By Thomas McDevitt
Thirteen men were arrested on Oct. 8 after the FBI foiled a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and to commit other acts of violence against officials.
According to The Washington Post, seven members of a Michigan-based extremist group, dubbed the “Wolverine Watchmen,” face felony charges for allegedly “‘making threats toward officials and supporting plans for terrorist acts.’”
Federal authorities detailed a plan centering around a stakeout of Whitmer’s Lake Michigan vacation home and plans to “detonate a bomb to divert law enforcement away from that home,” as reported by The New York Times. Members also discussed raiding the state capitol and attacking other members of law enforcement.
The group founded and led by “commander” Joseph Morrison, 26, and Pete Musico, 42, labeled themselves as an “‘anti-government, anti-law enforcement’” militia, as reported by The Washington Post, who used remote locations for firearm and mock field training.
According to CNN, the Watchmen believed that the Michigan state government, along with others, were violating the U.S. Constitution.
In a speech announcing the arrests, according to the Associated Press, Gov. Whitmer placed blame on President Donald Trump for his debate comments in which he was reluctant to condemn white supremacist groups. “Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry,” Whitmer said, also pointing to a recent Trump tweet during the protests, calling for protesters to “Liberate Michigan!”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, described private militias like the Wolverine Watchmen as “‘a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,’” according to The Washington Post.
She further accused the groups of seeking “‘to recruit new members by seizing on a moment of civil unrest and using it to advance their agenda of self-reliance and armed resistance,’” according to The Washington Post.
Anti-government groups as well as armed members of private militias have protested Gov. Whitmer’s strict coronavirus measures at the state Capitol in April and May. According to The New York Times, at least two of the men arrested had attended these protests.
A CNN timeline of events reveals how much preparation went into the thwarted plot, which allegedly started with a secret meeting held on June 20 in the basement of a vacuum shop where discussions included “how to vent their anger at officials they thought were violating the Constitution” and “whether Molotov cocktails would be used.”
According to CNN, these meetings involved further training, night-time surveillance, calculating police response times, filming the neighborhood of Whitmer’s home with a dashboard camera, testing whether lights were visible from across the lake and scouting a bridge they considered bombing.
The same men who planned to abduct Whitmer also considered targeting Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, according to NPR.
CNN also reports a Massachusetts man was arrested after breaking and entering into the home of the state’s governor, Charlie Baker, but it is unknown if that is linked to the militia.