The following timeline largely reflects the account in criminal court documents by state and federal law enforcement filed against 13 men accused of plotting to kidnap public officials in Michigan, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The men have been arrested and brought into custody.
As law enforcement routinely notes, a criminal charge is an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The FBI becomes aware through social media that a group of individuals was discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law enforcement components.
A local police department alerts the FBI about members of an unnamed “militia” group attempting to obtain the addresses of local law enforcement officers. FBI conducts an interview with an unnamed militia member about the group’s plans to kill officers. Then the FBI recruits that member as an informant on the group. (In a related case, state officials identify the militia as The Wolverine Watchmen, but the federal criminal complaint does not identify the group specifically.)
Demonstrators drive thousands of vehicles — many draped with protest signs — to Michigan’s state Capitol, loudly protesting Whitmer’s stay-at-home order intended to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
One of two state defendants — Michael or William Null, who are twins — appear in a photo posted on Twitter by state Sen. Dayna Polehanki from the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, apparently as part of a noisy anti-Whitmer demonstration of gun-toting protesters.
Federal defendants Adam Fox and Barry Croft and approximately 13 other people from several states gathered in Dublin, Ohio, to talk about creating a self-sufficient society based on the federal Bill of Rights as discussion ranges from peaceful approaches to violent action.
At a field training exercise, an unnamed founder of the militia group tells others he had been introduced to Fox. In a recorded phone call that same day, Fox also tells an FBI informant that he needed 200 men to storm the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages before the November election. Among the hostages: the governor, who would be tried for treason, according to Fox.
Federal defendant Ty Garbin, a member of the militia group, meets with Fox and an FBI informant at a Second Amendment rally at the State Capitol in Lansing. Fox tells Garbin he planned to attack the Capitol and asked them to combine forces.
Fox, Garbin and others, including an FBI informant, meet in the basement of the Grand Rapids vacuum shop where Fox lives. His room is accessible via a hidden trap door. The attendees discuss plans for attacking the state Capitol and using ‘Molotov cocktails” to destroy police vehicles.
Fox livestreams a video to a private Facebook group, complaining about the governor, the judicial system and the state of Michigan controlling the opening of gyms.
Fox, his unnamed girlfriend and Garbin joined federal defendants Kaleb Franks and Brandon Caserta at a tactical training exercise at the Munith residence of a militia group member. (State law enforcement officials allege in court papers that state defendants Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico live in Munith, where similar training has been conducted with other members of the so-called Wolverine Watchmen militia group, but did not list specific dates for that training.)
Fox, Croft, Garbin, Franks, Caserta and others attend a military training exercise in Cambria, Wisconsin. On July 11, at the exercise, Croft and a member of the militia group attempt to construct an improvised explosive device, using black powder, balloons, a fuse, and BBs for shrapnel.
Federal defendant Daniel Harris plus Fox, Garbin, Croft, Franks and others meet in Ohio and discuss attacking a Michigan State Police facility. In a separate conversation after the meeting, Garbin suggests shooting up Whitmer’s western Michigan vacation home because he didn’t want to go after the Capitol.
Using encrypted communication, Fox separately wonders aloud whether the group just needed to “party it out, make a cake and send it,” in what the FBI informant believed was a coded reference to sending a bomb to the governor. Fox discusses the need to train for the next three months to be ready to engage, saying “In all honesty right now…I just wanna make the world glow, dude. …”
Fox tells an FBI informant that he had not heard back from the “baker,” which the informant understood to mean an explosives manufacturer. Fox also says, “Maybe we should just make a bunch of cupcakes and send them out,” in an apparent reference to a more widespread bombing campaign.
Fox asks in an encrypted group chat, which included Garbin, Harris, Franks and others: “OK, well how’s everyone feel about kidnapping?” No one responds to the question.
Fox and an FBI informant also meet at Fox’s business in Grand Rapids. Fox describes detailed preparations for a plot he terms a “Snatch and grab, man,” so that Whitmer could be kidnapped and then moved to a Wisconsin location for “trial.”
Fox tells an FBI informant over the phone that he had narrowed down his attack targets to the vacation home and the summer residence. The same day, Fox posts to a private Facebook page: “We about to be busy ladies and gentlemen…This is where the Patriot shows up. Sacrifices his time, money, blood sweat and tears…!”
Fox, Garbin, Harris, Franks and others participate in tactical training in Munith. Fox in conversations asks the group about kidnapping Whitmer and possibly destroying her boat.
In an encrypted group chat with a number of the federal defendants, Franks expresses interest in taking part in a surveillance of the vacation home as another group member muses about a possible escape route using a boat on the nearby lake.
Members of the group, including Garbin, Harris, Franks and Caserta, meet at Harris’ home in Lake Orion and discuss concerns about being infiltrated by law enforcement. The group also discusses surveilling the vacation home and Franks says he recently spent almost $4,000 on a helmet and night-vision goggles.
Fox and two others conduct surveillance of the vacation home. Fox and another person take photographs and slow-motion video from their vehicle. During the surveillance operation, Fox says, “…. dude, we’ll go out there and use deadly force.”
(In preparing for this plot, state law enforcement officials say that state defendants Shawn Fix, William Null, Michael Null and Eric Molitor all aided in physical surveillance of the governor’s private vacation home, but did not list a specific date.)
Fox shares photos from his surveillance trip to the encrypted chat group. Garbin offers to paint his personal boat black to support the surveillance of Whitmer’s lake home. Using symbols and emoticons, Garbin possibly suggests demolition of a nearby bridge could hinder a police response.
A group of the federal defendants visit Garbin’s property in Luther to train and discuss the Whitmer kidnapping plot. Croft constructs an improvised IED by removing the cap from a commercial firework, adding additional black powder, and wrapping the device in pennies and electrical tape as shrapnel. During the exercise, the group sets the device in a clearing surrounded by human silhouette targets, and Croft detonates it to test its anti-personnel effectiveness. Later, a number of members of the group surveil Whitmer’s vacation home at night.
(State law enforcement officials say in court papers that William Null and Michael Null provided assistance for a nighttime physical surveillance operation of Whitmer’s vacation home by acting as lookouts for Adam Fox. But no date was listed for this activity.)
The group reconvenes at Garbin’s property in Luther. Fox confirms with the members that they intend to kidnap Whitmer. The group agrees to conduct a final training exercise in late October.
Fox posts in the group’s encrypted chat that he did not want the exercise to be the last week in October because it would leave insufficient time to execute the kidnapping before the national election on Nov. 3. The group agrees to use the time until the final training exercise to raise money for explosives and other supplies.
On an encrypted group chat, Fox asks others in the group what they thought of a militia group invitation to participate in an armed protest at the State Capitol. Garbin replies, “I would highly advise minimizing any communication with him. Also there needs to be zero and i mean zero public interaction if we want to continue with our plans.”
During the call, Fox discusses purchasing a taser for use in the purported kidnapping operation.
Fox reveals that he purchased an 800,000-volt taser in an encrypted chat message with an FBI informant.
Garbin, Harris, and Franks make plans to meet with an undercover law enforcement agent on this day in Ypsilanti to make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear. (According to federal charging documents, Caserta said he could not attend because he will be at work. Croft had returned to Delaware and was not available for this exchange.)
But instead of completing an arms transaction in Ypsilanti, awaiting FBI agents arrest Franks, Garbin, Harris, Caserta and Fox. The sixth federal defendant, Croft, was arrested that same day in Swedesboro, New Jersey.
Federal and state law enforcement officials announce 13 men have been charged and arrested in connection with related plots to attack members of Michigan state government. In a televised address, Whitmer thanks law enforcement and decries hatred and bigotry, adding President Donald Trump is “complicit” in what happened because he has not denounced right-wing hate groups. In response, Trump, in return, unleashes a string of scathing and at times inaccurate tweets, attacking Whitmer.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel reveals that law enforcement took steps to protect Whitmer and her family as authorities tracked the men who allegedly plotted for months to kidnap her. She said the Democratic governor was consistently updated about the investigation in recent months.
Six of the seven defendants facing state terrorism and other state felony charges finish their arraignments, as the seventh awaits extradition to Michigan.
In a series of social media posts on Twitter, Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican, chides Whitmer for what he said was her failure to make state legislators aware when she learned of the alleged plot to overthrow the state government.
Detention hearings are expected to be held this day for five of the six federal defendants in Grand Rapids. The hearings are to start at 9:30 a.m. in Grand Rapids before Magistrate Judge Sally Berens. The sixth defendant, Croft, is expected at a separate hearing at 2:45 pm in Delaware before Magistrate Judge Jennifer Hall.
Sources: FBI criminal complaints, state criminal complaints, additional court records, reporting from the Free Press and the Associated Press.
Contact Matthew Dolan: 313-223-4743 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewsdolan
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: ‘Snatch and grab’: The winding path to plot against a governor