Mugshots of the 13 conspirators involved in the domestic terror plot against Gov. Whitmer.
Mugshots of the 13 conspirators involved in the domestic terror plot against Gov. Whitmer.

From a boat painted black, they watched Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s vacation home at night, the FBI said. Here’s what we know about Michigan’s domestic terror plot.

LANSING, MI—State and federal law enforcement agents Oct. 8 announced a thwarted attempt to abduct Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and violently overthrow the Michigan government. The conspirators have been charged with domestic terrorism as a result of their plot. 

The plot was going to be executed by at least 13 men who have been arrested for their involvement. 

This is a developing story; Here’s what authorities have revealed so far:

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s office
Gov. Whitmer addresses the plot against her Oct. 10. Photo courtesy the Office of the Governor

What Was the Plot?

In the basement of a shop accessed through a trapdoor, the terrorists met to discuss the plan according to the FBI’s criminal complaint. They spent the summer in such meetings, in firearms training, and coordinating the plot. In a Lake Michigan home near Gov. Whitmer’s vacation home, the conspirators met to finalize their plan Sept. 14.

“And it’s a perfect f—ing setup,” one conspirator said of the vacation home according to court filings. “Out of everywhere that she resides, this is the only one that’s probably actually feasible with a success rate.”

That plot involved preparing a bomb to go off at a bridge near Gov. Whitmer’s property. Court filings report the group agreed to buy explosives for this purpose, using words like “cake” and “baker” as euphemisms to avoid detection. They also used encrypted messaging platforms to coordinate efforts. One conspirator was insistent the plot be carried out early enough to impact the Nov. 3 election. 

With a boat painted black, the conspirators monitored Gov. Whitmer’s home at night. During the day, the men drove by the property, taking slow-motion video and making hand-drawn maps of the area. They calculated the response time of the nearest police station and determined destroying the nearby bridge would slow that response. Destroying a highway bridge as a diversionary tactic was also planned.

They planned to attack the house and escape with an unconscious Gov. Whitmer by boat. The group purchased a taser to accomplish this, so she could be brought to a location in Wisconsin to stand unofficial trial.

“If you’re not down with the thought of kidnapping, don’t sit here,” court filings report one conspirator said. To which, another replied “Kidnapping, arson, death. I don’t care.” 

After which, the group began discussing destroying Gov. Whitmer’s home.

Mugshots of the 13 conspirators involved in the domestic terror plot against Gov. Whitmer.

Who Were the Conspirators?

Six men face federal charges in relation to their involvement in the plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer and overthrow Michigan’s elected government. 

Adam Fox was allegedly the mastermind of the overall plot. Fox was living in the basement of a business sympathetic to him, and was paranoid about the government seizing his guns. It was in that basement where the plot was developed and where discussion of using Molotov cocktails and other riot weapons against Michigan State Police and the Capitol Building. He has been charged with conspiracy to kidnap.

“What he did is totally insane,” said the owner of the business where Fox reportedly prepared the plot, in an interview with MLive. “If I knew that I would’ve called police.”

Barry Croft was one of those charged with federal crimes. ABC reports that Croft was convicted of possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony in the late 1990s, but was pardoned of that crime in 2019 by Delaware Gov. John Carney, who approved the petition for a pardon due to employment reasons for that crime as well as other theft and burglary charges against Croft. He has been a notable member of the loose, heavily armed right-wing extremist group Three Percent. He has been charged with conspiracy to kidnap.

“Croft’s criminal history was more than 20 years old and it appeared to everyone involved that his offenses were in his past and that he had gotten himself on the right track,” said Mat Marshall, a spokeswoman for Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings in a press conference. “Needless to say, nobody—neither the DOJ nor the bipartisan Board of Pardons—would have endorsed a pardon had they known what the future held.”

William and Micheal Null, twin brothers, are charged with providing material support for terrorist acts. Both men were involved in the American Patriot Protest in April, where they joined others in storming the Capitol Building with firearms in an intimidating gesture condemned by Fox News’ Sean Hannity. 

“When the world was shown the reality of our workplace in the Michigan Capitol, they were appalled. Men armed to the teeth stormed our chambers to intimidate us, and today, we found out these threats were real. There was a plan in place to not only scare us but kidnap us and kill us,” Sen Dayna Lynn Polehanki (D-Livonia) said on the floor of the legislature after the plot was revealed. “We literally dodged death. This time. But what about next time? Because there will be a next time.”

Ty Garbin owned the mobile home raided by the FBI when news about the plot was made public. Garbin leads a local armed group and talked about attacking the capitol at a Second Amendment demonstration in July. He has been charged with conspiracy to kidnap.

Kaleb Franks originally joined the group of conspirators for firearms training, but quickly radicalized and was eventually comfortable with not only kidnapping, but assassination. He has been charged with conspiracy to kidnap.

Daniel Harris is a former marine and advocated for shooting Gov. Whitmer at her vacation home instead of abducting her. He regretted missing the surveillance of Whitmer’s home. He has been charged with conspiracy to kidnap.

Brandon Caserta is a self-proclaimed anarchist, He allegedly called Gov. Whitmer while plotting the attack. He has been charged with conspiracy to kidnap.

Paul Bellar was in charge of training the Wolverine Watchmen, the terrorist group at the center of the planned attack. He was an Army trainee and used that experience to train his co-conspirators. He has been charged with providing material support for terrorist acts.

Shawn Fix was described by the judge who arraigned him as “extremely dangerous,” though his lawyer argued he was not deeply connected to the plot. He was previously charged with assault. He has been charged with providing material support for terrorist acts.

Eric Molitor was involved in the surveillance of Gov. Whitmer’s home. He used his cell phone to mark the location and took pictures. He has been charged with providing material support for terrorist acts.

Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison cofounded the Wolverine Watchmen group. The Watchmen are affiliated with the Michigan Militia, a domestic terrorist group founded in 1994 with ties to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. They have been charged with providing material support for terrorist acts.

In this April 15, 2020 photo, protesters carry guns outside the Capitol Building in Lansing, Mich. Attorney General Dana Nessel said Friday, May 8, 2020, that a commission overseeing the state Capitol can legally ban guns from the building, contradicting panel leaders’ contention that only the Legislature can do so. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Why Words Matter

These 13 men did not come out of nowhere. When the Null brothers stormed the Capitol Building in April, President Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”—a message Fox allegedly ran with. 

The court filings state the conspirators regularly called Gov. Whitmer a tyrant, echoing the sentiment that Michigan needed to throw off the yoke of oppression that Trump fulmented. They believed they could arrest her and charge her with treason (which they can’t lawfully do) and that it was their duty to do so before the November election.

“When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight,” Gov. Whitmer said. “When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.”

But Trump fired back, bringing the plot to overthrow Michigan’s government into the long story of his attacks on Whitmer. The president complained that he was not thanked (Gov. Whitmer did thank law enforcement) and went on to demand the same things as her would-be kidnappers. 

And while Trump has used a refrain of the importance of law enforcement in his campaign, CNN points out that this rhetoric has been notably absent in his response to the plot against Gov. Whitmer and Michigan’s government. 

In fact, Vox explained that political violence has been part of Trump’s rhetoric from the moment he started running for office. He called on attendees of his rallies in his 2016 rallies to attack those protesting him even offering to pay their legal fees. As recently as the last presidential debate, Trump told violent far-right extremists to “stand back and stand by” rather than denouncing their violence. 

“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry. As a call to action,” Gov. Whitmer said. “So let me say this loud and clear: Hatred, bigotry, and violence have no place in the great state of Michigan. And if you break the law, or conspire to commit heinous acts of violence against anyone—we will find you, we will hold you accountable, and we will bring you to justice.”

Political violence has been on the rise since Trump’s entry into politics, coming predominantly from far-right domestic terrorist groups like the Wolverine Watchmen according to FBI data

Even the word ‘militia’ being used to describe the conspiracy to overthrow Michigan’s government is a word choice that matters. As the Rand Corporation explains, the term evokes a romanticized notion of the “citizen soldier” which is a legacy properly inherited by the National Guard and not by bands of radical extremists.

In fact, in Michigan it is illegal to train someone in the use of firearms with the intent of causing civil disorder—essentially the precise purpose for which the Wolverine Watchmen and other like-minded self-styled “militias” exist. 

Croft was a very notable figure in the world of these organizations, reports NPR. Croft was attempting to streamline and formalize the Three Percent, a loose affiliation of armed extremists across the country. An administrator for the Three Percent online community told NPR that Croft was “radical” even by the standards of heavily-armed right-wing extremists. So it comes as little surprise Croft found himself in Michigan’s “militia” scene, which has a long history of radical extremism.

And the warning signs that it was coming to Michigan were abundant. Not only did the rally the Null brothers attend carry overtones threatening the exact kind of overthrow of the government the brothers went on to participate in planning but also other credible threats on Gov. Whitmer. Protesters called for her death for months while this plot took shape. She was even hanged in effigy at a subsequent rally. 

“When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard, but I’ll be honest—I never could’ve imagined anything like this,” said Gov. Whitmer in a news conference following the release of the FBI’s complaint. “As a mom with two teenage daughters and three stepsons, my husband and I are eternally grateful to everyone who put themselves in harm’s way to keep our family safe.”

Keep updated on our coverage as this story develops: