GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – People charged in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also discussed “taking” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, an FBI agent testified at a court hearing Tuesday.
During the hearing to discuss the charges filed last week against members of a self-proclaimed militia accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, FBI Special Agent Richard Trask revealed that months ago some of the suspects met in Dublin, Ohio, where Northam, also a Democrat, was discussed as a potential target.
“At this meeting they discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governors of Michigan and Virginia, based upon the lockdown orders,” Trask told the court, referring to state-mandated restrictions implemented to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
No one has been charged with plotting to kidnap Northam, but like Whitmer, Virginia’s governor was the target of intense criticism from some conservatives over the summer. President Donald Trump has criticized both, tweeting all-caps demands that their states be “liberated.”
Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement that the FBI “alerted key members of the Governor’s security team throughout the course of their investigation,” but to keep tight control of information about such a sensitive matter, neither the governor nor other members of his staff were told.
“At no time was the Governor or his family in imminent danger,” said Yarmosky, adding that extra security measures “have been in place for Governor Northam and his family for quite some time, and they will remain.”
The spokeswoman also faulted Trump for fueling anger.
“Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to ‘LIBERATE VIRGINIA’ in April – just like Michigan. 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,” said Yarmosky.
Tuesday’s hearing was to determine whether some of those charged in the alleged Whitmer plot can be released on bond. Separately, seven others are charged by state authorities in Michigan with providing support to terrorist acts.
Trask, the FBI agent, described how federal agents became concerned about the accused, particularly after a June meeting in Dublin, where self-styled militia members from four or five states gathered to discuss possible plans.
It was at that meeting, Trask said, that the notion of grabbing governors was raised, specifically mentioning the governors of Virginia and Michigan. One of the suspects, Adam Fox, then returned to Michigan and began recruiting possible accomplices for such a kidnapping, Trask said.
Fox and others conducted surveillance on the governor’s lakeside vacation home, Trask said, and at one point Fox told the others that he wanted to abduct the governor, take her away from the home by boat, then “leave her out in the boat” so others would have to come rescue her, according to testimony at the hearing. Another option discussed was to take Whitmer to a secret location where they would put her “on trial,” Trask said, possibly in Wisconsin.
The hearing began with five of the defendants being led into the courtroom in handcuffs, all but Fox wearing masks because of coronavirus precautions.
Trask also detailed the ways in which the suspects repeatedly discussed plans to attack law enforcement. At one point, a member of the group mentioned the possibility of attacking Michigan State Police buildings.
At another point, one of the defendants, Brandon Caserta, became irate that he had been pulled over and ticketed for driving without insurance.
“An injustice just happened to me,” Caserta messaged the other suspects, according to evidence introduced at the hearing, and he wrote that he could find out where the two police officers lived and “tap them,” which the FBI agent said was slang for killing them.
Even as the FBI closed in on the group, the defendants became increasingly concerned that they might be under investigation by federal agents. At one point, the accused collaborators scanned one another’s bodies for radio signals, to see whether anyone was wearing a recording device, the agent said. While the scans turned up nothing, the group’s alleged plot was infiltrated by two informants and two undercover agents, Trask said, and the FBI secretly recorded more than 100 hours of the suspects’ conversations.
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The Washington Post’s Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider in Richmond contributed to this report.
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