Oct 8, 2020
FBI & DOJ Press Conference on Militia Plot to Kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Transcript October 8
FBI and DOJ officials held a press conference on October 8 to address the six people charged in a busted plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Dana Nessel: (00:23)
Okay. Well, good afternoon and thank you for joining us for this important update on our efforts to keep Michigan safe. Law enforcement is always a team effort, and today I am grateful to stand alongside four leading partners who work collaboratively and decisively to thwart a serious, incredible threat to public safety. This effort would not have been possible without a unified front, including all levels of law enforcement focused on protecting the safety and wellbeing of our citizens. So today, I am joined by US attorney for the Western District of Michigan, Andrew Birge, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider. Any moment now, we will have the FBI assistant special agent in charge, Josh Hauxhurst, and we have Michigan State Police Colonel Joe Gasper.
Dana Nessel: (01:25)
The inter-agency effort represented here in tandem with my office, culminated in the execution of several search warrants and arrests across the state. Including in the communities of Grand Rapids, Hartland, Luther, Canton, Orion Township, Waterford, Belleville, Milford, Cadillac, Shelbyville, Plainwell, Zeeland, Munith, Ovid, Kalamazoo, Charlotte, Clarkston, Sterling Heights, and Shelby Township. Our efforts uncovered elaborate plans to endanger the lives of law enforcement officers, government officials, and the broader public. Multi-front operation to apprehend the suspects in question, was carefully coordinated and skillfully executed, resulting very fortunately in no casualties.
Dana Nessel: (02:23)
Now, before we noticed the preliminary charges, I want to thank the hundreds of law enforcement officers who worked across agencies and across state lines and we are very grateful for their safety. And with that, I’ll ask US Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, Mr. Andrew Birge, to tell you a little bit more about the effort.
Andrew Birge: (02:58)
Good afternoon. Thank you Attorney General Nessel. Last night, the FBI and Michigan State Police, arrested six individuals, charged in a federal complaint with conspiring to kidnap the governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer. According to the complaint unsealed this morning, Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta, conspired to kidnap the governor from her vacation home in the Western District of Michigan before the November election. Under federal law, each of these individuals faces a term of any number of years up to life in prison, if convicted. Fox, Garbin, Franks, Harris and Caserta, are residents of Michigan. Croft is a resident of Delaware.
Andrew Birge: (03:59)
All of us standing here today, we want the public to know, that federal and state law enforcement are committed to working together to make sure violent extremists never succeed with their plans, particularly, when they target our duly-elected leaders. The federal complaint in this case alleges that the FBI began an investigation earlier this year, after becoming aware that through social media, that a group of individuals was discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law enforcement components. Through confidential sources, undercover agents and clandestine recordings, law enforcement learned particular individuals were planning to kidnap the governor and acting in furtherance of that plan.
Andrew Birge: (04:53)
The alleged conspirators used operational security measures, including communicating by encrypted messaging platforms and used code words and phrases in an attempt to avoid detection by law enforcement. Among other activities, members of this conspiracy on two occasions, conducted coordinator coordinated surveillance on the governor’s vacation home. Fox and Croft in particular, according to the complaint, discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the area of the home. And Fox even inspected the underside of a Michigan highway bridge for places to seat and explosive.
Andrew Birge: (05:34)
The complaint further alleges that Fox purchased a taser for use in the kidnapping and that the group successfully detonated an improvised explosive device wrapped with shrapnel to test its anti-personnel capabilities. The FBI and state police executed arrests of several of the conspirators when they were meeting on east side of the state to pool funds for explosives and exchange tactical gear. This investigation is ongoing, agents of the Detroit Field Office of the FBI and other members of their joint terrorism task force, including the Michigan State Police are conducting this investigation. Agents in the Baltimore Field Office of the FBI, which covers Delaware, have also assisted.
Andrew Birge: (06:23)
My office, the US Attorney’s office for the Western District of Michigan is prosecuting this federal case. US Attorney’s offices in the Eastern District of Michigan and Delaware are and have been assisting. And the state of Michigan has brought related charges against other individuals. Of course, those charged with a crime still have rights that we respect, the allegations in the complaint are accusations. A defendant is presumed innocent until unless proven guilty in a court of law. These defendants have begun to make their initial appearances in Federal Court and the court will be scheduling their arrangements as well as bond and preliminary hearings.
Andrew Birge: (07:09)
Now, it is my privilege to introduce to you the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider, for some additional remarks. Thank you.
Matthew Schneider: (07:29)
Thank you, Andrew. Good afternoon. All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever amount to violence. Because of the hard work of the men and women of law enforcement police officers and federal agents, violence has been prevented today. This case is being brought in the Western District of Michigan. Some of the defendants reside in the Eastern District, where some of the search warrants took place, but at the end of the day, what matters most, is that the people of Michigan should be reassured that our state and federal governments are working together to keep us all safe. I wanted to thank Attorney General Nessel and her office, for her outstanding work and her committed partnership. I also thank Colonel Gasper, the FBI, and of course US Attorney Birge.
Matthew Schneider: (08:28)
Every day police officers and federal agents put their lives on the line and they do that for us. In this case, the agents made swift and safe arrests, and those were done by those officers and agents. We are most thankful to them. Thank you. It’s my pleasure now to introduce the Director of the Michigan State Police, Colonel Joe Gasper.
Colonel Gasper: (09:03)
Thank you Attorney General Nessel, US Attorneys Birge and Schneider, and thank you to the FBI also. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to everyone today. And I’d first like to start out by saying thank you to the men and women of the Michigan State Police, the FBI, and any additional agencies that assisted in this investigation. They not only worked tirelessly over the course of the last 24 to 48 hours, but also since the beginning of this investigation. So, thank you, job well done.
Colonel Gasper: (09:41)
To the partners here today, I want to express our gratitude for the support and the cooperation, the partnership that all of us here are demonstrating. This case is one of the largest cases in recent history that the MSP has been involved in. And I think that the nature of this case is rather unprecedented, but it does send a very vivid reminder, that while we may be in a time period of discourse, possibly even divisiveness and fighting across the nation, law enforcement stands united. And for those who think that law enforcement is distracted, let me assure you that we are very much engaged with taking our responsibility to protect the public very seriously. We took an oath to protect and defend and to serve, and together we will take swift action against anyone who is planning or seeking to commit violence or harm to anyone in the state of Michigan. Thank you again for the cooperation, and I will now turn it back to Attorney General Nessel.
Dana Nessel: (11:07)
Okay well, unfortunately it appears as though FBI Assistant Special Agent Hauxhurst, has not made it with us in time, but … Is he here? He’s on his way? Okay. Well, if he gets here, when I’m done speaking, I will try to speak slowly, so that we can make time for his appearance. But anyway, thanks again to the Colonel and to of course, US Attorneys, Birge and Schneider and the FBI, State Police everyone’s effort here, so important. But I’d like to announce that my office has filed additional charges, in addition to the charges already announced by the US Attorney’s Office in the Western District. On account of the state, we have additional charges, so I’d like to announce the following preliminary charges, pursuant to the Michigan Anti-terrorism Act, against seven individuals, all of whom are now in custody, linked to the militia group, Wolverine Watchmen and associates of Wolverine Watchmen.
Dana Nessel: (12:16)
The individuals in custody, are suspected to have attempted to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers, in order to target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war and engaged in planning and training for an operation to attack the capitol building of Michigan and to kidnap government officials, including the Governor of Michigan. Now, it’s important to note that these charges are subject to change after a complete review of the evidence obtained last night and may differ from those charged at the federal level. So, we’ve issued the following charges against the following individuals:
Dana Nessel: (12:58)
Paul Bellar, aged 21 of Milford, who’s charged with three felony counts, providing material support for terrorist acts, 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine. Gang membership, a 20-year felony, which may be served as a consecutive sentence. Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, otherwise known as felony firearm, a two year mandatory prison sentence to be served consecutive to the other charges. Shawn Fix, age 38 of Belleville, charged with two felony counts, providing material support for terrorist acts, a 20 year felony. Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, felony firearm.
Dana Nessel: (13:45)
Eric Molitor, age 36 of Cadillac, charged with two felony counts. Providing material support for terrorist acts and carrying or possessing of a firearm during the commission of a felony, felony firearm. Michael Null, age 38 of Plainwell, charged with two felony counts. Providing material support for terrorist acts and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, felony firearm. William Null of Shelbyville, charged with two felony counts. Providing material support for terrorists acts and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, felony firearm.
Dana Nessel: (14:23)
And finally, Pete Musico, age 42, and Joseph Morrison, age 42, who lived together in Munith. And these men are both charged with four felony counts, one count of threat of terrorism, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine. One count of gang membership, again, a 20 year felony that may be served as a consecutive sentence. One count each, providing material support for terrorist acts and one count each for caring or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, felony firearm.
Dana Nessel: (14:58)
And before I continue with my remarks, I see that FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Josh Hauxhurst is here and I’d like to bring him up for a few remarks.
Josh Hauxhurst: (15:19)
Good morning. Thank you. On behalf of the FBI in Michigan, I would like to thank you and our partners of the US Attorney’s Offices of both the Western and Eastern Districts of Michigan and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and the Michigan State Police.
Josh Hauxhurst: (15:35)
The primary mission of the FBI is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. This investigation is an example of our continued commitment to that mission, to both protect the people of this state and to adhere to the rights reserved by the constitution. The alleged conspirators are extremists, who undertook a plot to kidnap a sitting governor. Whenever extremists move into the realm of actually plotting or planning violent acts, the FBI’s joint terrorism task force stands ready to identify, disrupt, and dismantle their operations, preventing them from following through on those plans. And operation of this scope cannot occur without the assistance of law enforcement agencies, large and small. We’re incredibly proud of the work of our agents, taskforce officers, and law enforcement partners during the last night’s operation and throughout the course of this investigation. We rely on the public’s assistance to help keep us safe. If you see suspected criminal activity and want to report it to the FBI, please call 1-(800)-CALL-FBI, or submit tips online at tips.fbi.gov. Thank you.
Dana Nessel: (16:58)
Thanks. Thank you Special Agent.
Dana Nessel: (16:59)
Well with that, I just want to do a few things. First of all, I think it’s important to give a shout out, at least to my staff, since I have the ability to do that, since we’re in our home offices here. And I just want to with deep gratitude, thank Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, Chief Deputy Christina Grossi, Chief of our criminal division, Daniel Hagman-Clark, John Palace, our first assistant in our criminal division. The head of our Hate Crimes Division, Sunita [Datamani 00:00:17:33], and Tom Fabus, who is the chief of our investigative unit. So, I wanted to say thanks to all of you.
Dana Nessel: (17:41)
And in addition, of course, it’s always important again, to reiterate that a criminal charge is merely an allegation and the defendants are presumed innocent, unless and until proven guilty. But with that, I want to thank everyone up here in law enforcement and everyone who participated in this matter and who will continue of course, to participate in this matter, for their incredible efforts. Their very brave efforts, over the course of the past many months. And to say to them that your efforts have left the people of this state safer and the instruments of our government stronger. And I know that I speak on behalf of Michiganders all across this state, when I say that we are grateful and we are indebted to you for your actions. So, thank you very much.