Men accused in plot on Michigan governor attended protests

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Among the armed protesters who rallied at the Michigan Capitol against Gov.
Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus lockdown this past spring were some of the men now accused in stunning
plots to kidnap her, storm the Capitol and start a "civil war."
The revelation has sparked scrutiny of rallies that were organized by conservative groups opposed to the
Democratic governor’s orders and egged on by President Donald Trump. It has also prompted renewed calls
from Democrats for a gun ban in the building — an effort that so far has failed even after they reported
feeling threatened by rifle-carrying protesters who entered the Statehouse.
At least one man accused of aiding in the surveillance of Whitmer’s home as part of the alleged scheme to
kidnap her stood in the Senate gallery on April 30 as majority Republicans refused to extend an
emergency declaration that was the underpinning of Whitmer’s stay-at-home and other restrictions aimed
at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. "Several" of the 13 men arrested in the plots
against the state government were seen at Capitol protests this year, the state attorney general’s
office said.
A man whom the FBI identified in court papers as a leader in the alleged plot, Adam Fox, attended an
"American Patriot" pro-gun rights rally at the Capitol on June 18 to recruit members of
anti-government paramilitary groups to attack the Statehouse, according to a federal complaint that
cites a recording from a confidential informant.
"I’m not surprised — and anyone who is just hasn’t been paying attention," Whitmer told The
Associated Press by phone on Friday. There have been Republican lawmakers and at least one sheriff at
the protests, she said, "who fraternize with these domestic terror groups, who egg them on, who
encourage them, who use language that incites them. They too are complicit."
Some of the men involved in the alleged plots were members and leaders of Wolverine Watchmen, which
authorities described as "an anti-government, anti-law enforcement militia group." Federal
authorities became aware in March about an initial plan by Wolverine Watchmen to target and kill police,
according to court papers. Officials have not indicated whether law enforcement monitored the
anti-lockdown protests in April and May.
Such protests have attracted a range of people, including openly armed Second Amendment backers and
members of paramilitary groups dressed in tactical gear — particularly early in the pandemic when some
demonstrators displayed Confederate flags, misogynistic anti-Whitmer signs and threatening images. GOP
leaders have denounced such tactics while saying many people protest safely and responsibly.
The state’s Republican Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, "does not condone violence, does not
embrace violence and has never advocated in support of violence," spokeswoman Amber McCann said.
"Like many politicians, he has spoken out when he disagreed with policy."
Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf told WXMI-TV that maybe the men wanted to arrest Whitmer, not kidnap her,
and suggested that could be legal. At least one man charged under the state’s anti-terrorism law by
Attorney General Dana Nessel appeared on stage in May at a protest in Grand Rapids against Whitmer’s
stay-at-home order that was also attended by the sheriff and Shirkey.
Nessel, a Democrat, told the AP that Leaf’s remarks were "terrifying."
"To suggest that it is proper for armed gunmen who are not licensed law enforcement officers to
execute an arrest on a sitting governor for policy disagreements is abhorrent to me on every
level," she said.
The bombshell charges prompted Democratic legislators to plead, again, for the GOP-led Legislature to
prohibit firearms inside the Capitol.
The federal complaint alleges that Fox in June said he needed 200 men to storm the building and take
hostages, including Whitmer, and that several individuals talked about using Molotov cocktails to
destroy police vehicles. By July, the men had shifted to targeting Whitmer’s official summer residence
or her personal vacation home before settling on the latter, according to authorities.
"We literally dodged death this time — this time. But what about next time? Because there’ll be a
next time," said Sen. Dayna Polehanki, a Democrat. "I pray we use our God-given common sense
to make a law banning guns from this building. If not now, when?"
It is unclear if anything will change. Republican leaders are having further discussions about guns with
a commission that maintains the Capitol. A panel member noted that legislators have authority over
certain areas of the building including the voting chambers.
"From the evidence I’ve read, a magnetometer or similar equipment would not have stopped what was
planned," John Truscott said. Shirkey told reporters: "There is no way in a country like ours
that you can legislate and get rid of all risk."
Whitmer told the AP she is concerned about the safety of lawmakers, visiting schoolchildren, media and
"The Legislature needs to act to protect everyone at the Capitol," she said. "It is all of
our building and every one of us should be able to go in there and feel safe."
Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said the
anti-government movement in the U.S. and certainly in Michigan has been particularly active at
statehouses in the past year — first by opposing proposed "red flag" laws that allow
authorities to temporarily take guns away from people deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others,
and later by opposing governors’ measures to combat the pandemic.
"Militia groups and other actors who harbor violent agendas will continue to look for opportunities
to conduct attacks against politicians, community members and government officials whom they believe are
legitimate targets," said Javed Ali, a former senior counterterrorism director at the National
Security Council who is a policymaker in residence at the University of Michigan.
Associated Press writers Ed White in Detroit, John Flesher in Traverse City and Angie Wang in Atlanta
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