A man who pleaded guilty to a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer says her kidnapping could have been the ‘trigger’ of a US civil war involving anti-government groups, possibly before the election in 2020.
Ty Garbin described a scheme to get the Democratic governor while testifying Wednesday against four former allies charged with conspiracy. He told jurors they wanted to attack before the election to prevent Joe Biden from winning the presidency.
“We wanted to cause as much disruption as possible to keep Joe Biden out of office. It wasn’t necessary,” Garbin said of a pre-election blitz. “It was just preferred.”
The group was shut down in October 2020, a stunning bust towards the end of a nationwide campaign that has polarized the country. Investigators said the men were extremists trying to find $4,000 for an explosive to blow up a bridge in northern Michigan during the kidnapping.
They were angry at Whitmer’s statewide COVID-19 restrictions and generally disgusted with politicians, according to trial testimony.
Garbin said a kidnapping would be the “trigger” of a civil war “and hopefully other states or other groups would follow.”
The lawsuit linked, at times indirectly, the kidnapping plot to a series of events, in particular right-wing protests at the Michigan Capitol and elsewhere in response to pandemic orders. Disputes over the 2020 presidential election results followed, culminating in the January 6 US Capitol riot.
Garbin explained the Whitmer plan to jurors, taking them through days of training, secret messages and a late-night trip to his weekend home. He told how he built a “shooting house” out of lumber, tarpaulins and scrap materials so the men could practice for possible assault.
The goal was “to remove the governor,” Garbin said.
“There was no question in your mind that everyone knew?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler.
“No question,” Garbin said.
The jury had previously heard from FBI agents and an informant who secretly recorded hours of incriminating, profanity-filled conversations. But Garbin’s testimony was striking because it came from someone who pleaded guilty and said he willingly participated in the plan to snatch Whitmer.
Another man who pleaded guilty, Kaleb Franks, will also testify against Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
Defense lawyers say the men were framed by the government. Garbin, however, told jurors he had never heard of anyone talking about being influenced by informants.
He said he invited the group to his property in Luther, Michigan, to train for a violent assault on Whitmer’s vacation home. He set up a rudimentary structure for the men to practice getting in and out of tight spaces.
“I was kind of in the ballpark,” Garbin said of the layout. “Every house had a front door. Every house had a living room.”
In September 2020, Garbin, Fox, Croft and others traveled to Elk Rapids for a night watch of Whitmer’s property. Garbin said his job was to find him and flash a light for others at a boat launch.
He said his ultimate mission would be to “achieve the actual rapture.”
Garbin said Fox and Croft were the leaders of the cabal. Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons wondered how Garbin could be inspired by a guy who lived in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum cleaner shop, with the living space divided by hanging blankets.
Garbin acknowledged that he called Fox “Captain Autism” and that his shooting skills “were not up to par.”
The plane’s mechanic began cooperating with prosecutors shortly after the group’s arrest. Garbin was rewarded with a relatively light six-year prison sentence, a sentence that could be reduced after the trial.
Whitmer rarely speaks publicly about the case, although she did refer to “surprises” during her tenure that appear to be “something fictional” when she sought re-election on March 17.
She blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Find full AP coverage of the Whitmer Kidnap Plot Trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
White reported from Detroit.