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‘This Is a System-Blinking-Red-Moment’: Attorneys Blame Plot to Kidnap Gov. Whitmer on Trump’s Rhetoric


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested six men in Michigan for allegedly plotting to kidnap the state’s Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home before next month’s presidential election. Many in the legal community immediately pointed to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric towards Whitmer as at least contributing to alleged kidnapping plot.

According to an FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday, Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta formed a militia group in the summer of 2020 and began plotting how to overthrow state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution. The affidavit, which is a disturbing and detailed account, does not have mention the president or anything the president has said, but does say the defendants wanted to put Whitmer on trial for “treason”—a word Trump often uses against his political enemies.

During a June phone conversation with a Confidential Human Source that was recorded, Fox said he needed “200 men” to “storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages, including the Governor” as part of a plot to “try the Governor of Michigan for ‘treason,’” according to the indictment.

University of Texas law professor Bobby Chesney referred to the men as “terrorists,” calling the foiled plot a “system-blinking-red-moment.”

“Horrific enough that these terrorists (that is EXACTLY what they are) sought to kidnap the governor, but please note they also intended to subject her to some sort of ‘trial,’ almost certainly as a prelude to executing her,” Chesney said. Treason, as Law&Crime has repeatedly noted when discussing President Trump’s use of the term, is a crime punishable by death.

Later in June, the group allegedly met in the basement of a Grand Rapids business that was only accessible through a trap door where they continued to plot Whitmer’s kidnapping.

“The attendees discussed plans for assaulting the Michigan State Capitol, countering law enforcement first responders, and using ‘Molotov cocktails’ to destroy police vehicles,” the indictment read. “The attendees also discussed plans for an additional meeting during the first weekend of July when they also would conduct firearms and tactical training.”

The alleged plot entailed extensive plotting, including several surveillance trips, a plan to hinder police response by blowing up a bridge with explosive charges, and purchasing supplies—including an 800,000-volt taser.

Whitmer was thrust into the national spotlight earlier this year when she was repeatedly targeted on Twitter by President Trump for her stay-at-home orders— orders that the Michigan Supreme Court recently found to be illegal.

For example, in March Trump referred to Whitmer as “Failing Michigan Governor,” and in April he tweeted in all caps: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.” He’s also referred to the governor as “Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer,” and on several occasions diminished her as simply “the woman in Michigan.”

Several lawyers pointed to Trump’s contempt for Whitmer as a possible motivating factor in the alleged plot to overthrow and possibly kill her.

“It’s almost like ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN’ was a dangerously indefensible message for the President of the United States to send,” wrote University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck.

“Clearly the fringe militia figures heard this call from the president,” national security attorney Bradley P. Moss similarly commented.

Attorney and legal commentator David Lurie wrote that “When Trump tweeted ‘Liberate Michigan’ to his militia allies, and repeatedly attacked ‘that woman in Michigan,’ the implications were clear.”

Likewise, anti-Trump critic and Harvard law professor emeritus Laurence Tribe also suggested the president’s attacks on Whitmer were to blame.

“To call this deeply disturbing is an understatement. One serious question: Do you think schemes like this one, targeting a female Democratic Governor, would be as likely without the misogynistic and partisan hatred stirred up by President Trump?” he tweeted.

Gretchen Whitmer herself blamed Trump for emboldening extremists in a deeply divisive time.

“Hate groups heard the president’s words, not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry,” Whitmer said after the charges were announced.

See below for the full FBI criminal complaint:

Whitmer Affidavit by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Bill Pugliano/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.