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 Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, 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 involving Northam.
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. The 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 Whitmer’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.
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam’s office, told Fox News that the FBI alerted key members of the governor’s security team throughout the course of their investigation. She said neither Northam nor other members of his staff were informed at the time, per security protocols for high-class information, and at no time was the governor or his family in imminent danger. She also added enhanced security measures, which have been in place for Northam and his family for quite some time, will remain.
Appearing to take a page from Whitmer’s playbook, Northam’s office also railed against President Trump, blaming him for calling on his supporters to “Liberate Virginia” in April, when coronavirus-induced lockdown measures implemented by the governor were in full effect.
"Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to 'LIBERATE VIRGINIA' in April — just like Michigan,” Yarmosky said. “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."
In response, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany reiterated that “Trump has continually condemned white supremacists and all forms of hate.”
“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,” said McEnany in a separate statement to Fox News.
Whitmer, who was once considered as possible running mate for former Vice President Joe Biden and is nearly halfway through a four-year term, has been both praised for her response to the virus outbreak and 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. She 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.
Separately, seven members of militia group Wolverine Watchmen, or associates of Wolverine Watchmen, face state felony charges for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and providing material support for terrorist acts by seeking a “civil war.” Those individuals charged in state court are: Paul Bellar, Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Michael Null, William Null, Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.