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Trump criticizes Whitmer after FBI foiled plot to kidnap Michigan governor

News Source

President Donald Trump criticized Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s actions to limit the spread of COVID-19 the same day it was announced that 13 men planned to abduct Whitmer, kill police officers and attack the state Capitol in Lansing partly in response to her executive orders.

A federal criminal complaint was filed against six men based on an ongoing FBI investigation, while Attorney General Dana Nessel charged seven additional men with violations of state anti-terrorism, gang membership and firearm laws. The 13 suspects allegedly planned to apprehend Whitmer and put her on “trial" for “treason” before the Nov. 3 election.

Several members of the group were members identified by Nessel’s office as participants at armed protests against Whitmer’s orders to close businesses and limit public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes an April 30 protest inside Michigan’s Capitol, and a May 18 rally in downtown Grand Rapids.

Whitmer invoked the president, who had expressed support for protesters who stormed the Capitol and frequently criticized her coronavirus response, during a Thursday press conference.

“Just last week, the president of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups,” Whitmer said.

"Stand back and stand by, he told them. Stand back and Stand by. Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action.

“When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. when our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit,” Whitmer said.

Trump responded in a series of statements posted to Twitter before the president joined Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Thursday night. He continued to criticize Michigan’s Democratic governor during the interview.

“I see Whitmer today, she’s complaining, but it was our Justice Department that arrested the people she was complaining about,” Trump said. “It was my Justice Department that arrested them, but instead she goes and does her little political act.”

Trump falsely claimed that Michigan’s schools and churches are closed under Whitmer’s orders, and again called on her to open the state.

“The people are being hurt very badly by it in the form of drinking and suicides and depression,” Trump said. “It’s a very sad thing.”

Whitmer responded to the president’s tweets Thursday evening.

Whitmer joked that she thought Trump wasn’t interested in a “virtual debate." Trump threatened not to participate in the next debate after the Commission on Presidential Debates announcing it would be held online due to coronavirus concerns.

Trump was diagnosed with the coronavirus a few days after participating in the first debate. He was hospitalized over the following weekend and has been recovering in the White House this week.

Whitmer said on Twitter that people should vote in the upcoming election if they’re “as tired of this divisive rhetoric as I am.” Whitmer endorsed Trump’s opponent, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, and serves as an adviser to his campaign.

Biden said he and his running mate Kamala Harris spoke with Whitmer Thursday. The former vice president said the conspiracy unraveled by state and federal law enforcement is “the kind of twisted plot we expect from ISIS, but now it’s here at home.”

“I am grateful that she and her family are safe, and I commend the FBI and other law enforcement officers for their work to prevent this deranged act by emboldened domestic terrorists,” Biden said in a statement.

Biden also noted Trump’s opposition to Whitmer’s emergency orders.

“When Governor Whitmer worked to protect the people of her state from a deadly pandemic and saved countless lives, President Trump issued a call to ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN!’ That call was heard," Biden said. “When protesters with Swastikas and Confederate flags, nooses, and assault rifles descended on Michigan’s capitol echoing the President’s own refrain to “lock her up,” President Trump called them ‘very good people.’

“There is a throughline from President Trump’s dog whistles and tolerance of hate, vengeance, and lawlessness to plots such as this one. He is giving oxygen to the bigotry and hate we see on the march in our country. We have to stop it.”

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge said the FBI first learned of violent plans to overthrow “certain governments” and attack law enforcement earlier this year. Suspects met in Ohio in June to discuss creating a new society and ultimately decided to recruit more members to murder “tyrants” who were violating the U.S. Constitution, including Whitmer.

Through secret recordings, informants and other confidential sources, “law enforcement learned particular individuals were planning to kidnap the governor and acting in furtherance of that plan.”

Search warrants were executed and arrests made across the state, Nessel said at a press conference Thursday, including at locations in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Luther, Hartland, Canton, Orion Township, Waterford, Belleville, Milford, Cadillac, Shelbyville, Plainwell, Zeeland, Munising, Ovid, Charlotte, Clarkston, Sterling Heights and Shelby Township.

The federal complaint charges Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta with conspiring to kidnap the governor of Michigan from her vacation home prior to the November election, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge said.

Arrests occurred on Oct. 7 and included other suspects who are not part of the federal case. Those suspects are charged with crimes under Michigan’s anti-terrorism laws and include: Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford; Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville; Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac; Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell; William Null, 38, of Shelbyville; and roommates Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 42, of Munith.

Musico and Morrison were arraigned Thursday and each ordered to be held in the Jackson County Jail on $10 million bonds.

As of Oct. 8, all of the federal and state suspects were in custody, officials said.

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