(The Center Square) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday responded to the alleged kidnapping plot that led to 13 people in two militia groups charged with state and federal crimes.
Whitmer blamed President Donald Trump as fueling the fire behind far-right groups when he told the Proud Boys to “Stand back and stand by,” in the first presidential debate of 2020.
"Hate groups heard the president's words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, a call to action," Whitmer said, although the Wolverine Watchmen, the militia group alleged to have planned to kidnap Whitmer, reportedly concepted their plan as early as June 6, 2020, months before Trump's statement on Sept. 29.
“When our leaders speak, their words matter,” Whitmer said. "When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and are complicit.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, condemned the plot Thursday.
“A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all,” Shirkey said in a statement. “We condemn the actions of the group of individuals that plotted against Governor Whitmer and state government. These people are not patriots. There is no honor in their actions. They are criminals and traitors, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Citizens who care about government show their passion by voting. Only terrorists resort to violence.”
Chatfield tweeted:“Violence has no place in politics. Ever. It’s never a solution to disagreements. The people who targeted @GovWhitmer and police officers are un-American. Justice should be swift and severe. It’s time to send a message that violence will not be tolerated.”
Whitmer encouraged Michiganders to pull together through COVID-19.
"We’re Michiganders," she said. "We have grit. We have heart and we are tough as hell.”
She added: “When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard, but I’ll be honest: I never could have imagined anything like this."
The foiled plot was extensive and included a trap door, improvised explosives, and months of planning over encrypted messages to members across several Michigan cities.
On Thursday, Nessel charged seven people allegedly associated with the Wolverine Watchmen: Paul Bellar, Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Michael Null, William Null, Pete Musico, and Joseph Morrison.
The suspects allegedly called on members to target home addresses of law enforcement officers; as well as threatened violence and attempted to instigate a civil war; planned and trained to attack the state Capitol building; and kidnap the governor.
Federal agents arrested and charged six people on separate federal felony charges: Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta.
At one point, Fox said he needed "'200 men to storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages, including the Governor,” the affidavit said. “Fox explained they would try the Governor of Michigan for 'treason,’” and said they would execute this plan before the Nov. 2020 election – in 27 days.
The affidavit detailed months of training, secret meetings, night vision goggles and Molotov cocktails in a plan to overthrow governments that they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution.
"Several members talked about murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor," the affidavit obtained by the Detroit News said. "The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message."