evidence in terrorist plot against Whitmer revealed,” Click on Detroit, November 20, 2020.

[52] John Tunison, “Judge denies bond for alleged leader in Whitmer kidnapping plot, described as ‘violent extremist,’” Michigan Live, January 13, 2021.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Esteban Parra and Xerxes Wilson, “Delaware man charged in Michigan governor kidnap plot was pardoned by Carney last year,” Delaware News Journal, October 9, 2020.

[55] Case no: 1:20-mj-00273 “Application for a Warrant by Telephone of Other Reliable Means,” October 22, 2020.

[56] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020, and “Transcript of Volume I.”

[57] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020, and “Far-right plotters ‘discussed kidnapping Virginia governor Ralph Northam’,” Guardian, October 13, 2020.

[58] Hannah Knowles, “Wolverine Watchmen, extremist group implicated in Michigan kidnapping plot, trained for ‘civil war,’” Washington Post, October 9, 2020.

[59] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[60] Jonathan Oosting, “Militias, far-right groups recast selves as mainstream at Lansing gun rally,” Bridge Michigan, September 17, 2020.

[61] McLeod; David Lipson, “What happened when the ABC met two of the men charged over a plot to kidnap Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer,” ABC [Australia], October 11, 2020.

[62] “Target 8 recorded suspects in plot on Gov. Whitmer at summer rally,” Wood TV8, October 10, 2020. Davis, Bennett, Cahlan, and Kelly identifies Harris, Bellar, and Garbin as also being present at this rally.

[63] People of the State of Michigan vs. Pete Musico, Case no. 2003173 FY.

[64] Ibid.

[65] “13 men charged in alleged kidnapping plot, many with troubled pasts,” Detroit Free Press, October 11, 2020.

[66] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[67] People of the State of Michigan vs. Pete Musico, Case no. 2003173 FY.

[68] “Transcript of Volume II.”

[69] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020, and Ty Garbin “Plea Agreement.”

[70] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[71] “Transcript of Volume I.”

[72] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[73] People of the State of Michigan vs. Pete Musico, Case no. 2003173 FY.

[74] Darcie Moran and Joe Guillen, “Whitmer kidnap plot: Possible citizen’s arrest mentioned in March, prosecutor says,” Detroit Free Press, October 23, 2020.

[75] United States v. Adam Dean Fox et al., “Indictment” Case 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ.

[76] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020, and “Transcript of Volume I.”

[77] “Superseding Indictment.”

[78] Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020.

[79] “Plot to kidnap Michigan governor has ties to Wisconsin,” CBS58, October 8, 2020.

[80] Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020.

[81] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020; “Transcript of Volume I.”

[82] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ibid.

[87] “Transcript of Volume I” and Tracey Tully, “Judge Whose Son Was Killed by Misogynistic Lawyer Speaks Out,” New York Times, August 3, 2020.

[88] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020; “Transcript to Volume I.”

[89] Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020.

[90] “Transcript of Volume II” and Eric Molitor – “Affidavit in Support of Complaint.”

[91] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[92] United States v. Adam Dean Fox et al., “Indictment” Case 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ names the six men as Fox, Croft, Garbin, Franks, Harris, and Caserta.

[93] United States v. Adam Dean Fox et al., “Indictment” Case 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ; Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020; and “Superseding Indictment.”

[94] Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020.

[95] Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020.

[96] United States v. Adam Dean Fox et al., “Indictment” Case 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ.

[97] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[98] “Transcript of Volume I” and “Transcript of Volume II.” This piece of information is drawn from a court transcript relating to the federal case. It refers to “Daniel Molitor” as being in one of the cars conducting surveillance and intimates that his withdrawal from the plot at this juncture is the reason he is not charged in the federal case. The author believes this is actually a reference to Eric Molitor who is charged in the state complaint.

[99] Frank Witsel and Darcie Moran, “Wisconsin man charged in plot to kidnap Whitmer extradited to Michigan,” Detroit Free Press, May 4, 2021. See also “Transcript of Volume I” and “Transcript of Volume II.”

[100] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020; United States v. Adam Dean Fox et al., “Indictment” Case 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ; Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020; and “Superseding Indictment.”

[101] Ty Garbin, “Plea Agreement” Case no: 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ, January 26, 2020.

[102] United States v. Adam Dean Fox et al., “Indictment” Case 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ.

[103] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[104] “Transcript of Volume I.”

[105] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020 and United States v. Adam Dean Fox et al., “Indictment” Case 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ.

[106] Robert Snell, “Whitmer kidnap probe leads feds to explosives, arsenals,” Detroit News, March 30, 2021.

[107] Michael Loadenthal, “Evolving Digital OPSEC Practices Amongst Far-Right Networks,” Global Network on Extremism & Technology, June 4, 2020.

[108] “Transcript of Volume II.”

[109] “Christopher Wray, Statement Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, D.C.,” March 2, 2021.

[110] Grant Hermes and Kayla Clarke, “Confidential informant testifies in hearing for 3 men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Whitmer,” Click On Detroit, March 5, 2021.

[111] Joe Guillen and Omar Abdel-Baqui, “Whitmer kidnapping plot hearing live feed: Confidential FBI informant testifies,” Detroit Free Press, March 5, 2021.

[112] Oosting, “FBI informant: Facebook led me to infiltrate plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.”

[113] Guillen and Abdel-Baqui, “Whitmer kidnapping plot hearing live feed: Confidential FBI informant testifies.” “Transcript of Volume I” confirms that this informant is the one referred to as “CHS-2” in the Criminal Complaint.

[114] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[115] “Government’s Unopposed Motion for an Ends of Justice Continuance to Extend Time for Filing Indictment,” Case no. 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 26, 2020.

[116] “Application for a Warrant by Telephone or other Reliable Electronic Means” [Barry Croft Facebook pages], October 22, 2020.

[117] Ibid.

[118] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[119] “Transcript of Detention Hearing [Kaleb Franks] Before United States Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens, October 13, 2020,” Docket No. 1: 20-mj-416.

[120] “Transcript of Detention Hearing [Daniel Harris] Before United States Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens, October 13, 2020,” Docket No. 1: 20-mj-416.

[121] United States v. Adam Dean Fox et al., “Indictment” Case 1:20-cr-00183-RJJ and “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[122] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[123] Ibid.

[124] “Transcript of Volume I.”

[125] “Criminal Complaint” Case no: 1:20-mj-00416-SJB, October 6, 2020.

[126] Robert Snell, “Feds indict Whitmer kidnapping case informant as secret rift surfaces,” Detroit News, March 20, 2021.

[127] “Transcript of Volume II.”

[128] Ibid.

[129] “Transcript of Volume I.”

[130] “Transcript of Detention Hearing [Daniel Harris] Before United States Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens, October 13, 2020,” Docket No. 1: 20-mj-416.

[131] “Transcript of Volume I.”

[132] “Transcript of Volume II.”

[133] Robert Snell, “Ruby Ridge echoes in deadly Madison Heights FBI shootout,” Detroit News, October 8, 2020.

[134] Tess Owen, “The Boogaloo Bois Are Turning a Man Killed in an FBI Shootout Into Their New Martyr,” Vice, October 6, 2020.

[135] Tresa Baldas, “Here’s why the FBI targeted Madison Heights man killed in shootout,” Detroit Free Press, October 26, 2020.

[136] Jim Bourg, “I heard at least 3 different rioters at the Capitol say …,” Twitter, January 8, 2021.

[137] Sophia Moskalenko, “Zip-tie guys: military-grade radicalization among Capitol Hill Insurrectionists,” Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict 14:2 (2021): pp. 179-191.

[138] Roop Raj and Fox2 Staff, “Gov. Whitmer says U.S. Capitol scenes similar to Michigan’s protests: ‘were they not paying attention?'” Fox2 Detroit, January 7, 2020.

[139] “Capitol Hill Siege –Today’s figures,” George Washington University, Program on Extremism, as of July 9, 2021.

[140] “This is Our House!” A Preliminary Assessment of the Capitol Hill Siege Participants (Washington, D.C.: George Washington University, Program on Extremism, 2021).

[141] “FBI chief calls Capitol attack domestic terrorism and rejects Trump’s fraud claims,” Guardian, June 11, 2021.

[142] Jaclyn Diaz and Rachel Treisman, “Members of Right-Wing Militias, Extremist Groups Are Latest Charged in Capitol Siege,” NPR, January 19, 2021.

[143] Alan Feuer and Matthew Rosenberg, “6 men Said to Be Tied To Three Percenters Movement Are Charged in Capitol Riot,” New York Times, June 10, 2021.

[144] Brian Hughes and Cynthia Miller-Idriss, “Uniting for Total Collapse: The January 6 Boost to Accelerationism,” CTC Sentinel 14:4 (2021).

[145] “Capitol Breach Cases,” United States Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia.

[146] Kayla Ruble, “Brian Cash—the Michigan man famously pictured yelling at police officers at an armed April rally …,” Twitter, January 9, 2021. See also Gina Kaufman, “Michigan man in now-famous Capitol protest photo: ‘I didn’t scream in anybody’s face,’” Detroit Free Press, May 5, 2020.

[147] Robert Snell, “FBI most wanted Capitol suspect searched for Whitmer online, feds say,” Detroit News, April 27, 2021.

[148] Paul Egan, “Hundreds of Trump supporters protest peacefully outside Capitol in Lansing,” Detroit Free Press, January 6, 2021.

[149] James Dawson, “Unmasked Protesters Push Past Police Into Idaho Lawmaker’s Session,” NPR, August 25, 2020.

[150] Tom Tapp, “Armed Protesters Break into Oregon State Capitol Building, Break Windows, Assault Journalists, Hit Police With Chemical Agent,” Deadline, December 21, 2020.

[151] Hollie Silverman, “An effigy of Kentucky Gov. Beshear was hung from a tree at the end of a Second Amendment rally,” CNN, May 25, 2020.

[152] “Homeland Threat Assessment – October 2020,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, pp. 17-18.

[153] Ibid., pp. 18-19.

[154] Donald Holbrook and Graham Macklin, “Deconstructing right-wing extremism,” Resolve Network (United States Institute of Peace), forthcoming 2021.

[155] “Jill Sanborn, FBI Executive Assistant Director, National Security Branch, Statement Before the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies,” Washington, D.C., April 29, 2021.

[156] “Homeland Threat Assessment – October 2020,” p. 18. For a longer view of the annual strategic intelligence assessment, see “Strategic Intelligence Assessment and Data on Domestic Terrorism,” FBI and DHS, May 2021, pp. 5-9.

[157] “(U) Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, March 1, 2021, p. 2.

[158] Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2020 (New York: Anti-Defamation League, Center on Extremism, 2021), pp. 4, 10, and 22.

[159] Ibid., pp. 4 and 11.

[160] Ibid., p. 7.

[161] Robert O’Harrow, Jr., Andrew Ba Tran, and Derek Hawkins, “The rise of domestic extremism in America,” Washington Post, April 12, 2021.

[162] Seth G. Jones, Catrina Doxsee, Grace Hwang, and Jared Thompson, “The Military, Police, and the Rise of Terrorism in the United States,” CSIS Issue Briefs, April 12, 2021.

[163] “CNN Newsroom, Transcript,” March 2, 2021.

[164] “Christopher Wray, FBI Director, Statement Before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

[165] Jana Winter, “Feds now say right-wing extremists responsible for majority of deadly attacks last year,” Yahoo News, February 19, 2021.

[166] Sam Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020), pp. 6-7, 22, 24, 26-27, 32-34.

[167] Marc-André Argentino, Blyth Crawford, Florence Keen, and Hannah Rose, Far From Gone: The Evolution of Extremism in the First 100 Days of the Biden Administration (London: ICSR, 2021).

[168] “(U) Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021,” p. 2.

[169] Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky, “FBI Director says domestic terrorism ‘metastasizing’ through U.S. as cases soar,” Washington Post, March 3, 2021.

[170] John Bowden, “DHS chief calls domestic extremism ‘greatest’ terror threat US faces,” Hill, March 21, 2021.

[171] Carly Gordenstein and Seamus Hughes, “A Sea Change in Counterterrorism,” Lawfare, June 16, 2021.

[172] “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism,” Executive Office of the President, National Security Council, June 2021, p. 30.

[173] Ibid., p. 25. For more on this topic, see Audrey Alexander and Kristina Hummel, “A View from the CT Foxhole: Mary McCord, Executive Director, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy Protection, Georgetown University Law Center,” CTC Sentinel 14:3 (2021).

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