GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — 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.
In his first public appearance Tuesday since his COVID-19 diagnosis, Northam said his office takes threats very seriously.
“I will not work under a cloud of intimidation,” Northam said. "These threats and rhetoric are not coming from a different country. It's coming from Washington and that’s something I regret and it needs to stop.”
According to court documents filed in federal court, the June recruiting meeting took place in Ohio with 13 members from several different states. A paid FBI informant reports the group talked about creating a “self-sufficient” society, even “murdering tyrants.”
A spokesperson with the Department of Justice said while the six defendants in the Michigan case conducted surveillance at the home of Michigan’s governor, there is no evidence the men acted towards kidnapping Northam.
“Fortunately, there is no imminent danger to me or my family,” Northam said.
But the governor’s spokesperson says the rhetoric that led to these kidnapping talks is dangerous.
"Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to 'LIBERATE VIRGINIA' in April — just like Michigan," Northam's spokesperson said in a 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."
The spokesperson said the FBI kept Northam’s security team updated throughout the investigation. She said the governor and his wife have had enhanced security for some time now and that will remain the case.
Last week, five men accused in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appeared in federal court for a hearing on whether they should be detained before trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens oversaw 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.