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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer meeting with the National Guard.

Photo by Michigan National Guard is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Federal prosecutors have been reluctant for decades to use references to "domestic terrorism" in their charges and filing papers in crimes involving right-wing extremists, but that appears to be changing now, in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. The latest filings in the case involving the 14 militiamen who plotted last year to kidnap and murder Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer make that plain.

A superseding indictment from the grand jury in the case filed this week by the Justice Department—adding new charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, based on the men's plot to use a massive explosive charge to destroy a bridge near Whitmer's summer home—is quite clear: "The defendants engaged in domestic terrorism."

The same plotters—who called themselves the "Wolverine Watchmen"—had a much wider-ranging original plan, which included invading the Michigan Statehouse in Lansing with 200 armed militiamen, taking state officials hostage, and then holding televised executions. When they realized the logistics of such a plan were overwhelming, they reverted to the simpler plot to kidnap Whitmer.

This week's indictment focuses on four men—Adam Fox, 40, of Wyoming, Michigan; Barry Croft Jr., 45, of Bear, Delaware; Daniel Joseph Harris, 23, of Lake Orion; and Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland—who conducted surveillance and bought explosives in preparation for carrying off their kidnapping plans. They were charged with conspiracy—joining codefendants Kaleb Franks and Brandon Caserta, who already were indicted on that charge—while Harris and Croft had additional weapons charges added to their case.

Garbin entered a guilty plea in December 2020 to the original indictment charging him with conspiracy to kidnap the governor and now awaits sentencing; he is reportedly cooperating with investigators as part of the plea deal. He appears to have been a primary source of the information in the indictment, along with the federal informant who provided most of the original evidence.

The men had held their first paramilitary training exercise to prepare for their plan in July 2020 in Wisconsin. They attempted to detonate a couple of improvised bombs but failed. They continued building similar devices—which included a balloon filled with steel ball bearings. When the men gathered again in September for another session, they had greater success, setting off a couple of the bombs in the vicinity of silhouette targets shaped like humans, and were satisfied with the resulting damage caused by the shrapnel.

Preparing for that later session, Garbin in an encrypted text message to his fellow conspirators suggested "taking down a highway bridge near the governor's vacation home." After the training session, the men drove to Whitmer's summer home to conduct surveillance.

Along the way, Fox and Croft "stopped to inspect the underside of a highway bridge near the vacation home for a place to mount an explosive charge," the indictment said.

Afterward, the men ordered $4,000 worth of explosives from the FBI informant, who was posing as someone who was capable of providing the men with such materials. Fox, Franks, and Harris drove to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to make the down payment.

If convicted of kidnapping conspiracy, the five defendants face life sentences in prison, while the conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction also includes a maximum of life in prison.

Whitmer on Thursday told CNN that each gradual revelation of the plot's details is increasingly "disturbing."

"I'm incredibly grateful to the FBI and [Michigan State Police] and that gratitude only grows with more revelations about how serious and scary this group was. And how intent they were on not just harming me but harming our law enforcement, harming communities," Whitmer said on New Day. "The rhetoric has got to stop. We've got to all rise to this challenge and stop vilifying and encouraging these domestic extremists to hurt our fellow Americans."

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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