Thirteen people, including seven men associated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group, have been arrested in a sweeping takedown of plots to kidnap the Michigan governor, attack the state capitol building and incite violence.
The group aimed to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has traded barbs with Republican President Donald Trump over her response to the coronavirus pandemic, ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election, according to a criminal complaint.
At one point, the alleged plotters discussed recruiting a force of 200 to storm the state capitol in Lansing and take hostages, but later abandoned the plan in favor of surveilling and kidnapping Whitmer at her vacation home, the complaint said.
At a news conference, Whitmer accused Trump of encouraging extremist groups like the "sick and depraved men" that targeted her, citing his failure to condemn white supremacists at the recent US presidential debate against Joe Biden as an example.
"When our leaders meet with, encourage and fraternize with domestic terrorists they legitimize their actions, and they are complicit," Whitmer said.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany pushed back, saying Trump has condemned all forms of hate.
"Governor Whitmer is sowing division by making these outlandish allegations," McEnany said in a statement.
Internal US security memos in recent months have warned that violent domestic extremists could pose a threat to election-related targets, a concern exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, political tensions, civil unrest and foreign disinformation campaigns.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in September that his agency was conducting investigations into domestic extremists, including white supremacists and anti-fascist groups.
The FBI became aware through social media in early 2020 that a group of people were discussing the "violent overthrow" of multiple state governments and used confidential sources to track their movements, according to the complaint.
The six people facing federal kidnapping charges - Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta - could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
"Fox and Croft in particular... discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the area of the home and Fox even inspected the underside of a Michigan highway bridge for places to seat an explosive," Andrew Birge, US attorney for the western district of Michigan, told a briefing.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel disclosed additional state charges against seven men affiliated with the Wolverine Watchmen for allegedly violating the state's anti-terrorism act by conspiring to kidnap the governor and propagate violence.
The Wolverine Watchmen has used Facebook since November 2019 to recruit members, and trained with firearms to prepare for the "boogaloo," a reference to an uprising against the government or impending civil war, according to affidavits in support of the state charges.