Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a COVID-19 update at the state Capitol, March 26, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer photo
A man accused of plotting with a group of anti-government radicals to abduct Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy charges on Wednesday, setting the stage for him to testify against others who were allegedly involved.
Hartland resident Ty Garbin, 25, admitted to conspiring to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat. Garbin on Wednesday appeared in court before U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids.
Garbin is one of six men a federal grand jury charged in December with conspiracy to kidnap a sitting elected official. That’s punishable by up to life in federal prison.
In court and in his plea agreement, Garbin agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney General’s Office for the Western District of Michigan and testify against other alleged conspirators.
Key takeaways of plea agreement
The foiled operation Garbin says he took part in is detailed extensively in the plea agreement.
Garbin confirms he and three other men were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, which officials characterized as a “self-styled ‘militia’ group.”
Those three men — Daniel Harris, Kaleb Franks and Brandon Caserta — were part of the aforementioned six-person group. Also working with Garbin was alleged ringleader Adam Fox, who called Whitmer a “tyrant bitch” over COVID-19 restrictions and wanted her removed from power, according to an FBI affidavit.
Garbin interacted with the group multiple times over the course of 2020. Notably, Garbin met Fox in person at a second amendment rights rally held at the Michigan State Capitol on June 18.
That’s where Fox told Garbin about a plan to “recruit 200 people to storm the Capitol, try any politicians they caught for ‘treason,’ and execute them by hanging on live television,” according to the plea agreement.
Additional key dates in the plea agreement show how Garbin’s involvement expanded.
He and other Wolverine Watchmen members on June 20 met up at Fox’s workplace, then retreated to its basement. Fox collected everyone’s phones for “operational security.” That’s where plans were fleshed out, according to the plea agreement.
Fox allegedly talked more about storming the state Capitol, proposed an idea to kidnap Whitmer and suggested using molotov cocktails and IEDs to distract law enforcement. He also suggested taking the governor to a different location for a “trial.”
The group’s focus eventually shifted to targeting Whitmer’s summer residence on Mackinac Island or the vacation home she keeps in northern Michigan, because Fox had growing concerns about the feasibility of taking over the state Capitol.
Garbin, specifically, was involved in the idea to blow up a bridge leading Whitmer’s vacation home. In a private chat with a government informant, Garbin texted how it’d slow a police response to the kidnapping, according to the plea agreement.
Garbin also offered to paint his boat black for nighttime surveillance of the home.
The plea agreement details how, over the summer and early fall, Garbin and the group tried to make their plans a reality: Constructing “shoot houses” from plywood and shipping pallets to practice breaching, building and unsuccessfully testing IEDs, discussing which firearms and gear to use and spying on the governor’s vacation home, according to the plea agreement.
A “field training exercise” took place on Garbin’s property in Luther between Sept. 12 and 13. There, members practiced infiltrating one such “shoot house.” They also concocted the idea of taking the governor out onto Lake Michigan in a boat and leaving her stranded to make a “statement.”
The plea agreement also says Garbin and members of the group departed from Garbin’s property on Sept. 12, traveled to Whitmer’s vacation home in the dead of night and staked out the bridge for areas to place explosives. They returned to Garbin’s property at 2 a.m. on Sept. 13.
Garbin on Sept. 17 shot down the idea of the group attending an armed protest at the state Capitol. In an encrypted chat, he said they should stick to “zero public interaction” if they wanted to continue with their plans to kidnap Whitmer.
Garbin’s involvement came to a halt on Oct. 7, when he, Fox and two other group members traveled to Ypsilanti to meet “Red” — an undercover FBI agent they didn’t know was an undercover FBI agent — and were arrested. Charges were filed the next day.
So far, Garbin has agreed to act as a witness against other accused individuals and take a polygraph exam. He’s scheduled to appear again for sentencing on July 8 in Grand Rapids.
Extremism in Michigan has received additional attention following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when Trump supporters breached and infiltrated the building in an attempt to stop a joint session of Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 general election.
Some experts drew comparisons to how armed protestors entered the Michigan State Capitol last spring, angry at Whitmer over the state’s COVID-19 lockdown and emergency restrictions and demanding they end.
A number of Michigan lawmakers said the unrest at their state Capitol was a trial run for what happened at the U.S. Capitol. Several have called on the Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) to ban concealed carry firearms inside the building. The panel enacted an open carry ban earlier this month.
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