GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP/WRIC) — Members of anti-government paramilitary groups discussed kidnapping Virginia’s governor during a June meeting in Ohio, an FBI agent testified Tuesday during a court hearing in Michigan.
Special Agent Richard Trask was part of the investigation that led to six men being arrested and charged last week with plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Seven other men face state terrorism charges.
Trask did not name Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, during his testimony in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids. He said members of anti-government groups from multiple states attended the meeting.
“They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” Trask said. He said the people at the meeting were unhappy with the governors’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trask did not discuss further planning aimed at Northam.
According to Alena Yarmosky, a spokesperson for Northam, the FBI alerted key members of the Governor’s security team throughout the course of their investigation.
Per security protocols for highly-classified information, Yarmosky said neither the Governor nor other members of his staff were informed at first. She said at no time was the Governor or his family in imminent danger.
Yarmosky added enhanced security measures have been in place for Gov. Northam and his family for quite some time and those measures will continue.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Northam declined to answer specific questions about the alleged kidnapping plot because he said the FBI’s criminal investigation is still ongoing.
“I will not work under a cloud of intimidation. That’s not who I am,” Northam said.
Northam also doubled down on his spokesperson’s statement pointing fingers at President Donald Trump.
“Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” in April — just like Michigan,” Yarmosky said in the statement. “In fact, the President regularly encourages violence against those who disagree with him. The rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially deadly consequences. It must stop.”
“Not everything we do is agreeable to all Virginians but when language is used such as “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” people find meaning in those words and thus these things happen and that’s regrettable,” Northam furthered.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) echoed Northam’s sentiment on Twitter.
“Horrified that domestic terrorists discussed kidnapping Govs Northam and Whitmer,” Kaine tweeted out. “I warned Pence in April that divisive comments like Trump’s ‘LIBERATE VIRGINIA’ tweet could cause violence. Thankful to law enforcement who stopped this. We need a President who heals—not divides.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended President Trump in a statement on Tuesday.
“President Trump has continually condemned white supremacists and all forms of hate,” McEnany said. “Governor Whitmer, and now Governor Northam, are sowing division by making these outlandish allegations. America stands united against hate and in support of our federal law enforcement who stopped this plot.”
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert has been critical of Gov. Northam’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic in the past. He too issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the discussed kidnapping of Northam.
“We’re glad to know that these idiots were picked up by law enforcement before they could hurt anyone,” Gilbert said.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Five men accused in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will appear in federal court Tuesday for a hearing on whether they should be detained before trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens will oversee the bail and detention proceeding in Grand Rapids for Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — all Michigan residents. A sixth man, Barry Croft, was being held in Delaware.
The FBI made arrests last week after using confidential sources, undercover agents and clandestine recordings to foil the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Some defendants had conducted coordinated surveillance of the Democratic governor’s vacation home in northern Michigan in August and September, according to a criminal complaint.
The men were trying to retaliate against Whitmer due to her “uncontrolled power” amid the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said. They said four of the men had planned to meet last week to pay for explosives and exchange tactical gear.
Whitmer, who was considered as Joe Biden’s running mate and is nearly halfway through a four-year term, has been widely praised for her response to the virus outbreak but also sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers and people in conservative areas of the state. The Capitol has been the site of many rallies, including ones with gun-toting protesters calling for her ouster.
Whitmer put major restrictions on personal movement and the economy, although many of those limits have been lifted since spring.
Fox, who was described as one of the leaders, was living in the basement of a vacuum shop in Grand Rapids. The owner said Fox was opposed to wearing a mask during the pandemic and kept firearms and ammunition at the store.
The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted.
Seven others linked to a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and providing material support for terrorist acts by seeking a “civil war.”
The investigation is ongoing.
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