Detroit Free Press reporter Paul Egan interviews Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after she decried hatred and bigotry from her Capitol office Thursday in response to an alleged plot by domestic terrorists to kidnap her.
Federal authorities say six men helped orchestrate a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home before the Nov. 3 election. The six were arrested and placed in custody, charged with multiple felonies that could result in life in prison for some if convicted.
State officials also charged seven different men in connection to related activities of the Wolverine Watchmen, a militia group accused of attempting to commit several crimes, including kidnapping public officials.
All 13 defendants or their attorneys could not be reached immediately for comment.
State law enforcement authorities wrote in court documents that “the Wolverine Watchmen have called on members to identify law enforcement officers’ home addresses in order to target the officers, have made threats of violence to instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse, and have engaged in planning and training for an operation to attack the Capitol of Michigan, and kidnap Government officials including the Governor of Michigan.”
Here’s what we know about each of the men charged by authorities:
Who is facing federal charges:
Fox was born in 1983 and is a resident of Grand Rapids who apparently owned or operated a business in the western Michigan city, according to federal authorities and court documents. Federal authorities did not release his birth date.
He appears to be a ringleader of this plot who met with coconspirators and surveilled Whitmer’s vacation home, according to a federal criminal charging document.
Early this year, according to federal charging documents, “the FBI became aware through social media that a group of individuals were discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components. Among those individuals identified were Fox.”
“Through electronic communications, Fox and Barry Croft “agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution.” Federal officials accused Fox of reaching out to and meeting with the leadership from a Michigan-based militia.
Fox “said he needed ‘200 men’ to storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages, including the Governor. [He] explained they would try the Governor of Michigan for ‘treason,’ and he said they would execute the plan before the November 2020 elections.”
He also participated in meetings in person as well as on Facebook, court documents allege. Federal authorities allege Fox’s unnamed girlfriend attended a tactical training exercise with Fox.
Croft is a resident of Delaware and authorities did not release his hometown or exact birth date. Federal authorities wrote that Croft on June 6, 2020 joined Fox and approximately 13 other people from several states in Dublin, Ohio.
According to the federal criminal complaint, the group talked about creating a society that “followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient. They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor. The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.”
Reached by telephone by the Free Press, Dave Barsler, who said he lives down the street from Croft, said two little girls, most likely under the age of 10, lived in the home with Croft in Bear, Delaware, south of Wilmington. He said the girls rode their bikes up and down the street and fussed over his dog, a St. Bernard.
Barsler said he was shocked by the allegations against Croft.
“It’s very shocking for me to hear that,” Barsler said.
He said the Croft home is decorated for Halloween, and is in a very quiet, middle-class neighborhood. He said the worst thing that’s ever happened to him in 25 years of living there was when someone moved his mailbox and put it down the street.
Another neighbor, Joseph Manning, said in a phone interview that Croft was a long-haul truck driver, and he only saw him once a month.
He, too, said it’s a quiet neighborhood, and “outside of some dogs barking, you can hear a pin drop.”
Garbin was born in 1995 and is a resident of Hartland Township (Court documents also allege he has property in Luther and Cadillac, Michigan). Federal charging documents said Garbin was a member of a militia group leadership and met Fox at a Second Amendment rally at the state Capitol in Lansing.
Federal authorities allege that Garbin was among the people who attended a firearms training in Cambria, Wisconsin, including an attempt to make an improvised explosive device.
According to court documents, the FBI reviewed encrypted group chats that indicated Garbin with Fox and others planned this week — Oct. 7 — “to make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear.”
Franks was born in 1994 and is a resident of Waterford. Federal authorities in court papers allege that on July 7 of this year, Franks attended a meeting at the residence of a militia group member, but said that he was “not cool with offensive kidnapping” and added that he was “just there for training,” or words to that effect, according to court papers.
After the meeting, federal authorities allege, Franks still “actively continued to participate in the kidnapping plot.”
Property records show a man named Kaleb Franks bought a Waterford house on Holbrook Avenue in 2018.
Nobody answered the door at that residence on Thursday afternoon. But minutes after a visit from the Free Press, Waterford police arrived at the house. Police then told the Free Press to stay off the property and that people at the house did not want to be interviewed.
The neighbors on Holbrook said an armored vehicle and what appeared to be a SWAT team were at the house apparently owned by Franks on Wednesday night for several hours into the early morning on Thursday.
Mike Leinenger, 55, who lives across the street, said he counted about a dozen officials in camouflaged uniforms with tactical gear, helmets and what appeared to be night-vision goggles searching the house.
“You could see them going through every room in the house,” Leinenger said. “They were even in the attic.”
Leinenger and other neighbors said a man and two women lived at the house apparently owned by Franks. “They just seemed to be normal people,” Leinenger said.
Isaac Colon, 33, who also lives on Holbrook, said he also saw several authorities in fatigues involved in the raid. About five others, not in fatigues, had FBI shirts and one other was wearing an ATF shirt, he said. “They had night vision, all the weapons, everything,” Colon said.
Colon said the neighborhood is quiet generally and so are the people who live at the house apparently owned by Franks.
“They seem like nice, innocent people,” Colon said.
Harris was born in 1997 and is a resident of Lake Orion. On July 18 of this year, Harris was among a group who met in Ohio, according to charging documents. The attendees, federal authorities allege, “discussed attacking a Michigan State Police facility.”
Federal authorities also accused Harris of saying during an encrypted group chat that “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her. …”
Caserta was born in 1988 and is a resident of Canton, according to federal authorities and court documents.
On Aug. 23, 2020, federal authorities allege that Caserta among others met at Harris’ home in Lake Orion, “The group had discussed concerns about being infiltrated by law enforcement, and all attendees were required to bring personal documents to confirm their identities.” During the meeting, the group discussed surveilling the vacation home in preparation for attacks on the Governor, according to federal court documents.
Who is facing state charges:
Bellar, 21, is from Milford. He’s charged with providing material support for terrorist acts, gang membership and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Bellar was arrested in Columbia, South Carolina, and state authorities in Michigan are attempting to have him extradited to the state, according to the state’s attorney general’s office.
State authorities alleged in court papers that Bellar, “who was appointed the role of ‘Sergeant,’ had specific expertise in medical and firearms training and designed tactical exercises for training” for the Wolverine Watchmen.
Bellar lived for a time at the Childs Lake Estates a mobile home park off Old Plank Road, about 2 miles northwest of the former Ford Wixom plant.
Neighbors who asked not to be named because they didn’t want to anger militia members, said they believe that Bellar moved out over the summer.
Court records show that he rented a mobile home there in November 2019 with his girlfriend, placed a $1,573 security deposit and signing a 12-month lease. The rent was $1,049, due the first of every month. The unit is white with no decorations on the outside.
The records claim Bellar didn’t pay July’s rent and by the end of the month, the park filed an eviction notice in district court.
The landlord agreed to dismiss the case Sept. 10. The record doesn’t say it specifically, but court officers said that typically means he paid his debt. An attorney for the park did not return messages seeking comment.
Neighbors said that in addition to his girlfriend, Bellar had several other male roomates living in the unit.
One neighbor recalled when they moved in seeing them carry a large number of firearms, which the neighbor described as long guns like hunting rifles. Several other times, the neighbor saw residents of the home carrying the weapons in and out.
No one answered the door at the home on Thursday and neighbors say a new tenant lives there now.
Fix, 38, is from Belleville. He’s charged with providing material support for terrorist acts and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Fix is in custody, and his arraignment is pending in Antrim County, according to the Office of the Michigan Attorney General.
Fix lived on a dirt road near the Lower Huron Metro Park in southwest Wayne County. The house is older with curling shingles and vines growing on the roof wrapping around a satellite dish.
In the front yard are two Truckers for Trump lawn signs. The porch is decorated with Halloween decorations and two flags. One is a standard American flag, the other a flag with a coiled snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
Two vehicles were parked in the driveway but the lights were off in the house and no one responded to door knocks Thursday evening.
Neighbors there also asked not to be named but said they saw a commotion about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday when more than a dozen police vehicles, including a SWAT van sped up to the house.
One neighbor heard an officer over the loudspeaker on one of the vehicle say “put down the gun and come out.”
Moments later, neighbor said several people were taken from the house in handcuffs. The arrest took under five minutes they said, but police remained at the home for about three hours, searching the house and the woods behind it with flashlights.
Molitor, 36, is from Cadillac. He’s charged with providing material support for terrorist acts and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Molitor was arraigned Thursday before Antrim County Magistrate Jessica Allmand, according to authorities. Bond was set at $250,000, 10 percent. A probable cause conference is set for 1 p.m. Oct. 14, and a preliminary exam hearing is scheduled for Oct. 21.
Null, 38, is from Plainwell. He’s charged with providing material support for terrorist acts and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Michael Null was arraigned Thursday before Antrim County Magistrate Jessica Allmand. A cash bond of $250,000 was set. A probable cause conference is set for 1 p.m. Oct. 14, and a preliminary exam hearing is scheduled for Oct. 21.
Null, 38, is from Shelbyville. He’s charged with providing material support for terrorist acts and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
William Null was arraigned Thursday before Antrim County Magistrate Jessica Allmand. A cash bond of $250,000 was set. A probable cause conference is set for 1 p.m. Oct. 14, and a preliminary exam hearing is scheduled for Oct. 21.
State authorities allege in court documents that members of the Wolverine Watchmen, “led by Michigan resident Adam Fox, went on to engage in a plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan by the November 2020 national election. In preparing for this plot, Shawn Fix, William Null, Michael Null and Eric Molitor all aided in physical surveillance of the Governor’s private vacation home. Several other members of this conspiracy are being charged federally for their part in the plot to kidnap the Governor.”
Musico, 42, is from Munith. He lives with defendant Joseph Morrison. Musico is charged with threat of terrorism, gang membership, providing material support for terrorist act and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Musico and Morrison were arraigned Thursday afternoon in Jackson County. Their bail was set at $10 million each, according to the attorney general’s office.
“Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico have hosted multiple tactical training sessions with other members of the Wolverine Watchmen at their property,” state court charging documents allege. “During these trainings, specific training was provided for members to learn and practice tactical maneuvers. The group has drawn upon their members’ individual skills for trainings including tactical skills, medical knowledge, communications knowledge, and weapons expertise.”
Morrison, 26, is from Munith. He lives with Musico. Morrison is charged with threat of terrorism, gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts; carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Musico and Morrison were arraigned Thursday afternoon in Jackson County. Their bail was set at $10 million each, according to the attorney general’s office.
According to court documents, Morrison and Musico are founding members of the Wolverine Watchmen. Morrison is considered Wolverine Watchmen’s “Commander” and is known by the online moniker “Boogaloo Bunyan.”
At the house where Musico and Morrison are believed to have been living together in the Munith area of Jackson County, a Free Press photographer spotted plenty of news vehicles in the area and symbols of note, including a number of flags. Those flags included a Confederate flag and a variation on the U.S. flag showing alternating red and white stripes in a vertical direction and a circle of stars surrounding the words, “Liberty or Death,” in white on a blue background.
Several stickers, including some with Marine Corps images, could be seen as well on vehicles. One sticker on a truck window is for a “Terrorist Hunting Permit.” Another is a crest for Kingdom Muzic Ministries.
Morrison is listed as the owner of the house on tax records, but a forfeiture form for nonpayment of property taxes was filed in March. In July, a county treasurer certificate was filed indicating $1,731.62 in delinquent taxes, penalties, interest and fees had been paid to redeem the parcel.
Free Press staff writers Dave Boucher, Gina Kaufman and Elisha Anderson and Free Press photographer Junfu Han contributed to this report.
Joe Guillen can be reached at 313-222-6678 or [email protected]
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